The Business Development Guide to Crushing an Event Like INBOUND

By Scott Brinker, VP of Platform Ecosystem at HubSpot

As the end of summer approaches, days grow longer, school supplies go on sale — and those of us who attend events as part of our job get ready for the fall event and conference season to kick into high gear.

Here at HubSpot, we’re gearing up for INBOUND, our annual industry event focused on marketing, sales, customer success, and all the innovative ways businesses can grow better. It attracts more than 20,000 people every year. As part of this, we’re also preparing for Partner Day @ INBOUND, an exclusive single-day event when we focus on celebrating and educating our best agency and software partners and their developers. It’s an electrifying week!

But while most event marketing presents killer keynote speakers and educational sessions as the main draw for attendees, there’s a set of professionals who attend these events for very different reasons: business development.

For business development pros, events and conferences are a great opportunity to connect with a ton of the right people. New — and renewed — alliances, partnerships, investments, and strategic relationships of all kinds can be sparked or strengthened with a little focused face time.

But that’s not going to happen by sitting in sessions all day. If you’re waiting for the networking happy hour, you’re letting the BD life slip away.

So to celebrate all you card-carrying “business developers”, I caught up with Brad Coffey, HubSpot’s Chief Strategy Officer, to come up with our favorite tips for squeezing the most juice out of your next industry event or conference expedition. (Maybe INBOUND?)

Strategically plan out your schedule during the event

  • Don’t rely on serendipity. The romantic notion of the swashbuckling business development executive who glad-hands his or her way into new deals by bumping into people is a myth. By all means, be on the lookout for serendipitous encounters, but the productive BD pro plans ahead and fills up a calendar with meetings in advance.
  • Start with your own contacts, existing and prospective relationships. Reach out to see who’s attending — or who’s in the same city while you’re there.
  • Scan the speaker roster for people you want to connect with. For the ones that are most important to you, you’ll want to attend their session, give them a shout out on social media with a photo of them on stage, say “good job” to them at the end, and keep good notes of the threads of their presentation that you want to weave into your discussion with them later. Don’t try to schedule time for pre-session (when they’re preparing) or immediately post-session (when they’re swamped by question-askers and paparazzi). If you don’t have an all-access ticket, or you’re busy with other one-on-one meetings when the speaker is on stage — and, hey, you should be busy most of the time — no sweat. Your meeting isn’t about their presentation, it’s about a concrete opportunity worth their while. But their session title and description can help with a “Why you? Why now?” cold introduction.
  • Sponsors and exhibitors are great to connect with too. But do your homework in advance to determine who you want to meet and schedule specific appointments in advance. Just cruising the booths is a crapshoot as to who you’ll actually meet.

Get creative and be opportunistic (especially at large events like INBOUND)

  • Research the venue. Use the event’s app (if they have one, like we do for INBOUND), Google Maps and the venue’s own location guide to find a coffee shop or hotel lobby lounge — or pick a known spot like outside the press room or next to registration.
  • Pick places that are easy to find, with clear landmarks, so you can give simple and specific directions for where to meet, e.g., “The chairs next to the escalator across from registration.”
  • Find events-within-an-event, parties and dinners that cater to the specific people you’re aiming to connect with. This is an excellent way to set yourself up for focused serendipity, where the odds of bumping into someone relevant to your mission are significantly higher. This takes some pre-show networking and sleuthing — build contacts at the company running the event — but the potential payoff is worth it.
  • Get outside. If the weather is going to be nice, outdoor meeting spots right outside the event can be easy to find, quiet, and offer the promise of a breath of fresh air.
  • Official event lunch areas are noisy, literally and mentally. Great opportunity to find alternative lunch options nearby that you can take people to for a quick step-outside-of-the-madness chat. Your treat.
  • Make dinner reservations. For meaningful group discussions, connecting several people together, a great dinner at a hard-to-get-into restaurant can be a powerful enticement. Make dinner reservations at those awesome, nearby restaurants as far in advance as possible — before you even know exactly who you’ll be taking there — before they book up. Tables for 6–10 are ideal for great conversations with a small group.
  • Breakfast works best earlier in the week. Breakfast is an underutilized meeting opportunity, but plan breakfast meetings earlier in the week before the late-night partying catches up with everyone.
  • Take advantage of quiet times. Agreeing to meet someone at their booth is a good idea (they’ll certainly know where it is), but schedule those meetings while sessions are going on, when there’s less traffic in the exhibit hall.

Make each meeting (whether planned or serendipitous) delightful and inbound-y

  • Do more listening than talking. Ask about the partner’s business, goals, challenges. (Brad noted that this is the most useful networking advice he has ever received).
  • Give as well as ask. Use your meetings to connect people with each other — “I just spoke with Lynn from Acme, and she’s tackling that same challenge you are in her firm. I can make a quick intro or even connect the two of you at tonight’s reception?”
  • A little swag never hurt anyone. Wear your company t-shirt. It makes it easy for the people you’re meeting to spot you in a crowd, it helps build your brand, and it opens the door to serendipitous encounters initiated by someone walking by. (“Hey, you’re with the HubSpot platform team! I’ve been hoping to talk with you…”). Also, bring some lightweight (but useful or cool) swag to give people in your meetings as a thank you for their time.
  • Follow up and follow through. A quick thank you, a one sentence recap, and commitment to your actual follow up action. Recency and frequency reinforce mental connections. And don’t forget to follow through.

What are some of your suggestions?

Interested in attending INBOUND in Boston September 4–7, 2018? Learn more and register here.