Don’t waste time at conferences

Almost every b2b startup I meet says that conferences are a very important part of their sales strategy. It seems to be a no brainer — you go to a place where people want to get to know your solution, network and party.

In theory it sounds great, but most of the time nothing really happens. You meet some people, you talk but the effect is close to none. I’ve been there and wasted tons of money. Here’s few things I learned from my experiences and all outbound campaigns we did at RightHello.

1. Should you be there at all?

If you are looking for fundrising, go to a startup conference like Websummit or TC Disrupt. If your objective is to get new leads, go to an event where your customers would be. If you are into recruitment, get noticed on dev conference. Be honest about your goals and don’t fool yourself that you can kill two birds with one stone.

2.Are there gonna be people you actually want to meet?

At Bitcoin conferences 90% of people present are founders of bitcoin-based businesses. At startup conferences you will meet other startup founders.

If your goal is to meet potential customers, go where they’re gonna be. If you are in for marketing budgets, go to a marketing conference where you can find people who decide whether to use a solution like yours.

3. Should you visit or should you stand?

Organizers will tempt you with generous offers of having your own stand where people will approach you. But, most of the time, they won’t. What they don’t tell you is that you will be sitting in a small box somewhere in a 400 meters long alley along with your competitors. I rarely meet somebody happy with their websummit stand — too much buzz and noise to stand out.

If you have an idea and a budget to distnguish you from others — you should try. But if you are going to be 101st no-name company, my advice is to save money and go as a visitor.

4. Know what’s in it for you

Networking is not something that just magically happens. Most of the time you will either end up hanging out with your friends or having a small talk with random strangers. Neither of those serves your new business development needs well.

The easiest trick is to prepare a list of people you want to meet before any conference:

  • Check out the exhibitors, guests and speakers. Decide with whom you would like to meet (f.e. sales directors from IT)
  • Check out local companies — being in the neighbourhood is a good opportunity to meet with someone for coffee outside the tradeshow
  • Prepare a list of people with their email addresses
  • According to our stats, to get 10–20 meetings you need to have about 100 people on your list

If it turns out that there are a few people you actually would like to meet there, it’s time to reevaluate the decision of being at that event.

5.Offer a coffee and set up meetings

Having a list of people you want to meet is only a first step. You don’t want to end up wandering around the conference with a list of folks searching for them — it’s not effective (you will look creepy too).

3 weeks ahead is a good time to start to write to folks from the list and book their time. Just short & sweet email telling in a few sentences:

  • who you are
  • why do you want to meet
  • what’s in it for them

Here’s our email while our last visit to Berlin:

Let’s discuss B2B leads
Hi {X},
My name is Piotr from RightHello and I’m writing with an assumption that effective B2B lead generation is your “daily bread”:)
@RightHello we are prospecting professionals that can effectively find and outreach high-quality leads, therefore save hours of your sales force time and support you with new deals to close.
I’m coming to Berlin in November to attend the {conference} and I was wondering if perhaps we could meet in person?

The kind of response you are looking for should sound like this:

Hi Piotr,
My morning of the 12th is still pretty open so we could meet for around half an hour for a coffee.
Would 11am work for you?

But also you will get some of these (good in the long run):

Hi Piotr,
this could be something, but right now is not a good timing. Can you please contact me again in 3 months? We should meet/skype then and have a chat about a possible project.

When you have 20–30 conversations about finding a time to meet it’s easy to get lost. Better use some clever scheduling software like calendly.

6.Fill your calendar with meetings you actually want

When you get responses, your job is to set up a meeting. But even if you manage to end with “let’s meet sometime during the conference” it will be much easier to get to somebody and steal their 15 minutes — they will probably remember your email.

7.Don’t forget to follow up

Outreaching people 3 weeks before the event is necessary so you have time to follow up 1–2 times people that didn’t respond. Most of them are busy and you have to be persistent to get into their calendar. Also, when you try to get a meeting a few days before the event, there’s a big chance that their calendar is already full.

Ever since I started choosing right events to attend to and preparing before them, there is rarely a conference I regret wasting time on. And I switched from buying stands to buying coffee (it’s a bit cheaper too).

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