How a 3 minute conversation at a conference led to a $45,000 sale

Setting up a booth at a conference, handing out swag and scanning business cards is easy, scheduling demos with strangers that turn into revenue is hard.

As a VP of Sales and a self-proclaimed sales junkie, I love attending sales conferences. Sure, the speakers are interesting, but I learn even more by observing how vendors sell.

I often play guinea pig. I’m curious to see their tactics, what they do to get demos scheduled, the questions they ask, how they build rapport, how they demo, how they follow up and ultimately, what they do to close. Attending conferences is expensive, after all. Not to mention the time it takes away from revenue producing actives such as prospecting.

So what happens with the typical conference booth pitch?

It usually goes down like this:

The Approach

1. Sales reps or founders stay in their booths waiting for you to make eye contact with them.

2. Some folks offer “candy” to lure you in. It’s usually a stress ball, flash drive, pen, backpack or power bank (highly recommended).

The Pitch

1. Once inside their booth, the rep looks at your badge and says something like, “What is [company name]?” or “What do you do?”. The question always feels like a formality rather than genuine interest. It’s similar to the feeling I have when my mother-in-law asks how my day went just so she can tell me about her bridge game. The majority of the time, there are no follow up questions after my response. And rarely do I feel like any of them are truly listening.

2. Next, they vomit their product’s features and benefits. The infomercial usually sounds something like this, “we help sales people maximize their business intelligence so you can spend more time talking rather than researching. Let me show you. First, I’m going to click here. Oh there’s more . . let me show you this, too.”

The Close

1. After the pitch, the rep closes with “Can I scan your badge?”, which I always say yes to, because I enjoy observing their follow up.

2. I usually never hear from said rep again. Sometimes they call once and leave an unmemorable voicemail, but that’s about all.

So what happens in these situations? The answer is: absolutely nothing. When the outreach is halfhearted, the response is even more so.

Here’s the problem: the typical sales pitch at a booth is informative, not insightful. Information is exchanged, but nothing makes me scratch my head and think “hmm, I didn’t know I could be doing X, Y, or Z better.” The head scratch is key because my default behavior is to keep things the way they are. I’d rather dance with the devil I know. Change is hard.

Let me explain in more detail.

When you pitch a stranger, the stranger, or the “receiver” of your pitch determines within 8 seconds if you’re interesting. A variety of factors come into play here. A receiver instantaneously (if subconsciously) writes you off if you aren’t likable, if you are difficult to understand, or if you are not relevant to a problem they have or a result they want to achieve.

How do you avoid getting written off so you can get demos scheduled with people you might be able to help?

The key lies in turning your monologue into a dialogue that (1) makes your receiver think, “yes, I can relate to this problem” and (2) gets them to scratch their head and think “hmm, I didn’t know I could be doing that better.”

The first “pitcher” I observed doing this was a founder from a SaaS company. He didn’t have booth. Or a badge scanner. Or a free thumb drive. Just a branded t-shirt. This pitcher, we’ll call him “Chris,” approached me during the lunch break.

Here’s the conversation:

His opening:

Chris: “Hi,” (looks at badge) Josh, is it?” (extends hand) “I’m Chris.”

Me: “Hey Chris, nice to meet you.” (looks at his badge) “So, what do you folks do?”

Then he determined if he might be helpful.

Chris: “Thank you for asking, Josh. Let me ask you a question. Do you or does anyone you know use cold calling to set up meetings?”

Me: “Yes, we do. We have a sales development team that sets meetings for account executives.”

Next, he hypothesized a pain point and determined if it resonated.

Chris: “Josh, you know how most of the time when you cold call prospects you don’t get an answer or it goes straight to voicemail?”

Me: “Yeah, that happens frequently, Chris.”

Then, he piqued my curiosity.

Chris: “We can help you talk to ten times more people per hour, so that you can set more meetings. Can I give you an example?”

Me: “You sure can.”

Subsequently, he showcased a success story.

Chris: “Josh, we recently worked with {Company}, who has an SDR team that on average speaks to two people per hour of dialing. Using our solution, they were able to speak to 20 people per hour while increasing the number of meetings they set each week by 17%. (Then he paused, giving me a minute to take it all in.)

He set up the following question for the close:

Chris: “Tell me, Josh, how does that level of improvement sound?”

Me: “Interesting Chris, how do you do that?”

Then he asked for a meeting. He scheduled the demo ON THE SPOT and we never even exchanged business cards! Here’s how he did it:

Chris: “Let me show you. You have an iPhone? Great. Take it out. How does next Wednesday at 3PM EST look for you?”

Me: “That works.”

Chris: “Thank you Josh. Looking forward to our conversation.”

Using this approach, I saw Chris set up 11 meetings in an hour.

If Chris didn’t get a positive response to his first question, he politely bowed out. Why? Because Chris had a room of 100 people to work and only an hour in which to do so. He was laser focused on quickly qualifying each person and setting meetings.

Why did this approach generate a qualified demo without feeling “icky”?

Here are six reasons why Chris’s approach worked.

  1. He mentioned my name. Several times. Mentioning my name made me feel connected, important and respected. As Dale Carnegie said, “a person’s name is the sweetest sound in the world to them.”
  2. He gauged interest within 7 seconds by asking a question. Chris asked a question that identified a problem he solves to determine if it was relevant to me. When someone asks you a question your brain feels obligated to hold up its end of the bargain and answer. If the answer is no, why bother pitching at all?
  3. He provided an insight. Chris quickly communicated how my life could be better. He identified a problem and set himself up as a potential solution.
  4. He took charge. Chris set up the meeting. He didn’t ask for one, denying me time to oscillate or hesitate. He did not offer me the opportunity to say “No, thanks, I’m not interested.” In fact, he made it easier for me, because I didn’t even have to think about it or do any work. He set the meeting and asked me if the time would work for me. It did, the time was penciled in, and boom! done. There was no scanning of business cards or “chasing” of any kind.
  5. It felt like I was having a conversation with a person, not a marketing brochure. Not once did Chris say anything that sounded like a typical “pitch” or company motto like “we offer people relaxation on a leash” (no joke, I heard that one once). Often, clever phrases like this look good on paper, but do not roll off the tongue easily in person, sounding hollow and fake. Chris sounded like a human.
  6. He said “thank you”. Twice. Those two words made Chris more likable. And when you’re likable, you’re more influential.

When trying to schedule demos at conferences, do what Chris did.

  1. Gauge interest by asking a question that hypothesizes a pain point that ladders back to your offering.
  2. If you get a positive response, communicate how your prospect’s life could be better in one sentence. Ask for permission to continue.
  3. If the receiver is learning forward, tell a success story of client similar to them. Gauge interest again (“how does that sound?”).
  4. Schedule the demo. You schedule a meeting right there and then, so once you wrap up, they don’t have to think or do anything.

If you follow this approach, your prospect will walk away feeling accomplished and looking forward to your demo, knowing that you can help them do X, Y, or Z better.

Oh, and remember Chris from above? He got the sale. ($45,000/yr.)