Last week, I spent thirty-two hours at the Microsoft Convergence conference in Atlanta. There were thousands of attendees, including vendors, customers, Microsoft executives and employees in attendance. B2B conferences can be a great way to generate qualified leads and build your network. On the other hand, they can be an epic fail if you don’t capitalize on the opportunity.

Here are four things you should be doing at your next trade show or conference to get the best return on your time and financial investment to be there - and to also stay motivated when things can get very stressful and busy.

1. Be Present at Your Booth – Physically and Mentally

Have you ever walked down the aisles of a trade show and noticed all the “booth bunnies” who seemed more interested in their smartphones, fellow employees or laptops? They may have all the trappings of the trade show – pens, brochures, breath mints or other “chachkis” but you’ve probably seen your share of trade show presenters who seemed checked out mentally, or not even at their booth for that matter.

My team’s game plan was to have at least three people at the booth and have a floater or two to spell people off when things got slow. Smartphones were banned, laptops were for demos. Work got done, and everyone felt energized after the conference with the new connections which were made.

Other temptations to resist during the conference:

  • Excessive drinking, lack of sleep at after-parties each day. Standing beside your boss, with a splitting headache on the tradeshow floor for extended periods is a real CLM – Career Limiting Move
  • Derogatory remarks about your competitors. Not just if they happen to have a pod across the floor. They may have friends or employees at the conference fishing for your competitive strategies.
  • Under-estimating people who come to your booth. The hipster dude, or yoga-pants wearing woman might just be the best lead you have at the show. Don’t ignore or pre-judge based on appearance.

2. Have a Unique “Hook” to Break the Ice

 If you have worked conferences as a presenter or booth staff, you’ll know what it’s like watching people walk around. You smile and nod, not wanting to come across as a snake oil sales guy. You exchange pleasantries, and chat with your neighboring booth vendors. You think about how sore your feet are and wish you didn’t wear shoes which weren’t broken in. You forgot to bring the most important thing to the conference – a hook.

Some companies at Convergence had flying monkeys, others served lattes, and countless vendors used some kind of pen or stress ball to break the ice. In my case, we had #PortalHero, an action figure which was united with a Twitter contest. We had attendees take PortalHero, put him into an amusing photo opportunity, and share it on Twitter with the hashtag. We were able to use an action figure to make people smile, engage them in conversation, and connect on a human level. The campaign trended well on Twitter, and it was a big win.

Finding a unique way to connect with your audience, and provide them with a memorable take away is important. Pens and stress balls seem cool for a few seconds, but don’t build a memorable connection. Extending your “real world” conference experience into the social media conversation can be a great way to attract attendees to your booth who may not have had you on their radar otherwise.

3. Be Prepared to Pitch, Catch and Step Up to the Plate

Being ready for the “So, what does your company do?” question, or to proactively explain your value proposition is key to maximizing trade show results. As a sales team, create a game plan to ensure everyone is on the same page as far as messaging, rules of engagement for clients and partners, and generally act as a cohesive unit on the exhibition floor.

Make sure everyone is dressed for the part, so they stand out from attendees and can be perceived as someone who they can consult with for information about your company. That orange golf shirt or lime green tie may not be your choice for every day attire, but if it helps to build your brand presence, try and show your team spirit. At least you aren’t wearing a gorilla suit.

4. Set the Stage for Follow Ups, and Follow Through!

Collecting a stack of business cards, and then throwing them in your desk drawer to collect dust doesn’t do you any good. The latest badge scanning equipment is helpful to gather information, and then get imported into your CRM system for follow up.

When you are collecting contact information, ask the prospect if they would be interested in a meeting, call or e-mail after the show. If someone just isn’t interested, cut your losses early. If you do gain their consent, try to leave a few days after the conference for the prospect to catch up on their own work before calling unless arranged otherwise.

In your follow-ups, be as positive about the trade show experience as possible and mention something about the experience which was positive for everyone. At Convergence, there was a great concert by One Republic which I have use to break the ice on some follow ups. Establishing a rapport after the conference is much more productive than just a “Do you have any questions?” or “Are you interested in buying?” conversation, as that can get you a quick no and an end to the conversation should the timing be bad.

B2B conferences can be your biggest opportunity in the year to get in front of a number of customers, get their input on their requirements, and get them interested in your products and services. Trying to close a deal on the trade show floor is risky at best. Make the top three goals of the trade show:

  • Building relationships with clients, prospects and strategic partners
  • Demand generation and new product announcements
  • Mindshare creation and brand building

Microsoft Convergence is a large scale conference and a great opportunity to gain an appreciation of not only new products and services, but also of new ways to build customer engagement, relationships and trust.

What have your B2B conference experiences been like? Tell us about it in the comments section!

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