We often attend various business conferences. After attending dozens of them, we began to notice that many other attendees tend to attend conferences to (surprisingly!) do nothing. They usually schedule a couple of meetings for the sake of appearances and spend all their time lounging around collecting loot, sitting at laptops, and listening to every single speech they come to. Have a business meeting? Negotiations with potential clients? No. They don’t consider it. How do they miss their opportunity? We have made similar mistakes in the past, but now we would like to tell you about the lessons learned.
For us, every business trip is an opportunity that we want to make the most of. We always have a plan and schedule before the event, as well as contacts with a large number of potential partners and clients.
Please pay attention! This article will be especially useful for those who attend conferences, meet with clients and partners, look for new clients, develop their business, negotiate and communicate. However, our experience can also be useful if you are going to a CMO conference to give a speech, gather information, find potential suppliers, or just have some fun.
In general, I’m going to tell you how to:
- Schedule business meetings;
- Use informal meetings;
- Don’t lose everything after the event.
What is a typical business conference?
To begin with, let’s define what a business conference looks like in the hosting industry (I bet it is about the same in your business area).
Usually, those who want to sell you something (various service, hardware, and software providers) have their booths here. Usually, the stand is expensive.
Speakers from different companies share their experiences (10%) and sell their products (90%).
Conference halls and meeting rooms. You can hold your meetings here.
Organizers may provide opportunities for informal networking such as cocktail parties, band concerts or closing dinners.
The conference can last one or more days, it is usually held in a conference center and is divided into several sections.
Define your goals
Why are we going to the conference? Our goals are always the following, from highest priority to lowest:
- Meetings and negotiations with potential partners and clients;,
- Meetings and negotiations with existing partners and clients;
- Network, new connections;
- Conversational and panel discussions;
- Search for potential suppliers, that is, those who can offer something of value to us.
To be honest, I see many visitors using the opposite order. First of all, they loiter around and look at what’s on offer in the exhibition space, then they listen to a few talks and maybe have a couple of unscheduled meetings afterward if time permits. I have to admit that we did the same thing before, but then we realized that this is not a good option for business development. We are currently using a different approach. Every hour is worth its weight in gold, so we try to schedule as many meetings as possible, devoting up to 90% of our conference time to them.
I cannot guarantee that your case is similar to ours. You may need to attend this event because you need to listen to specific speakers or find new vendors. If so, your priorities should be reassessed accordingly.
Create your meeting schedule
If you follow our path and prioritize meetings with potential clients, then our next tip is to create an empty (for now) meeting schedule. Such a schedule should contain a table with all the days of the conference, each of which is divided into meeting places.
Yes, you will need to book appointments in advance. The idea of attending a conference without preparation and trying to land an interesting (and interested) client there is close to suicidal.
You can create your own chart in Google Spreadsheets or use any customized Excel template. Google calendar or any other good app might work as well.
Important for your schedule:
- Your head will be full of information a few hours after the start of the conference, and your schedule should help you quickly understand what kind of meeting is going on and if you have room for a new unplanned but important conversation;
- It is easy to adapt to all changes in the schedule. It is also worth learning how to move appointments. Your appointments will move around your schedule from time to time;
- Be accessible without an Internet connection;
Schedule your appointments
Now we need to decide who we want to meet and start contacting them. This is the most important step of the whole operation and will take up most of your time before the conference. The order of your meetings should depend on the priorities you have identified above.
Conferences can be global or local. If the conference you are going to attend is global, you can send invitations to everyone you know and who has any chance of attending, even if they are based in the opposite corner of the planet. If the upcoming conference will be local, I recommend contacting only those whose offices are located nearby.
Think about those with whom you are currently negotiating. These may not be your clients, but those who can become your clients. A face-to-face meeting will help establish closer contact and speed up your ongoing negotiations. Such companies are pleased to meet you: you know them, they know you, and your request for a meeting will not be too cold. You can expect at least half of these companies to agree to meet if they go there.
Think back to those you’ve negotiated with in the past that ultimately didn’t lead to any positive outcome (please don’t tell me you don’t keep a history of your past undisclosed deals). The conference meeting is a good opportunity to contact them again or just call them and ask if they are planning to attend the event. Those who do are more likely to agree to meet with you because (again!) they know you. On several occasions, these meetings helped us close deals that seemed completely frozen.
Nothing has been discussed yet
Use the conference as the new topic for the meeting.
Look for those who are always in sight. Large and high profile conferences try to attract large and high profile companies that may be your corporate clients or partners. Just send an email and ask if any of them will be at the event. If you have good direct contacts who will not be at the event, ask to be connected to your colleagues who will be at the conference. Usually no one will deny your request and share contacts or even names, so you only need to find a contact.
Companies located nearby
Don’t forget the location of the event. You are from New York, but the conference will be held in San Diego? Look for potentially interesting companies around San Diego. If the upcoming event is in their line of work, it is highly likely that you will meet them there. If for some reason they don’t go there, offer to meet at their office. When we first started our trips, we did not use such chances. Now we always have a couple of days before or after the conference to schedule a few of these meetings.
Speakers and visitors
Sometimes you can find a list of previous attendees on the conference website. If you find anyone of interest there, contact them. There is a high probability that they will be present this year as well.