Original publish date: Sunday, February 8, 2015
Doug Edwards is Vice President and Managing Director for the Mental Health and Addiction Community division at Vendome Group. His personal blog, Be the Blue Balloon, includes insights on sales, marketing and content creation.
The spring conference season is almost upon us, and it’s a good time of year to consider some dos and don’ts when preparing for this year’s events.
Do insist on booth etiquette. Marketing directors should insist on proper booth behavior when attendees are in the hall, such as no eating at the booth, limiting time on devices, avoiding sitting, and so on. It’s easy to revert to these behaviors, particularly when hall traffic is slow, but attendees certainly will not engage with a rep when his attention is on appetizers or his iPhone.
Don’t display your best giveaways. Most exhibitors have some sort of trinket at their booth to grab attention. Unfortunately, sometimes a vendor will display a high-priced item (relatively speaking) that attendees will often take when their representatives are engaged in conversations or not at the booth. Instead, I recommend placing higher-priced giveaways under the booth and presenting them to attendees who have a meaningful conversation with a rep. For example, an insurance company might have branded umbrellas at the booth as a nod to their coverage, but such relatively higher-priced giveaways should be reserved for attendees who take time to learn about the company’s policies.
Do attend sessions. If your reps have time, it’s always advisable to attend a session or two, particularly a keynote. Attendees are engaged in content, and to be able to reference their main reason for attending the conference helps build dialogue. For example, consider this conversation starter: “I saw you in this morning’s keynote. Wasn’t that comment on the babies in the river startling?” (This is in reference to an actual panelist’s comment during an addiction treatment conference last week.)
Don’t focus only on friends. For reps on the road frequently, it can be comforting to fall into a habit of hanging out with friends in an exhibit hall, having dinner together, etc. Networking and relationship nurturing is certainly good business, but it’s always important to be finding “new friends” at conferences. A rep’s time might be better spent answering e-mails over takeout in the evening in his hotel room rather than hanging out with peers for the fourth time this year, if dinner with “new friends” isn’t an option.
Do use social media. Many conferences do not release a pre-event attendee list, but that doesn’t mean prospecting can’t begin until a rep is onsite. If a conference has a Twitter hash tag, keeping an eye on who is attending and who is “making noise” can lead to onsite meetings. Many larger conferences have Twitter display boards, and a few quick tweets can provide you free advertising at the show. Outreach through LinkedIn to prospects in the area provides a rep a “good excuse” for stopping by while in the area—and hopefully the targets will be at the show. If not, why not offer them a pass on you?