Image courtesy of ShutterStock
Attending a conference is exciting, tedious, time-consuming and exhausting. It is also one of the most effective ways to assess your marketing strategy and kick start business development. The non-stop networking opportunities are critical to your firm’s brand, messaging and awareness. Every year tens of thousands of dollars are invested in pre-conference preparation, exhibition constructs, marketing collateral, time and travel.
A dramatic return on your investment is dependent on focused follow up. Otherwise, you could have just invested that money on betting that the Patriots would score yet another Super Bowl appearance in 2019.
Success will come only when the post-mortem is performed. That’s the tough bit. It’s a mad dash to catch up on emails that have spiraled out of control during your absence, calls demanding to be returned, projects to be completed that were left undone in preparation for the conference.
Evocative follow up extends beyond inputting the explosion of business cards into your CRM. It’s critical to schedule “processing time” within the first day or two after your return to the office to effectively capture the highlights of the people you met at the conference.
This small amount of focused effort will reap long-term benefits and ensure that the investment in time, effort and money maximizes the chances that your new connections result in meaningful professional relationships.
I know—from first hand experience—the inherent value of keeping notes on each person I meet. These notes are concise and short, but they serve as a trigger for my next move. Often they are my only reminder, as the protocol for handing out business cards is prohibited at many conferences, due to the perceived “salesy” nature of this gesture. Maintaining a list of the people encountered along the way has proven to be a great segue to building on these relationships, both directly and indirectly.
Tagging your notes will help as you plan and prioritize your business plan in the ensuing weeks. Taking a moment to tag the list of prospects identifies your goal for that relationship and determines next steps. In between after hours networking events, I take time to remember and record. The plane ride home is spent in reviewing the list of conference attendees highlighting the topic and perceived sweet spot resulting from conversations, noting the specific reason for follow up.
No one has the time or resources to follow up with everyone they met at the event, the real-time culling through business cards and notes will make for a clearer, more manageable prioritization of time. The people who approached me, shoved their business card in my face and immediately began to sell something are the first to be tossed. I don’t operate that way and refuse to connect with those that do.
Years of maximizing investments in conferences both personally and on behalf of my clients taught me that most new relationships will fall into three categories: a) hot prospects are those with a specific reason to follow up; b) “miscellaneous interesting people” with whom there’s no immediate or clear point of connection to your products/services; c) people with whom you’d like to build a deeper relationship with.
Follow up with warm-to-hot prospects is Job One: There’s a specific ask and reason there. Make the most of it with research and a meaningful response. It’s yours to win.
My bucket of “miscellaneous interesting people” in all its inherent diversity has proven to be a treasure trove of amazing and unique opportunities. I met a man several years ago at an international energy conference, as we were seated next to each other during the opening session. We developed a great rapport and though our mutual needs weren’t directly obvious at that time, we kept in touch.
Adopting what the Harvard Business Review describes as a stance of “ambient awareness,” I cultivated our relationship through connecting on LinkedIn, sharing articles of interest and making significant introductions on his behalf. Fast forward eight months after our initial meeting, the gentleman engaged my services to provide leadership positioning, reputation management and a marketing content strategy that would result in dramatic increases in brand awareness, trust and profitability.
Attending conferences and trade shows is a tremendous investment of time, money and human capital. The return on these—your greatest assets—will only occur with a commitment to purposeful mining of the data and its consequential meaningful follow up.