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Breathe in, breathe out, and brace yourself for conference season. Not that I have to say that—you’re already in it. The process of planning and cat wrangling is underway. You’re submitting designs, double checking internal budget, and making sure everyone knows where they need to be and when.
The chaos of conference preparation has begun.
In the whirlwind of finding your sanity and logistics, don’t forget the most important piece: your customers. Conference season is the perfect time to engage your customers outside of a traditional work setting.
It’s your chance to shine and stand out from the rest while building a personal relationship with your customers.
Engage Your Customers before the Conference
Don’t wait for the conference to engage your customers—start ahead of time. Not only will they see what a rockstar planner you are, but they’ll also have you imprinted in their mind before other companies even touch them.
Send an email ahead of time to see if they’re attending. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s a template:
Hi there [first name],
[Month] seems so far away, but we’re excited about [the conference]. [Company name] has a booth and would love for you stop by for special customer swag and a chance to connect face to face.
Will you or your team be attending?
It’s that easy. Your first touch to see if they’ll be attending and encouraging them to stop by. If they aren’t attending, send them some swag or a discount code to attend. The follow-up shows you’re sincere and not mass marketing because nobody likes to be just another face in the crowd.
Remember the feeling of getting real mail sent to you? Not just another credit card statement or water bill. Give that feeling to your customer, and mail them something worth opening.
For example, we’re sponsoring the SiriusDecisions Summit this year. Since it’s in Vegas, we thought, why not send something to get our customers amped for the trip? So, we’re sending customers a Vegas chic dinner invitation (professionally printed on linen paper) and a poker chip to redeem for VIP swag at our booth. Bring on Vegas, baby!
The catch? They have to stop by our booth to redeem the poker chip for swag—this gets people planning to stop by the booth before the conference even begins.
Engage Your Team
Here is the cat wrangling. It’s just as important to engage your internal team before the event. That way, you present a cohesive, we-have-it-together vibe in front of your customers. And ideally, you actually do have it together!
Our team is getting organized by having each department decide who’s attending, by distributing an internal guide with all the details from how to book the cheapest hotel room to the schedule for manning the booth (because you’d better believe nobody gets a free pass on that), and by following up with an education session on what to expect.
Those are only the high level details, and once those are in place, there’s room for the small details that make a huge difference. Like name tags. Your name is on a lot of emails, but that doesn’t mean people know your face. Identifying you by name will help customers and prospects alike feel comfortable going up to the booth to say,”Hi, I love what you wrote about la-de-da the other day…”
Engaging your team will help you better engage customers and prospects as a united front.
Then, Get Your Game Face on—It’s Conference Time
And by that I mean, put on a smile and get excited about getting facetime with customers. This is your chance to make a lasting impact.
First, let’s talk about swag and making it good. 70% of conference swag gets thrown away within a week. Sure, I made up that statistic, but think of how much swag you’ve tossed or haven’t even bothered to pick up.
Think about what’s useful and can fit in suitcases. Technology is affordable these days—from portable power banks to bluetooth speakers. Both can be used immediately.
Not to mention, taking care of your customer. Tissues, chapstick, and other small essentials they might have forgotten to pack. Providing the right kind of support at the right time can become a story. “I had dry lips when I stopped by the booth…” Okay, not a great story, but memorable nonetheless.
Make your customer the VIP and invite them to an event. The feedback I receive the most from customers is, “We want to talk to each other.” Make that happen while they’re already together at an industry conference. It drops down your cost and helps them connect; they already have something in common.
A dinner done well is great and lets folks unwind after along day. Don’t have the budget? Coffee can give a good opportunity for a small roundtable without hitting the wallet too hard.
Have an Interactive Booth
It’s awkward to be a conference, hanging around a booth with nothing to do after exhausting conversation topics with the sponsors. Give people a reason to be there! Let them spin the wheel to get a prize, play the Plinko board, watch a video. Or, even write a review for you!
This leads me back to connecting beforehand—let customers know what you have going on at your booth before the conference even starts. That way you become part of their plan from the get-go.
Big Sigh and Follow-Up
It’s over. Breath and feel your shoulders sink down several inches as the adrenaline that kept you going fades.
Once you have a precious moment to yourself, reach out to the customers you chatted with. I recommend keeping a notebook documenting interactions during the event to make them easier to recall after the fact.
Then, a few days after getting home, handwrite your top customers a card about how great it was to see them. Include a personalized reference to your conversation. The conference took them away from work, too, and the card will be a nice reminder of why it was worth it.
As you get back to your daily tasks, don’t forget to continue following up with your customers throughout the year. Send them a blog post based on their interests, just to let them know you’re thinking of them. The few minutes it takes to do that can turn into great ROI as they renew their contract and their partnership with you.
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