16 Ways to Get More Leads from Conferences

Is your marketing team missing out on more leads and revenue by not following best practices for capturing and converting leads from your conference and event marketing? Check out these tips for nailing your next conference.

9 min read
Event Marketing Lead Generation

Trade shows are often where busi­ness gets done.

Trade con­fer­ences (as opposed to B2C coun­ter­parts, con­sumer shows) are among the most effec­tive B2B chan­nels for your mar­ket­ing team.

Here are key tips to ensure your event strat­e­gy pro­duces ROI.

1. Find the best con­fer­ences and events. This real­ly starts with your ide­al cus­tomer pro­file (ICP). Who are they? Are there any trade asso­ci­a­tions or pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment events tar­get­ing that ICP? Often these events are small, incon­spic­u­ous to those out­side the tar­get audi­ence (we’ve often been the first to approach an event ask­ing to spon­sor) and less expen­sive than events that draw a big­ger crowd but which are less focused.

2. Pri­or­i­tize events that match to max­i­mize your bud­get. Regard­less of cost, you need a plan to max­i­mize the mar­ket­ing spend. To achieve the low­est cost per lead (CPL) for events, espe­cial­ly if you are just start­ing an event mar­ket­ing ini­tia­tive, rank events by how well they match your ICP, cost to attend per expect­ed attendee, and prox­im­i­ty to your HQ. Con­sid­er what will be required to exhib­it or attend (i.e., do you need to bud­get for trade show mate­ri­als or col­lat­er­al that you don’t already have)? Then start with the events that score the best for poten­tial ROI.

3. Pre-event strat­e­gy. Can you get a list of atten­dees before­hand to email or send a post­card? Event orga­niz­ers often have lim­it­ed per­mis­sion for ven­dors to send emails—if so, extend that per­mis­sion by using that email to not only invite con­tact at the event but to request an opt-in to email from you. Can you include an offer in that com­mu­ni­ca­tion to entice them to your booth? (Such as “men­tion this email for a dis­count, spe­cial offer, or gift.”) As you do more events, test the tim­ing, mes­sag­ing, fre­quen­cy, and chan­nel for this com­mu­ni­ca­tion. At GoRe­act, we found that email­ing the morn­ing of the event worked well. Atten­dees opened our emails along with mes­sages from the event orga­niz­ers and could take action imme­di­ate­ly, rather than remem­ber­ing to stop by our booth a week or more after open­ing our email.

4. Lever­age event orga­niz­ers. Talk with orga­niz­ers before­hand and dis­cuss ideas about how you can get the most from the event. You can often get a read on not just the canon­i­cal ven­dor par­tic­i­pa­tion, but also how recep­tive they are to cre­ative or guer­ril­la tac­tics. You’d be sur­prised how will­ing orga­niz­ers are to talk, and how few exhibitors ever lever­age the rela­tion­ship with them in order to max­i­mize the impact of their par­tic­i­pa­tion in the event.

5. Hold a pre-event strat­e­gy ses­sion. Before you show up at the event, try to antic­i­pate and plan for how the event will play out. Con­sid­er your exhib­it space and the event pro­gram. Are you in a spot with a nat­u­ral­ly good traf­fic flow? Are there oppor­tu­ni­ties to increase vis­i­bil­i­ty based on how your exhib­it will be seen? Will vis­i­tors be con­stant or will they surge between oth­er event ses­sions or activ­i­ties?

Are there gueril­la tac­tics you can use to direct traf­fic to your booth? (See 6 Rules of Trade Show Gueril­la Mar­ket­ing by John Greathouse.)

Are there com­pli­men­ta­ry ven­dors at the event that you can cross-pro­mote with? Will cus­tomers or oth­ers with whom you have an estab­lished rela­tion­ship be at the event? Can you find a way to lever­age them for tes­ti­mo­ni­als?

6. Pig­gy­back on event pro­mo­tion. Is there a hash­tag event orga­niz­ers are using to pro­mote the event agen­da? Make sure you are using it in your social media posts. (See Twit­ter Mar­ket­ing Strate­gies for Trade Shows by Mandy Movah­hed.)

Coach your event team to snap pics from the floor, cap­ture key events, and be seen on social chan­nels. I still go to events where I’m one of only three or four ven­dors that are active on social media, mak­ing it a great place to be found!

Are event orga­niz­ers hold­ing spe­cial prize draw­ings, con­tests, attendee pass­ports or oth­er games? Par­tic­i­pate! It’s usu­al­ly much cheap­er to get expo­sure by donat­ing some­thing to a draw­ing than it is to buy an actu­al spon­sor­ship at the event—something to keep in mind if your bud­get is small.

7. Plan to cap­ture atten­tion. In the sea of ven­dors vying for your cus­tomers, you need con­trast. You need a way to engage peo­ple and stand out. Here’s where you fire up your cre­ative juices. It might be a booth game, a mem­o­rable theme, foghorns, cre­ative tchotchkes (prefer­ably that hang around and relate to your prod­uct or ser­vice), Cirque de Soleil, what­ev­er will get peo­ple to your booth.

8. Logis­tics. Elim­i­nate wor­ries for your­self or your team once they leave the office. Pre­pare your team with event briefs, con­cise sum­maries of key logis­ti­cal details like trav­el infor­ma­tion, track­ing num­bers for shipped pack­ages, key goals and expec­ta­tions for the event, etc. I like these to be on paper as well as digital—if there’s any sit­u­a­tion where your smart­phone bat­tery will die, it’s trav­el­ing to an event.

9. Ask for the lead and the refer­ral. Remem­ber that you’re there to cap­ture leads. Estab­lish your on-floor approach before­hand. Refine your mes­sage to get the best response from prospects in per­son. Our team goes through a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion around what our Sales Lead dubbed the ADDS approach. These steps were designed for our spe­cif­ic prod­uct and cus­tomer, but the idea serves as a mod­el that can be adapt­ed to any com­pa­ny. It’s an acronym for,

  • Attention–both how we stand out, and how we are present with the prospect. Things like stand­ing out in front of the booth, mak­ing eye con­tact, etc. It’s about both get­ting and giv­ing atten­tion.
  • Discovery–Ask ques­tions and lis­ten. Be pre­pared with ques­tions designed to elic­it the key infor­ma­tion you need to under­stand in order to serve the prospec­t’s needs.
  • Demo–If dis­cov­ery is done right, you should be able to demo the prod­uct in a way that solves spe­cif­ic prob­lems for this prospect.
  • Steps–Establish clear next steps to con­tin­ue the rela­tion­ship and move the prospect towards a pur­chase. This is where you “close” the lead.

I’ve heard teams argue that it’s best to be selec­tive about leads cap­tured at events. In my expe­ri­ence that’s gen­er­al­ly not true, espe­cial­ly if the event audi­ence is already tar­get­ed. I’d much rather have a lead to nur­ture for a future sale, than dis­miss one on the floor of an event.

And don’t for­get to lever­age the con­tact by ask­ing for refer­rals of col­leagues, friends, and oth­ers. A warm intro is always bet­ter than a cold one.

10. Find and use the right mes­sage. Events are won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ties to refine your mes­sage. The con­ven­tion­al wis­dom is to build your mes­sage in plain-spo­ken lan­guage. Even adver­tis­ing god­fa­ther David Ogilvy famous­ly said,

I don’t know the rules of gram­mar… If you’re try­ing to per­suade peo­ple to do some­thing, or buy some­thing, it seems to me you should use their lan­guage, the lan­guage they use every day, the lan­guage in which they think. We try to write in the ver­nac­u­lar.

Which most peo­ple read as, the more ver­nac­u­lar the bet­ter.

But what I’ve found is that the pre­cise, indus­try-spe­cif­ic, high-con­text lan­guage used by insid­ers in any tribe or mar­ket can be very effec­tive depend­ing on where the prospect is in the fun­nel. Typ­i­cal­ly low-con­text every­man descrip­tions of your prod­uct or ser­vice are best high in the fun­nel. But as prospects move to mak­ing the deci­sion to buy, they want to know that you get them, their world, and their prob­lem. High-con­text lan­guage, even jar­gon, can sig­nal that you are an insid­er in their world and can be trust­ed. In the best cas­es, your mes­sage should be cast in actu­al words you have heard from your cus­tomers’ lips.

11. What­ev­er else, learn like a sponge. Some prod­ucts lend them­selves to being sold on the floor. If so, I say close them on the floor if you can. No point work­ing them from HQ if you can solve the prob­lem while you have prox­im­i­ty.

B2B Event Strategies
Source: Mar­ket­ing Charts

But when you can’t, at least learn some­thing.

The prospect is say­ing no and you’re going to lose this one. Ask about what they are using (com­peti­tor research), or what would make them pur­chase (problem/solution research), or how they would describe your prod­uct or mar­ket (mes­sag­ing research).

Face time with prospects is gold. Use it. Fill your uncon­scious with cus­tomer details that will sur­face lat­er when you need them.

12. Give cool stuff away. Do prize draw­ings, give­aways, or oth­er fun and mem­o­rable entries where the entries serve as lead cap­ture. I have a bias against elec­tron­ic lead cap­ture. Maybe it works for some and it is eas­i­er than sit­ting in your hotel room enter­ing leads man­u­al­ly into your CRM every night. But it’s so ster­ile and imper­son­al. Just like in an online set­ting, you should give peo­ple some­thing in exchange for your lead cap­ture or tak­ing your call to action, I think the same rule applies when you’re cap­tur­ing lead infor­ma­tion in per­son. A chance to win a prize, or a use­ful case study or white paper are per­fect. It should be rel­e­vant to the cus­tomer and match the type of rela­tion­ship you want to build with them.

13. Fol­low up. Let them know you will fol­low up, and then do! So often the expense and effort of cap­tur­ing event leads gets squan­dered by poor fol­low up. Don’t get lazy after you get home.

14. Include an opt-in in your lead cap­ture. Get them to opt-in to your mail­ing list so you can con­tin­ue mar­ket­ing to them. Be aware of CAN-SPAM and GDPR, but get them on your list. They may close 9 touch­es lat­er, which you won’t be able to do if you can’t mar­ket to them.

15. Mine the con­fer­ence pro­gram. If the event does­n’t pro­vide you with a list, small events are often designed as oppor­tu­ni­ties for your prospects to estab­lish them­selves as SMEs or thought lead­ers by dis­cussing their work, their writ­ings, serv­ing on pan­els, or oth­er­wise par­tic­i­pat­ing in the event itself. So the pro­gram can serve as a pre-per­mis­sion list that you can use to find prospects, influ­encers, part­ners, and oth­ers who can play a role in grow­ing your busi­ness.

It can also be a great place to lis­ten to how your prospects are describ­ing them­selves and their work, which you can then use to refine your mes­sag­ing. If you don’t have email per­mis­sion, con­sid­er start­ing your rela­tion­ship via direct mail, social media or a cold call. (You’ll be able to say that you saw them present at the event you attend­ed. Humans love flat­tery.)

16. Post­mortems. While it’s fresh, hold a ret­ro­spec­tive meet­ing to cap­ture what you learned from the event to inform your next year’s par­tic­i­pa­tion. An event can be a peren­ni­al tool with a lot of action over a few days, but val­ue all year long.

Thought­ful­ly look­ing at how to use events in your mar­ket­ing can gen­er­ate huge ROI, espe­cial­ly if you’re build­ing an ear­ly stage com­pa­ny. See if some of these tips don’t help you make more of your next event!


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@cmo_zen is a blog of micro med­i­ta­tions for mar­ket­ing lead­ers, designed to help them find clar­i­ty and peace in the mar­ket­ing mael­strom.

Published by Chad Jardine

@chadjardine is the CMO @goreact, an edtech company making game film for the classroom. He teaches graduate finance course @uutah and is the coauthor of Pillars of Inflection: Seven Fundamental Strategies for Explosive Company Growth. He accepts a limited number of consulting engagements each year.