16 Tips to Get More Leads from Conferences

Capture more leads and revenue by following these best practices for capturing and converting leads from conferences and events.

9 MIN READ

Trade shows are often where business gets done.

COVID-19 was a huge speed bump for events.

But events are heating back up. And trade conferences (as opposed to consumer shows, the B2C counterpart) rank among the most effective B2B channels for your marketing.

Over the years I’ve collected this list of key tips to squeeze as much ROI as possible from your event strategy.

Mastering Events

1. Find the best conferences

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 and inconspicuous to those outside the target audience (we’ve often been the first ones to approach an event asking to sponsor). They can also be less expensive and more focused than events that draw a bigger crowd.

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 one company, we found that emailing the morning of the event worked well to drive engagement and traffic to our booth.

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 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. At one company, our team went 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.

Source: Marketing Charts

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.

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 that 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 it!

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 nine touches later—but not if you can’t market to them.

15. Mine the conference program

If the event doesn’t provide you with a list, you may be able to create one using the program.

Small events are often designed as opportunities for your prospects to establish themselves as SMEs or thought leaders. They discuss their work, their writings, serve on panels, or otherwise participate 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—an excellent resource as you refine your message.

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.

The idea is to capture what you learned from the event to inform your participation when the event comes around next year.

An event can be a perennial tool with a lot of action over a few days, but value all year long.

Thoughtfully approaching your event strategy can generate huge ROI, especially if you’re building an early stage company. I hope some of these tips help you make more of your next event!

Have a favorite tip for event marketing? Please share it in the comments.


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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.

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