Whether you are selling a product, building a brand, seeking partnerships or simply networking to help establish or grow your presence in your industry, leads are the fuel that drives the success of your biz dev efforts. For some, finding effective ways to generate B2B leads can be a challenge, but once you master the lead generation tactics that work for you and your business, you must execute a series of actions to convert those leads into customers, partners or active members of your business network. Failure to do so, is going to seriously decrease your chances of a successful conversion.
Let’s set digital marketing aside and talk about old school, face-to-face, press the flesh type engagements with people you would like tonetwork and potentially do business with. There is probably no better place to generate these types of leads in mass than at an industry trade show or some type of summit or symposium where you can meet and engage with a number of prospects within your industry. While there is great value and opportunity in a convention center full of people in your industry, remember that prospecting for business leads at industry events isn’t really a numbers game. I’ll take quality over quantity any day. Depending on what you’re selling or proposing and how good your pitch is, you may not close a lot of deals at those events, however you should be able to leave with a stack of business cards, and more importantly the contact info of a living, breathing person that you were able to connect with and relate to on some level that will make you, your company and the engagement you had with that person memorable enough for them to open the door to advance the relationship.
Time is the Enemy
At trade shows and industry events, time literally is the enemy, so if you just go walk the aisles and attempt to hit as many booths as you can, you’re going to end up burning a lot of time on prospects with a low chance of converting them to clients, partners or valuable networking resources, and if it’s a large show, you’re likely to miss some great opportunities. And don’t think for a minute that you are the only one trying to manage and prioritize who you’re spending your time with. Exhibitors are there to sell and market their products. Every minute spent with someone who is pitching or proposing something other than buying or selling their products is time taken from one of their potential customers. Be mindful of where you sit in that exhibitors list of priorities. If you’re wasting his/her time and making it difficult for them to conduct business at the show, they aren’t going to want to work with you after the show. To use a show biz analogy, get in, get out and always leave them wanting more.
How to Find the Diamonds
Imagine the time and money that could be saved if a miner could go straight to where the diamonds are located, but that’s not how it works, is it? Miners spend far more time prospecting and searching than they do extracting diamonds. Fortunately for you, you’re not looking for rare and precious gemstones that are buried in rock underground. You have the luxury of looking at a list of exhibitors to see who will be there.
If you are attending a large Outdoor industry show like ICAST or SHOT, not only is there an exhibitors list, many of them send out media releases prior to the event which will not only give you an idea of what they are selling or promoting, it will also give you some additional clues about the company and or product(s) so you can determine if it’s something that aligns with your business interests before you even get to the show. There is also a point of contact that’s eager to show his/her sales manager how effective the media release was, so if there is a tie to your business or market, then reply to the contact on the release and try to book an appointment. This will almost always get you some face time if the schedule allows. If it’s not of interest to you, cross them off your list and don’t waste your time or theirs at the show.
10 Steps for Successful Prospecting at Trade Shows
- Download or review the exhibitor list
Highlight the ones you are interested in or may have some synergies with and try to book appointments in advance. Almost all large shows have an app these days that makes it easy to learn more about the contacts and exhibitors and allows you to map out your path.
- Do your homework
Review websites, social media pages and press releases to educate yourself about the company and the products and make notes. This not only gives you some ammo for a conversation it helps you save time at the show. When you know you want to meet with a particular company, have a clear idea how you can benefit them and their business and how you will benefit from a relationship with them. Do not go into a meeting fishing for possibilities.
- Plot your course at the show.
Use your exhibitor list or the show program to cover ground as efficiently as possible. If you don’t have appointments, try to cover one section per day (or partial day) instead of traversing back and forth across the show floor. Start with your prospects in aisles 100 – 500, then aisles 600 – 1000, etc. If you go from booth #253 to booth #2035, then double back to booth #450 you’re going to waste time and energy. You’ll end up walking 7 miles back and forth across the show floor when you could have covered 3 miles and actually accomplished more. It will also eliminate a lot of physical fatigue.
- Don’t hard sell anything
That’s the exhibitor’s job, not yours. Have a conversation that centers around how you can provide a benefit to them, but there is no need to try to close a deal immediately. Instead, build a relationship first and foremost.
- Get in, get out and ALWAYS leave them wanting more
Give them a reason to want to hear more about the value you can bring them and a reason to answer your email after the show. Position them for a win.
- Make it about them
If you’ve managed to engage a prospect for more than 2 minutes without getting brushed off, they will likely ask about you and your business. NEWS FLASH: They don’t really care about you. What they care about is how a relationship with you might help them. You want to artfully tell them, but don’t hard sell them. If they want more details offer it in a follow-up email or call. If you really hit it off and there is significant interest, offer to take them to dinner or meet for breakfast to discuss things further.
- Deliver something of value, even if it doesn’t mean selling them something
Offer to send a link to an article they may gain some insight from or connect them with one of your contacts that may be helpful to them. In the long run, passing along something or making a connection that will be valuable to them is going to get you into their network of contacts and resources. Whether that turns into direct business for you from that prospect or comes back in the way of a referral somewhere down the road doesn’t matter. Create value and eventually, it will come back to you.
- Enter your contacts into your CRM program
If you’re not already doing so, this will help you build a list to market to and re-target in the future. It will also help you keep track of your follow ups related to each contact. Take the time to separate them into categories by event/acquisition method (ICAST Contacts, Facebook Inbound, LinkedIn, etc) and also by category (manufacturers, customers, media contacts, etc).
- Follow up right after the event
Simple as it seems this is the number one way people fail to convert prospects. Don’t let a hot lead get cold. Schedule time daily after each event to send follow-up emails and/or calls until you work through your list.
- Follow through
Remember that your prospects are usually swamped after a trade show. If they are not heading directly to another event they are busy finalizing vendor agreements, fulfilling orders and working through their own list of follow ups. You may not get a response to your first follow-up, or even your second, but the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If you haven’t had a response to your call or email within a week, follow-up again with a nudge to say, “Hope you’re getting caught up after the show. I wanted to make sure you received the XYZ you asked for.”