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Conference Planning Playbook: How to Get the Most Out of your Event Investment

Have you reviewed your event strategy lately? After nearly two years, attendees are returning to in-person conferences. As your team members begin attending conferences, make sure you have a strong plan in place to make the most of your investment.

Conferences offer an excellent opportunity to mingle with other attendees and sponsors, boost brand recognition, bolster relationships with current clients, and generate new leads. Read on to find tips and best practices for preparing for, attending, and following up after a conference to maximize your return on investment.  

Pre-booking conversations

Before booking any conferences, set aside time with colleagues to discuss your overall business objectives in the coming six to 12 months. Determine which industry events would add the most value to your business objectives for the year.

Step 1: Reflect

If your organization has attended and/or sponsored events in the past, start by reviewing outcomes and results of those experiences.

Ask yourself:

  • What partnerships did we form?

  • Where did we expand business with current clients?

  • What events brought us the best leads?

Step 2: Set Goals

Review your overall growth strategy and decide how conferences and sponsorship opportunities will play a part in achieving your annual goals.

Ask yourself:

  • Are you focused on increasing brand awareness in a certain region?

  • Is growth in a particular specialty/vertical more important?

Step 3: Budget & Book

After deciding which events your organization is interested in attending, research the various attendance fees, sponsorship levels, travel requirements, and other costs associated with each one. Use this information to help prioritize events and make final decisions on where you will go and how much you will event at each event. For example, will you go as an attendee and walk the exhibit floor? Will you invest in a sponsorship and secure a speaking engagement? Or, will you invest in a full-fledged booth?

Pre-event preparation

Even if a conference seems far away, it is smart to get a head start on planning the specifics and marketing to your target audience.

Step 4: Pre-Show Research

Before the show, learn all you can about the audience for the conference determine what they may find valuable about yoru organization. Review the attendee, presenter, and sponsor lists to identify prospects. Research your prospects on LinkedIn. For larger shows, it’s helpful to tier the prospect list to prioritize onsite networking.

Ask yourself:

  • Who are we interested in connecting with?

  • What are those people or groups interested in? What are their biggest challenges right now, and how could we help solve them?

  • Will we recieve a pre-show contact list or will we need to research attendee contact info on our own?

Step 5: Define your Message & Method

Using the information gathered about your target audiences, build a thoughtful campaign that meets your prospects where they are. Consider what platforms your audience uses most and what message will get you the most traction.

Ask yourself: What social media platforms will get us the most visibility? What is the appropriate cadence for email promotion? Which high-stakes prospects can we reach out to more personally to warm the lead before the event? Is there segmentation that needs to be done to get the right message in front of the right people?

Pro-Tip for Pre-Show Outreach: Remember, authenticity is the way to go in your discovery. When you are sending a personalized note, be inquisitive, caring, and show a genuine interest in what your prospect is doing and what problems they may be facing. Don’t be too pushy, just set the tone as a personalized email to connect. Set the stage for them to engage and talk—that is the ultimate goal. 

Step 6: Choose a Giveaway

Your best bet to catch interest and drive booth traffic is to give something (or a few somethings) away. We suggest selecting a larger ticket item to promote as a raffle item and collect lead information as an entry to win the item. We also encourage you to be creative here and think beyond a fidget toy or a tech gadget—chances are your organization has meaningful industry information that you can share. For example, financial organizations might provide tax tips or offer ways to navigate the changing RCM environment. Giving insights away before the show may garner booth engagement.

Ask yourself:

  • What are some of the first questions your front-line sales team answers?

  • What can you provide to help answer the top inquiries?

  • What important expertise do you have that a competitor may not, and how can you showcase it? 

Step 7: Brief your Show Team on your Strategy

Make sure the representatives from your organization who will attend the event are briefed on the strategy and talking points for the show. Discuss what types of lead you want, how to acquire the right information to qualify as much as possible, how you will keep track of connections, and any immediate follow up tasks.

Step 8: Do Not Forget the Housekeeping

The little tasks can easily slip through when you’re focused on strategy. Make sure logistics are tackled well in advance, including travel, lodging, exhibit times and resources needed, set up and tear down time, meals, and more. Making an itinerary ahead of time can help your team be more present and avoid missing high-traffic booth times during the conference.

During-event execution

The event is finally here, and now it’s time for your sales team to do their job. A good motto to keep in mind is ‘Proactive and personable is greater than pushy.’

 Step 9: Prepare to be Engaged at the Booth

If you have a booth, it should go without saying make sure it is staffed. When interacting with exhibitors, smile, make connections, ask questions, and share your expertise. Most importantly, be an active listener. Ensure you are effectively capturing contact information and scanning attendee information for follow-up purposes. Add notes on hot prospects from the booth before the thoughts get lost in the shuffle. Prepare follow-up questions and have materials prepared for people interested in more information.

Ask yourself:

  • What is each lead’s “why?” What details did I collect in research that may get my prospect to engage?

  • What is working well at their organization that I can complement?

  • How can I take an empathetic, consultative approach to their challenges?

Step 10: Network

Outside of the booth, this is a networking event. Reference your list of top priority contacts. The goal for each salesperson should be to connect with each of their top-tier prospects at some point during the conference. This is hard work. It means when your sales team is not staffing the booth, they’re attending conference events and putting themselves out there to connect with prospects. And, do not just focus on new prospects, consider: who can you current connections connect you with?

Post-event wrap up

After your months of hard work planning, the conference is over. But for you and your team, there’s important work yet to do. Remember, the connections from a show are only as valuable as your documentation and follow-up efforts.

Step 11: The Lead List

All leads received from the show should be entered into your CRM. Any details or notes captured at the conference need to make it into the prospect record as well. Yes, this might mean taking the pile of business cards you collected, decoding the scribbles, and translating your thoughts into important customer data points. This process of review and documentation is essential to turning casual chats over happy hour into meaningful follow-up conversations.

Step 12: The Resource Evolution

You already put significant time and effort into creating materials for the show, so think creatively about how you can repurpose these resources into post-show pieces. If you have the bandwidth, you could also assemble new materials tailored to extend the key points you discussed with prospects at the conference. Leverage this content in a post-show email to the attendee list (if you have one), to leads collected, or in individual follow-up outreach to people you connected with at the show.

Step 13: Reflect Again

While the conference experience is fresh in your mind, gather your team together to discuss their thoughts.

Ask yourself:

  • What went well?

  • Were any leads added to the pipeline?

  • What could we have done better?

  • Would it be worthwhile to attend again?

  • What were the best connections we made or conversations we had?

  • Who is following up on each lead?

  • Where are we keeping this information to reference for the next event or next year?

As you may have noticed, steps 1 and 13 are two sides of the same coin. Everything you gather at the end of each event will directly inform your strategy for upcoming conferences. Just like that, the cycle restarts.

The Bottom Line:

Events are often exhausting and they can drain your resources, energy, and budget. Make them worthwhile by following these 13 steps. A little strategic planning, pre-show homework, and thoughtful post-show follow up goes a long way to boost conference ROI and inform smart tradeshow planning for the year ahead.

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