Taking control of events
Goodness me, there are a lot of events around, aren’t there? Back when I started out doing new business, large scale events and trade shows were largely an after-thought in agencies’ business development plans, somewhere to hand out a few cards and shake a few hands, but not part of a coherent plan or strategy. We carried on focusing on clever DM, and persistent prospecting via the good old cold channels. These days, things have changed.
Lead generation is the number one business development challenge for design and branding agencies, and it is getting ever-tougher, as growing numbers of marketing channels compete for shrinking numbers of marketing pounds. An integrated approach to business development and marketing is the best chance consultancies have of meeting their target customers, and once you’ve engaged them with some creative, face-to-face is the best way to start a relationship.
Let no one kid you – networking is hard, no matter how confident or extrovert you are. Indeed, being outgoing can even be a disadvantage – the ability to strike up a conversation is over-rated. The real skill of networking is to strike up the right conversations, with the right people.
Exhibitions and trade shows are a great way of getting in front of prospects in buying mode, but many agencies treat them as one-off advertising opportunities, rather than an integrated part of the sales cycle.
With that in mind, here are 5 things you need to do…
1. Tell a sticky story
Whether you have a stand, a speaking slot or are simply attending as a delegate, you need something to make you stand out from the crowd. Take the time to do some research into the other speakers, the topics and themes to be covered on the day, and go armed with some compelling arguments of your own that can be deployed in coffee-break chatter, or during Q&A sessions. It’s often (rightly) said that reeling off a list of big-name clients doesn’t impress, but think about a few case studies that are especially relevant to the person in front of you.
If you are giving a talk, make sure you have branding to back you up – and ideally, some collateral you can hand out, to ensure that anyone you don’t manage to speak to on the day has something to remember you by.
2. Invest in your branding
The reality is that most marketing events will be crawling with competitors, many of them targeting the same prospects as you are. There are plenty of talented new business people out there, so don’t rely on a firm handshake and some snappy repartee to give you an edge. If an event is worth attending, it is worth investing in, so look at available packages that can help you achieve your goals. If it’s about brand awareness and profile, sponsorship might be a good fit, whereas if it’s purely about generating leads, a one-to-one meetings package may fit the bill.
3. Top team
You should have a minimum of two staff attending (most event packages include one or two free delegate passes, and don’t be afraid to negotiate for more). If you have someone speaking, make sure a colleague is in place to hand out collateral to delegates as they emerge from the session, or to intercept any key prospects. It may even be worth inviting a client as your guest, to play the role of cheerleader – after all, your best salespeople (with apologies to hard-working business development people) are happy customers.
4. Stand for something
An exhibition stand is not an advertisement, so should not be seen purely as an opportunity to show off your work. If you take a stand, use it wisely. Consider how you’re going to drive traffic. Jars of sweets or free coffee? It’s the oldest trick in the book, and all it does is generate a long line that will keep you too busy serving “customers” to get into conversation with anyone. Run a survey, or even a competition, something to generate buzz, engagement, and facilitate that all-important data capture for…
5. Follow up!
This can’t be sufficiently emphasised. It’s rare that deals are done on the day, unless it’s a speed-dating affair with briefs on the table (and even then, you’ll only be one among a parade of potential partners). Ensure that contacts are categorised and fed into the funnel, with a clear plan for following up to continue the conversation. This could be as simple as an informal phone call, but a more integrated approach is to make a note of their areas of interest, and approach them with relevant content that positions you as the best business to help. One agency I worked with conducted a survey of trends at an innovation event, giving us an insight into what everyone was thinking. We then shared the results with delegates who left their details.
Events can (and should) be key to your business development success, but care is needed. Done right, they are a wise investment of money. Done wrong, they’re a waste of your time. Plan ahead, invest, and consider how best you can make them work for you.
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