The key to effective customer engagements is planning, simply plan what you are going to do and start early!
So when and where are the best opportunities to connect with the attendees and create that engagement? I would focus on 3 key times and utilise a number of tactics.
- Before the Show
- During the Show
- After the Show
Before the Show
There are a number of actions that you can take before you even get to your event in order to connect to the people you want to speak to but to be really effective you have to plan what you are going to do early, perhaps nearly as much as a year. Make sure that you have a clear call to action in mind for the end of the process as well.
- Find out the places that people will be talking about the show, have a look in the following spots:
- Facebook and LinkedIn - Check out groups on both these sites, most big events have at least one, and join/like them
- Twitter - Follow the show on Twitter if they have an account and start a list that relates to the event, see if there is a specific hashtag and save that too
- Once done make sure you participate in the groups you find and on discussions going on via Twitter. At first they will be minimal but as you get closer to the event they will be very active, if you make sure that you are involved early then you will be top of mind when it becomes busier. You will also be able to identify the people that you want to speak to.
- A couple of months before the event make sure that you are connecting with the people you have discussions with on LinkedIn, and following them on Twitter. You want to build a database of people you are interested in speaking to.
- Use the database of people you have found, alongside your existing customer and prospect databases, and start some messaging campaigns. Share useful content with the people that you want to meet with, letting them know where your stand will be and ultimately inviting them to meet with you at the event. Spread these out over a period of time say 2-6 weeks before the show, and try not to make them too 'sales'y, keep it about being of service to them regardless of whether they visit you or not.
During the Show
With all that prep work done it is now time to see people face to face but as you go through the process of inviting people you might want to consider how you are going to be meeting with them. What are the different ways that you can engage with your prospects at the event? Here are a few ideas:
- On stand meetings - You can of course simply arrange to meet with people at pre allocated time slots on your stand. Bear in mind that this will probably require a dedicated space, either private or contained, for meeting them. A table and stools start to clutter up a small space very quickly, especially if they are in use a lot.
- Off stand meetings - Remember that there are plenty of other places to meet, if your budget can stretch to the coffee prices in the venue that could be a good place to go, although they do get quite busy. You could always take the meeting out of the venue, if there is a nice coffee shop or cafe nearby you could always take people there, make sure it is not too far away though and that it is easy to get back in.
- Post show meetings - Is the show running over a number of days, if so do some of your prospects stay over? You might want to take a really valued client to dinner with the CEO of your firm, or maybe a group meet-up or Tweet-up would work better for your audience. Don’t feel limited by the confines of your stand or even the space in the hall.
- Talking to attendees - One of the simplest things to do is just talk to the people in attendance, although it would seem to be one of the hardest. A bit of an oxymoron there but it stands true, I can walk around a show and generally the numbers that try any kind of interaction can be counted on my fingers and those that do it well rarely fill one hand. Know the type of people you are looking to speak to and have some well-crafted questions that enable you to identify them easily.
After the Show
This is the most neglected part of engaging with clients after conferences and events. It is estimated that about 3/4 of the leads that people gather at trade shows are never followed up. It is vitally important to plan what you are going to do with leads after you gather them, otherwise they get left in a pile and never actioned and you throw opportunities away.
Remember that no matter how many great interactions you have at the event, the chances of everyone that you spoke to whom could work with you being in a position to do so right now is pretty slim. This means that the work you do after the event isn’t necessarily to sell to the people you have spoken to, it is to see if they are at a point where they can enter your sales funnel and if not whether you can continue to nurture them through until they are. Some initial actions you could take are:
- Connecting on LinkedIn - for those you haven’t already done so with
- Add to your mailing list - if you have the infrastructure to support it they could go on a show specific list as well as your general one
- Call them - pick up the phone and speak to them, make sure that you always start from the beginning here, don't assume they will remember you
- Email them - I'm a big advocate of giving away a useful document to everyone you spoke to, white papers, eBooks, etc. remind them of the value you bring that they saw on the stand
The key here is to do it, do it quickly after the event, and continue to make contact in the subsequent months to stay top of mind for when they do finally need something. Make sure you track it all somehow though, you will need all the information to justify next year’s event spend.
So for me the real secret to engaging with customers at a live event is actually engaging with them beforehand.
Use the event as a tool, common ground to start conversations from with new prospects and a defined calendar point where you know you will be able to build a relationship face to face. But don’t forget to follow up afterwards, most companies would see a dramatic improvement if they focussed on just that.