Conferences and trade shows can be great places to raise your profile, generate new leads and network with some high level people. Trouble is, most people fall down on two scores – they don’t network well enough while they’re there and they don’t follow up well enough after they’ve been.
I’ve just returned from a two day conference/business show with a ton of seminars, break out rooms and trade show booths. Came away with a bucketload of business cards and arrived back in the office to a full inbox and a crammed voicemail. Where to start? Here’s a a couple of steps from my 7 step checklist to get you moving on those all important networking follow ups. Remember if you don’t get this right, you might as well have stayed at home.
- Schedule follow up time. Best to do this even before you attend any business events, otherwise you’ll get wrapped up in the hectic office stuff when you return. As a rule of thumb, spend 10 minutes following up for every hour you’re out at an event. For instance, if you’re 3 hours networking, spend 30 mins following up. For a 2 day conference, you’re looking at a good half day following ups minimum.
- Put your leads into buckets. All those cards and contacts need segmenting. it’s inconceivable that you’ll treat everyone the same way. Some will be existing customers/clients and contacts. Others will be prospects, VIPs,potential partners, investors and recruits. You get the idea. Whether you call it buckets, categories, labels, boxes or pigeon holes, you must evaluate your haul. Calibrating what you’re going to do with each kind of contact is vital to successful follow up.
- Use the technology. Follow up can be very time consuming, especially if you’re really been going for it. If you’ve had a booth or exhibition stand at an event, or done some seminars, you may have hundreds. This is where the technology comes in. Call it CRM (contact relationship management) or other database management, your technology magnifies your efforts. it makes things easier. Gone are the days of rolodexes and shoeboxes of business cards. Get them into your system so you can follow up properly.
- Personalise your follow ups. Sending out blanket follow up emails is not ideal. Of course, clever email systems can be used to merge name fields and add a personal touch to your communications. But where possible, tune your follow up to your audience. People can sense spam overt selling a mile off, so give them some respect by at least making them feel a bit special.
- Go old fashioned. 90% of people will follow up with an email. 10% will be different, say with a phone call or letter, or book or gift or even a drop in face to face. That kind of follow up is not expected. If you’e going to stand out from everyone else they met, you’re going to have to do something else that everyone else they met doesn’t do. So you’may have to go retro with something old-school!
- Spell out next steps. What happens now? You’ve met them or got their card, and you’ve followed up. What do you want them to do now? If they’re going into your sales process, is it a face to face meeting, a more informal coffee and chat, a beer and a social event, an invitation to something else, a consultation, an application or survey, a sign up or login? If you don’t direct them, they won’t go where you want them to. Equally, if you give them multiple options, they probably won’t take any action too. Be specific, be clear and keep it simple. What’s next?
- Add value in your follow up. Rather than ‘it was great to meet you on our stand at the event’ or ‘nice to see you at the conference’ can you do better by sharing something of value? How about ‘because of your expertise in [their sector/field/industry/skills] I thought you might be interested in this special report/white paper/website/resource/invitation/tip/checklist/slidedeck’.
BONUS TIP: Use social media to connect, big them up, share their stuff, endorse or recommend them or introduce them to others. This is a smart way to personalise your follow up which hits them where they are. This works particularly well with people under 40. A social media attack gives you multiple opportunities to connect and follow up by complimenting your other approaches.
To conclude, don’t spend your precious time networking at business conferences if you’re not equipped and motivated to follow up. Make it meaningful. Make it personal. Make it valuable. Make it count!