In conferring about marketing strategy and budget for the coming year with some of my colleagues we got on the subject of conferences. I’m a strong believer in attending them, whether it’s to sharpen my axe and shore up my CEUs, or to develop new business. However, I’m also a believer in making strategic decisions about how I’m going to utilize them. For now, I just want to focus on the business development purposes for attending conferences:
1) Critical Mass – It sounds counter-intuitive, but sometimes the best, most cost-effective way to make a lot of local contacts is at a national conference. For example, early in my career in AEC in Chicago, I attended the World Workplace conference in San Diego. While there I attended a joint Chicago/Northern Illinois Chapter cocktail hour, at which I met and had a bit of initial face time with about 40 potential clients who then had a chance to check my references with a few of my clients who were also in the room. All in it cost me about three days time and about $1500 in travel, meals and lodging to be there for that meeting on that day to make those 40 contacts. Compare that against the 6 months to a year’s worth of cold calls and meeting requests it would have otherwise taken me to develop a positive connection (not to mention have the ability to successfully vet) those same 40 folks enough that they would return one of my calls and I’d say the investment was well worth it.
2) Reputation Building – Again, it sounds odd to some, but speaking at conferences is the introvert’s best marketing tool. I have worked with several colleagues who are horrified at the prospect of introducing themselves at networking events, but fine with presenting something they know well to a group of 100 people at a conference. When they do this right, the business opportunities end up coming to them in the way of business cards handed over at the end of their talk. Makes them happy; makes me happy. That said, we have to make sure that we record, track and follow up on the leads we gather this way to ensure we convert those leads to projects, or else we miss out on the substantial benefit this opportunity could have provided.
3) Intelligence Gathering – If you have the luxury of being able to send someone to a client-industry conference simply to listen and gather intelligence, it will make you better at your job. In other words, the more I know what my clients are thinking about, what new challenges are facing them and what keeps them awake at night, the better prepared I am to serve them. Marketing deliverables that can come out of such an exercise include position papers, surveys, and new perspectives on making web, blog and other content rich and relevant.