How to Win the Conference Game

By Kyle Dougherty | Updated: 19 Nov, 2014

Often, at the beginning of a new year, salespeople make the declaration that they want to "go to more conferences and networking events." This is the equivalent of saying that your New Year’s resolution is to "go to the gym three times a week." While it's a nice goal, they'll both likely be long forgotten by February.

Most people want to go to more conferences and networking events because they're a great place to meet new prospects and further develop relationships with existing prospects (they're also a great place to learn, but let's keep this focused on direct sales ROI). So WHY, like going to the gym, do people often fail to meet this goal?

The answer is simple, the value you get out of a conference is directly proportional to the preparation you do beforehand and the follow-up you do afterwards. Preparation and follow-up require three things:

  1. An organized process
  2. Advanced planning
  3. Time

Check out “Sales is a Science, But Your Salespeople are Artists” for more insight into why you don't often find salespeople who specialize in planning and organization.

Let’s take a closer look at how these three elements contribute to winning the conference game.


Do you have your calendar marked with conferences you plan on attending over the next two quarters? You should, because prep time is essential. Take your conference planning a step further by prepping for the following activities:

  1. Obtain a list of conference attendees from one or more of the following sources:
    1. Last year’s list of attendees
    2. This year’s sponsor list
    3. The exhibitor list
  2. Conduct prospect research
  3. Enter the names and accounts into your CRM platform
  4. Create email templates in your CRM. They should be simple and straightforward:
    1. "Hey, noticed you'll be attending this year’s X-Con, we will too! It would be great to connect with you while at the conference. Can we book some time to meet?"
    2. "Hey, I saw Company X will have a presence at X-Con this year. We will be there as well. Can you refer me to who will be attending from Company X? We would love to connect with you at the conference."
    3. "Hey, I saw you attended X-Con last year. Will you be attending again this year? If so we would love to connect."
  5. Send emails out in mass, two to three weeks prior to the conference. This allows you to send the initial email, and a follow-up email to everyone who didn't respond
  6. Coordinate meetings with those interested prior to the conference
  7. Strategize on, not only which presentations, seminars and panels you want to attend, but which sponsors you would like to meet with as well
  8. Find any local customers/prospects in the area of the conference you could meet with before, during or after the event.

During the conference

  1. Execute on the meetings you have set up ahead of time
  2. Meet with vendors. Seek out companies that have real employees at the show, as opposed to the eye-candy-type promotional models. Actual employees allow for actual two-way conversations.
  3. Aim to keep written or voice notes on action items and next steps from both pre-set meetings and random run-ins that can result potential business
  4. Venture out to the big sponsor parties, amidst the free cocktails and cocktail weenies; and remember to get some business cards

Post conference

Be sure to follow-up with everyone you had contact with. Whether it’s just to say, “It was a pleasure meeting you” or to send the product information that you promised. Aim to do so within a few days of the event, before the prospect forgets your interaction. Like you, those you met with likely met with a ton of other people too. A quick and effective follow-up email can help to ensure that you come out ahead of the pack.

With a great deal of careful planning, organization and time, you too can win the conference game.

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