Conference Marketing: 7 Lessons Learned

When one of the Kapow marketing team members suggested we try a B2B sales and marketing conference late last year I was dubious but game. While the opportunity to get in front of a captive audience of our ideal customers was tempting, I wasn’t sure that a conference would deliver the hard-line, quantifiable results we wanted. I had spent the first half of my career in digital marketing roles,  and my personal experience with conferences was limited. With the show less than 4 weeks away, we were able to negotiate a good deal. So, we signed on and set to work.

Fast forward four weeks later. At the close of our first day on the floor, my boothmates and I looked at each other and made a confident proclamation, “We nailed it.” Since then we’ve kept the momentum rolling with at least one conference or live event a month and seen at least 2x ROI with each outing. What converted me from a conference doubter to a believer? Here’s what we’ve learned about executing a conference strategy that acquires qualified leads, makes an impact and delivers ROI.

  1. Prep and then prep again

If you expect to just show up to your booth and wait for the leads to pour in, you’re going to be disappointed. Preparing for your conference starts during sponsorship negotiations. Find out if the attendee list is included in your package. If it’s not, see if you can add it in or at least get a list of the companies attending so you can match that up with your database.

Is there a conference app with in-app messaging so you can reach out to set appts with attendees before the conference starts? It’s imperative to reach out to your VIP attendees and organizations before you set foot on the floor. This gives them a reason to stop by or seek you out. Ensuring you are prepared to crush your conference starts with knowing who is going to be in attendance and prioritizing your VIP list. Make sure that your booth team all knows who to be on the lookout for. Create talk tracks and a tiered giveaway plan that everyone is aware of. Ensure that everyone at your booth is well-versed in giving a product demo and equipped with next steps for prospects who want a deeper dive. You never know when a key prospect will stop by and you don’t want to be caught on your heels.

  1. Don’t underestimate the power of consistent (and unique) branding

At that first sales and marketing conference, one undeniable fact became clear right away. Our brand and value prop stood out in the sea of SaaS products around us on the floor. And that was no accident. Our booth graphics, swag, one-sheeters, tee-shirts and video all follow consistent and distinctive branding. This may sound obvious, but when you present a united front, attendees notice — and remember — you. At subsequent shows, we’ve tweaked themes and messaging slightly but always kept the same color scheme and consistent feel. This has paid off in a number of ways. Booth visitors tell their coworkers how to find us (“look for the ladies in black”) and passersby attention is grabbed causing them to pause long enough to get pulled in.

  1. Host an event for hot leads and prospects

So, you’ve done your homework and targeted VIPs with booth driving outreach, and you’ve made an impression on the floor. Now what? You need some dedicated face time without the distractions of other vendors and sessions competing for the attention of your prospects. And lucky for you, almost everyone at the conference is traveling and needs a way to entertain themselves after hours. If you aren’t extending an invite to an afterparty or dinner to your prospects, you are leaving money on the table. But you aren’t the only one thinking this way, every other sponsor on the showfloor (if they are smart) is inviting customers and prospects to an evening event. How can you stand out?

  • Choose a venue that is walking distance from the showfloor or the hotel where attendees are staying. If the location is convenient, you are far more likely to get the attendance you’re after.
  • Choose a time that is between two other events. We like to choose a time immediately after the showfloor closes and before an evening event. People will plan to stop by as they are leaving the floor or pop in before they head out to a later event.
  • Grab and keep attendees’ attention with something interactive such as a retail pop-up, mixology demo, unique favor or hands-on food and beverage experience at your event. At our first conference event we served boozy milkshakes and included a Sunglass Hut retail pop-up with giveaways on the hour. Even attendees who planned to stay for a short time, stayed longer to try a milkshake and their hand at winning the drawing. Design your own Timbuk2 bags and Nike ID shoes are also popular activities that get great turnout. We still run into clients who attended the boozy milkshake party more than a year later who recall the event. How many corporate events do you remember details of a year later?
    Also make sure to have print invitations on hand to give hot leads on the showfloor. It’s a great way to keep the conversation going and make a new lead feel like a VIP when you slip them a printed invite. Also make sure everyone at your booth is ready to provide directions on the day of the event in case prospects stop by with questions.
  1. Make friends with the other sponsors

At any conference there will inevitably be lulls in booth traffic. Use this time to make friends with your fellow sponsors. Depending on what your product is, they may be potential prospects for you. But they can also be unlikely allies. At multiple shows we’ve had attendees stop by and say that someone working at another booth told them to stop by because they mentioned something related to our business or they heard we were having an event that sounded interesting. Making friends with your fellow sponsors is an excellent way to get free referrals or potentially unearth partnership ideas.

  1. Follow up faster than your friends

Once you’ve made friends with your fellow sponsors, teach them a thing or two with your fast follow ups. We’ve honed our follow up strategy significantly since that first conference. Before every conference we form a conference team that includes not only those who will work the booth, but also at least 2-4 supporters who will remain in the office. It’s vital to have an in-office task force who is monitoring scans and ready to reach out to prospects with one-sheeters, case studies and other materials in real-time. Using this strategy has cut down on the churn and time that it takes to get settled back in the office and follow up with hot leads. Now we often have meetings scheduled with up to 10% of our scans before the conference has even ended. Having follow up scripts and talk tracks sorted out before the show makes the process even smoother. If there’s one aspect of our conference strategy that has helped grease the wheels to revenue — the in-office command center during the show is it.

  1. Network at meals and cocktail hours

Be ready to network and capture leads at any event associated with the conference. The booth does not have to be the only place you get down to business. You might find that attendees are more open and approachable at meals or cocktail hours. No one wants the full court press in these more casual settings, but be ready with your elevator pitch and armed with an easy way to capture the lead. If you’re in a bind, take a picture of their badge — most lead scanners can capture leads from pictures of the bar code.

  1. Hold your team accountable

One of the most important things you can do for your conference strategy is create a pre-con project plan with specific team members responsible for tasks. Your conference strategy and success sits on the shoulders of everyone involved and the old adage holds true — you are only as strong as your weakest link. If someone drops the ball on shipping, scanning or follow up you are going to lose out on potential leads and revenue. Avoid this by assigning clear responsibility for tasks to team members and ensuring everyone is on the same page with regular pre-con meetings.

As we’re sliding toward the end of a conference-heavy year, would we do anything differently? Of course, but we have learned a lot and been rewarded with record-setting pipeline growth. We never would have learned any of it if we hadn’t taken that first step a year ago. If you’re ready to dive in, check out our whitepaper on crushing your next conference or if you’re already a pro and need help with planning a post-show floor event, reach out to one of our event experts to get started.



Carolyn Chapin is the Director of Marketing at Kapow. 



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