why conferences still make sense as sales venues

People have been reporting the death of conferences, or trade shows, at least as long as the web has been around.  But as Mark Twain said, the reports always turn out to be greatly exaggerated.

Just back from a regional conference in Dallas, in an area of education where most of the get-togethers happen in the summer because the educators can’t get away during the year.  That alone tells you a lot about the availability of discretionary money in this niche.  Attendance was down about 40% from last year.  But exhibitors on the floor reported better traffic than last year, higher interest, more quote requests.  This not the first conference this year where I’ve heard this, funding situation notwithstanding.  Huh?

Could be that fewer attendees mean better qualified attendees – people more likely to have budgetary authority, to have compelling reasons to come to conferences, to come with focused ideas of what they’re looking for.  Whatever the reason, it’s clear that conferences are still what they’re always been: a great opportunity to meet a lot of people self-selected for interest in what you provide, in a very limited time.

Of course conferences are a big expense, in both money and time.  And of course you can return with not much to show for them except sore feet and a big buildup of unanswered emails in your inbox.  But savvy ed marketers profit from them by remembering the following:

  1. The point is leads, not just flying the flag or talking to people you know.  (“Exposure” usually results in only a head cold.) 
  2. On leads, follow the Baby Bear rule: go for “just right.”  Don’t scan people indiscriminately just for volume, or capture only people who agree to a quote or a pilot (the latter is like trying to get dates with a pre-nuptial agreement).  Give people a short benefit statement and if they’re interested, scan, and…
  3. Follow up.  Promptly.  On everyone.  OK to temper the level of followup to the level of interest as you perceive it, but don’t write people off based on intuition from the brief contact at the booth.  If they were interested enough to listen to your pitch, and if they’re in a role where they can at least have leverage with someone with a budget, they’re worth at least a basic followup

And do wear comfortable shoes.


About mhbaumk12

Mike Baum has 40 years of experience with all types of direct marketing, has run several companies, spent 25 years as a consultant in franchising and in K-12 education, and currently helps companies find solutions to growth challenges.
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