Conference Lead Generation: How to Get More Sales from Event Networking

by | Oct 17, 2023

I don’t attend a lot of conferences, but a few times a year, I do, and I am making a more conscious effort to maximize the impact.  In fact, I’ll be attending the San Francisco Business Times Fast 100 Gala (Upgrow ranked #34!) tomorrow night and the Inc 5000 Conference (Upgrow ranked #1909!) later this month.

There are a lot of benefits of attending industry conferences, meetups, and other networking events.  I learn a lot from breakout sessions, get inspired by keynotes, and discover the latest industry solutions in the vendor hall.  But, the primary reason I attend conferences is to network.  This includes meeting current clients, potential partners, vendors, employees, friends, and, yes — sale opportunities.

In this post, I’m focused on the sales lead generation component.  I’m writing based on my research and own experience.  So, let’s jump into it.

Pre-Event Research & Outreach

What I do before I step foot on the conference floor.  Filling my calendar with qualified prospects before arriving.

Pre-Event Research & Outreach - conference lead generation

Something I notice when I show up to conferences is that a lot of people seem to already know each other and are catching up.  Additionally, every 1 person you know can introduce you to a whole new set of 3, 5, or 10 other people and informally vouch for you.

So, I do my research before the event to try to figure out who will be there.  Not only so I can try to seek them at the event, but also so I can send them a message in advance.

How to research who will be in attendance:

  • Conference or event websites
  • Conference or event apps
  • Contact the organizer to request a list
  • X and LinkedIn searches for anyone talking about the #event

Now that you have a list, you can filter through it to figure out your best prospects matching your ICP.

Next, send outreach via LinkedIn messages and email.  This is nice since you have a valid reason to contact them — you’re both going to the same event.  In my case, I can also congratulate other attendees on making the SF Business Times Fast 100 and Inc 5000 lists.

The message should be short and direct.  I’ve learned not to try to sell the solution at this point, but only to “sell” them on meeting up at the event.

Here’s a template I’ve drafted:

Hi [FirstName],

Let me first say congrats to you and your team at [YourCompany] for ranking on the Inc 5000 list.  I’m personally really impressed with what you’re building and would love to learn more.

Are you or your team planning to make it to the conference on October 30?

I am a founder at Upgrow – and would love to say hi and grab some coffee or a drink.  How is your Tuesday morning before the first session at 9am — or Wednesday’s happy hour?

Be great,

Ryder

PS, if you’re not able to attend or your dance card is already full, I’d still love to connect over Zoom another time.

I took the founder-to-founder angle since I happen to have that connection in this case, but leverage whatever connection you can make.

I’m trying to fill up as much “networking time” with booked meetings as possible.  And even if a lot of people decline or don’t respond to meet, you still can earn some goodwill just by the friendly invitation.  I plan to not make it a straight-up sales pitch when we meet, but rather a conversation; if they immediately need Upgrow’s digital marketing solutions, the conversation will go there.  And even if not, I’ve not got a great new network connection that will think of me when they do.

Final Preparations Checklist

Making sure I have everything I need to maximize my networking time.

conference sales attendee checklist

Okay, so here’s what I plan to make sure I prepare and bring:

  • Updated CRM with research on anyone I’m booked to meet or planning to get in front of
  • Elevator pitch script to review (a 2-minute explainer for my company, solution, and who I help — I’m committing to memory and will say it a lot)
  • Business cards
  • Fully charged phone and laptop with chargers
  • Business professional attire (even if others are more casual)
  • Conference agenda printout

Working the Room

Networking productively to meet the right ICP and create a solid connection.

networking events for sales leads

I plan to arrive early to register.  I like to walk the space to get familiar and comfortable.  I’m looking for familiar names and companies on badges, and since I did my research, I’ve got an “in” if I can open with knowing something about them.  And if I don’t, I can open by asking what they do.

The plan would be to wait until they’re not distracted and approach them with good energy and an outreached handshake.

Here’s a rough dialogue I have in mind:

(INTRODUCTION)

Me: Hey – I see you’re at [YourCompany] – I was just reading about your new product launch, sounds super interesting.

Them (propaby): Oh, thanks – yah we’re really excited about it too

Me: I’m Ryder (note, I don’t tell them my company or what I do – let them ask ask ready) — and you’re “[YourName]”?  (on badge).  What do you do at [YourCompany]?

Them (probably): I’m a founder/marketing director/CMO

(PASSIVE DISCOVERY)

Me: So what do you hope to take away from this event?  What’s your main reason for making the trip?

Them: Response

Me: As a (job title), what’s the biggest challenge your focused on solving right now?

Them: Response

Them (at some point): So what does your company do?

Me: Recite elevator pitch for Upgrow (eg, Upgrow helps tech companies to scale profitably with full-stack growth marketing.  Our secret sauce is  combining targeted, qualified paid and organic traffic with high-converting landing pages funnels, then consistently testing audiences and funnels.  We’ve been delivering like 800% lead growth in 90 days for several clients.  It’s really exciting stuff and we’re just about to launch a new AI solution that we expect to dramatically scale our output.

Them (ideally): Oh, that’s something we really need at [company]

Them (otherwise): Man, that’s interesting

(CONNECTION)

Me (if strong connection): Let’s catch up more, let me give you my card and cell number.  After getting number, also ask to connect on LinkedIn.  Text messaging has a much higher response rate than LinkedIn follow up.

Me (if no immediate connection): Let’s keep in touch, let me give you my card and cell number.  After getting number, also ask to connect on LinkedIn.

A few other networking rules:

  • It’s better to make a few strong connections than many weak ones.  So, I don’t feel like you can only give anyone 5 minutes and must circulate to someone else; if there is a potential lead in front of me, I stay engaged.
  • I stay focused.  Don’t get caught up spending too much time with coworkers, old friends, or unqualified prospects.  Politely excuse myself and catch up with them after the event; there is very limited time to network at events!
  • I make a strong impression and leave myself a follow-up thread.  It’s unlikely I’ll get prospects signing deals at networking events, so I will follow up to progress my leads into deals.  Try to note one key conversation point to reference back to later.  An example could be they tell you they’re having a hard time hiring a certain role, or they are looking for an accountant, or they just moved to a new city and are looking to make connections there.

Conference Leads Follow-Up

Here is where deals are made or go up to deal heaven 💸.

sales money heaven

I’ve learned the hard way that collecting a big stack of cards at a networking event doesn’t do you any good if you don’t follow up properly.

Here are a few guiding rules I follow:

  • Follow up the following afternoon – the following morning is too soon; they are probably traveling home, and later, they might forget you and get back to normal life.
  • Bring them back to the conversation – hopefully, you made an impression and also collected some discovery intel at the event.  Reference back to something to “bring them back” to that topic – ideally, a problem that you were going to help them solve.
  • Offer value – if they need help hiring, I’ll try to make an introduction for them or at least share their job posting to my network.  If they do need help with digital marketing, I’ll offer to review their campaigns and offer insights and ideas, with no expectations unless they lead things to wanting to work together, which is very common when trust is established through value.

Conclusion:

These are a few of my favorite ways to maximize critical networking time at events and conferences.  Applying these practices has led to a stronger network and more sales – directly and indirectly.

So, what practices do you apply for conference lead generation and selling?

 

Conference Lead Generation FAQs

What strategies can help in generating leads from online conferences?

Online conferences differ from in-person events, but they still offer a wealth of business opportunities. Ensure your sales team is well-equipped with the tools they need and consider using a dedicated landing page to capture potential customers’ information.

How can I ensure I'm targeting high-quality leads during event lead generation?

It’s essential to identify your target audience before the event. Engage with industry leaders, event attendees, and conference organizers beforehand to get insights. This will help your business development efforts in attracting qualified leads.

How can I optimize my conference lead generation efforts?

Attending conferences, whether virtual events or in-person events, offers a prime opportunity to enhance your lead generation process. Focus on understanding the pain points of conference attendees and tailoring your approach to address them, this will help to generate leads and more business opportunities.

What advantages do in-person events offer over virtual events for lead generation?

In-person events allow for more direct interaction with potential leads, making gauging their interest and establishing rapport easier. However, virtual events can cater to a broader audience and, with the right strategies, can generate even more leads.

How can I maximize lead generation from event attendees?

Engage with event attendees before, during, and after the event. Offer solutions to their specific pain points, provide valuable resources, and ensure a follow-up strategy is in place to nurture new leads.

What role does event planning play in lead generation world?

Proper event planning ensures you’re in the right place at the right time, targeting the right audience. Successful event planning involves understanding your potential leads’ needs and ensuring your sales team is prepared to address them.

How can I ensure my lead generation efforts at an upcoming event result in high ROI?

Focus on quality over quantity. While gathering as many leads as possible is tempting, focusing on high-quality leads that align with your business’s goals is more beneficial. Engage with potential customers, understand their needs, and provide tailored solutions.

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Ryder Meehan

Ryder has been on a 16-year journey to master digital marketing from every aspect. His resume includes Razorfish, Slighshot, Fossil, Samsung Mobile and Tatcha before launching Upgrow. Ryder is the acting CEO, heading business development and account services. He has been featured as a digital marketing leader on Forbes, PRNews, Business.com, Workamajig, Databox, Fit Small Biz and other outlets.

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