According to AdStage, 68% of B2B marketers use in-person events for lead generation initiatives. They value the unique opportunities that conferences and trade shows provide for networking, strengthening the brand, creating awareness, and meeting potential clients in the flesh.
CIENCE marketing managers are among that 68%. Not only do we participate in events, but we also help our clients leverage event sales meetings to full potential. We use our own methodology that we’ve developed about 3 years ago and have been improving upon ever since.
That methodology has helped us conduct hundreds of successful campaigns at events, set up thousands of appointments, and convert into hundreds of customers. Overall, we’ve helped generate millions of dollars of revenue for our clients (and ourselves).
In this article, you will find information about the CIENCE lead generation methodology for conferences and tradeshows, including:
- The specifics of lead generation at events
- The reasons why many participants fail to generate a sufficient number of opportunities at events
- A step-by-step guide to event lead generation
- Valuable tips from CIENCE experts
Learn with CIENCE and practice at the best marketing conferences in 2020.
Event Lead Generation
Just like any other business process, mastering conference networking is impossible without understanding current industry trends. Are events even a thing in 2019-2020? Yes, they are. If you need to be persuaded of this, read on. Skip to the next section if you already use events to network and find new clients.
Senior Vice President and General Manager, American Express Meetings & Events, Issa Jouaneh predicted a boom in the event industry for 2019 after a tremendous slowdown as recently as 2015.
For the past four years, the number of conferences and trade shows, their duration, and attendees, as well as overall spend has been steadily growing.
And the reason behind this growth is that B2B marketers know how to leverage events for lead generation. In fact, for some industries (like biotechnology and genomics, for example) conferences are far and away the best source of potential customers.
Okay, 68% of marketers use events for lead generation. And the best performers were even able to demonstrate a 26% ROI.
That leaves us with two questions: what did they do right to achieve their goals and what did underperformers do wrong?
Let’s learn from those who didn’t succeed first.
Why conference lead generation efforts aren’t as effective as they could be.
QuickTapSurvey, the lead capture and customer feedback app for events, shared their insight into why lead generation at events isn’t working.
The top reason?
Having the wrong focus.
They emphasized that underperforming vendors concentrate their efforts on data collection (“badge scans”) and lead scoring, treating fellow attendees like numbers instead of approaching them as people — missing in action are sales basics like establishing rapport, generating value, and simply talking.
The second (and correlated) reason this approach is ineffective, is that there’s no reason for an event attendee to provide their information to the vendor. There is no “connection” yet.
2. Identifying the right conference leads
Another problem that is especially topical for conferences with 1K+ attendance is finding the right people to present your company to. Most marketers here employ a serendipity strategy, hoping for the “right” customers to walk by their booth. If you came to hunt for opportunities, you want to ‘get your hands’ only on potential customers.
For example, if your decision-maker is a Head of Production in the automotive industry, you wouldn’t want to talk to an administrative assistant or a marketing manager. Alas, you have only several days to find your needles in a haystack. And luck is not a strategy.
Everyone’s busy at conferences. That is a given. And even if you’re fortunate enough to come across your ideal potential customer, the timing might not be right.
So you’ll either need to wait for the person to finish their schedule, or set up an appointment to meet them later.
As a result, you’re wasting precious time that would have otherwise been spent on talking with your potential customers and leading them further down your funnel — closer to making a purchase.
A Better Event Marketing Solution
CIENCE meticulously analyzed these problems and offered a methodology that solves them efficiently. Furthermore, it offers more predictability and control to B2B lead generation at events.
Below are 7 essential parts of our methodology for conferences and trade shows:
- Identify the attendees that match your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP).
- Use lists of attendees.
- Determine likely attendees where no lists are available.
- Past year’s shows, event apps, and even educated guesses are great sources of attendees.
- Design a messaging strategy based around times, locations, and shared commonalities at the upcoming event.
- Conduct a multi-channel outreach campaign prior to the event, offering to meet (e.g. for a cup of coffee, at the booth, or pre-determined interaction point).
- Designing this aspect of your meeting strategy is crucial to success.
- Send key executives and/or sales teams to the conference.
- Coordinate day-of meeting details, including reminders, locations, and meeting windows.
- Enable salespeople to conduct valuable discovery meetings at the event.
- Comprehensive follow-up and next steps for everyone (including #1 above) after the conference.
Benefits of the CIENCE methodology for B2B lead generation at events:
- No empty schedules – participants get the most of every minute they spend at the conference.
- Only high-quality leads – sales research and ICP make sure that you meet only with prospective clients– excluding unqualified event attendees is just as important as targeting the right ones.
- Qualified opportunities – you will have full-fledged sales meetings with decision-makers while others are only searching for them at the event.
- Sales intelligence – you will have time to learn everything you can about the people you meet, their companies and business challenges.
- The right time – since appointments have been scheduled beforehand, you won’t interfere in your prospect’s busy schedule at the wrong time.
CIENCE tested the efficiency of this methodology in multiple campaigns. Here’s an example of the successful application of our methodology — CIENCE at INBOUND 2018 case study.
5 Steps of Event Lead Generation for Attendees
Step One — Planning Event Lead Generation
We suggest planning your outreach campaign at least two months prior to the conference or trade show. At this stage, you need to complete several important tasks:
1. Make an ICP for the event. Your research specialist or Sales Development Rep (SDR) will be looking for contact data of the event attendees based on it.
Tip: Make a separate list of your existing and former clients. Conferences can be a great opportunity for upsell, account expansion, or for mending relationships that have gone sour.
2. Create a team that will be in charge of the event’s success. It should consist of event attendees, a dedicated copywriter, a person doing the research and people in charge of the outreach (SDRs).
Tip: You’re using prospecting techniques. Your potential conference leads will be already familiar with the event, less so your solution. In other words, you’ll essentially have discovery meetings with qualified opportunities who are interested in meeting. Your attendees should be people who can sell (don’t waste these meetings on Marketing, Customer Service, or Administrative employees!).
3. Pick the channels to use in outreach (email, phone, social, web, or offline) and define the sequence.
Tip: We usually use email and telephone. Sometimes, we leverage LinkedIn messages, comments and hashtags, as well as offline outreach. Check if your prospects post something about the upcoming event on LinkedIn. Write a comment, then a message.
4. Develop the content strategy for your outreach
Use your marketing mix, buyer persona, and conference theme to create unique and consistent content that will help you stand out.
Tip: Think about creating a branded outfit and/or giveaways for the event. The ability to reward time spent with your organization pays dividends that make you memorable. Without a booth presence, this is a great way to draw attention (if you aren’t a speaker and/or sponsor).
5. Set KPIs and goals for the event campaign. Your sales team should look at this event with a clear-headed focus on ROI. There is no hoping to bump into the right person. Serendipity is nice, but it is inferior to the calculated strategy suggested here.
Also worth noting is the fact that chances for serendipity are enhanced by pre-conference outreach. “Oh hey, you’re with CIENCE! I remember getting a note from you guys… Sorry I didn’t respond as I was too busy. Now that we’re here, I’d like to hear more about your company!”
KPIs are important for the outreach team, too (copywriter, researcher, SDR).
KPIs for the sales team: appointments held, conversions to sales opportunities. For those with extremely short sales cycles, Closed Won business can also be tracked.
6. Plan your activities prior, during, and after the event.
Example of an action plan:
You should also specify the details of outreach in the plan, including an SDR’s daily routine.
Step Two — Preparation
At this point, you’ll be preparing content for the event.
1. Conference Theme
I suggest picking some major theme for an event and applying it wherever appropriate. Think of something that will resonate both with your prospects and with the conference.
For example, when our founders went to INBOUND’18, they chose an “OUTBOUND at INBOUND” theme. They decided that just wearing T-shirts with this line written on them would be enough. They were right! It drew attention and interest because of the juxtaposition.
The conference was a marketing event and marketers often repeat that “outbound is dead” or pit “outbound vs. inbound” in familiar mantras. Implying that the two can actually work together in an efficient way is often something new to attendees.
NewsCred shared another great example of the event theme “Coffee before Content” for Content Marketing World. It’s a sponsorship case study, but it’s also a great example of consistency and creativity that anyone can apply. We especially enjoyed their badass bags.
Tip: Coffee (as well as any energizing beverage) will probably work for a couple of years more because it’s a great way to stay active during the conference. If your decision-makers are mostly millennials, you can try to lure them with smoothies and vegan food for a change. However, in this case, don’t take any plastic tableware and instead offer branded reusable cups.
2. Define the informational materials you’ll be taking with you.
As explained above, most of your meetings will match the discovery stage of your funnel, so make sure you prepare the respective materials and arrange them in a separate folder of your device.
Tip: Don’t take too many handouts. Otherwise, you’ll be tired in no time. A good thing would be to purchase a bunch of stylish USB flash drives and upload your data there.
3. Email Templates and Scripts
Eventbrite shared some interesting statistics about emails:
Like marketers, sales pros suggest using the name of an event in the subject line and ask for an appointment in the text body.
Copywriting Tips from one of CIENCE’s top-performing copywriters Briant Wells:
- Make it more about the meeting and less about the sales pitch
- Keep it short and simple. The value is in the face-to-face meeting more than anything
- Play up WHO is going to be at the event (like your CMO or VP) and how your prospect will benefit from meeting with them
- A cup of coffee can go a long way
- If you’re presenting, ask if they’d like a “sneak peek” before the event
- Offer to go to their booth rather than simply inviting them to yours
Techniques applied in the A template:
|Subject Line Personalization||Conversational Open for You||Common Ground Established to You|
|Who Are You?||Who Trusts You?||How’ve They Benefitted?(How Might You?)|
|Hint at ROI (for You)||Sharing is caring (for You)||We’ll Come to You|
Techniques for B template:
|Subject Line Experimentation||ShoutingOpen (from Us)||Earnest &Impassioned (Us)|
|Who? Us (long)||Who Trusts Us? (long)||Asserting Benefits (Us)|
|AssertingROI (Us)||Needy Request
|You Come to Us|
- Less self-praise — it’s what marketers and sales execs do all the time. Save it for the later stages of your purchase funnel.
- Focus on the prospect — their challenges, goals, and KPIs. Show you care and can help.
- Brevity. Period. Keep the email short to make sure it’s read and not just scanned.
- Sound like you’re a human, not like a marketer or a salesperson.
- Talk about prospect’s reference group (their rivals or brands they want to compete once they grow).
- NO BOLDING, please! And no links in the body text unless it’s the link to some relevant content shared by you, or by a prospect, or by the event.
Personally, when I see bold text or links in the email, I zone out immediately. The same is true for letters with fancy fonts, backgrounds or pictures. I know it’s a blast marketing email. And I immediately emotionally unsubscribe.
Check out the latest email we wrote for our campaign for INBOUND 2019. This super-basic subject line had a 55.13% open rate.
4. Content supporting your outreach efforts:
A. Landing page
CIENCE also leverages landing pages in the campaigns for our clients. It’s a great way to enhance your outreach efforts and provide all the information your prospect needs to make a decision about the appointment. NewsCred (mentioned above) also used one for promoting their sponsorship of the content marketing conference.
- Add a Google form to set an appointment right on the page.
- Provide the link to the landing page in the emails you send to your prospects.
- Place some valuable gated content there (e.g. industry insights).
B. Run social campaigns on top of your event strategy
- The easiest way to leverage social networks is to use hashtags.
- You can also write some valuable content related to some of the conference topics.
- Articles like “10 must-listen speakers of ABC Conference to keep up with the trends in the automotive industry” will draw the attention of the attendees.
C. Pre-conference “drops.”
Drops are a pretty popular way to stand out during a big event. From cocktail kits to hangover kits, to reusable water bottles, to power packs, anything goes. Few people get surprised upon finding a small present in their hotel room or on their chairs these days.
I suggest making a pre-emptive move and send your drops before attendees go to the conference. Think about a nice travel kit or some gated content of yours printed for reading during a long flight.
5. SDR Training
The outreach for conferences is similar to the regular outreach that your SDRs are used to. However, they should be prepared to assist you during the event, namely with rescheduling some of the appointments and setting up the new ones with prospects that raised their hands in the last moment.
There are several steps for SDR training:
0. Explaining the specifics of event campaigns (if your SDRs haven’t participated in them before):
- What are the events? Collecting leads at trade shows and conferences (you can give this guide for them to read)
- Time limits
- Outreach to the attendees exclusively
- Event theme
- Sales assistance during the event
- Post-event follow-ups
- Inbound role (if you have a landing page)
- Additional sales intel (e.g. if the attendee is presenting)
1. Review the Buyer Persona, ICP, and UVP with your SDR. Focus on the goals and challenges of your leads and explain how your product/service can help with them.
2. Discuss the outreach strategy and tactics. Explain what channels you’re using and why. Outline the daily routine and draw a roadmap of the campaign.
3. Conversation training. Give your SDR scripts, templates, and canned responses. Teach what to tell the prospects. Discuss the common objections and how to handle them.
4. Cold calling practice. Do the roleplaying. Don’t forget to record and analyze the conversations.
5. Do the CRM retraining. Any SDR should be capable to use one but it’s better to make sure they don’t fail.
Step Three — Outreach to Conference Leads
A campaign should begin outreach at least 2 weeks prior to the event. However, the bigger is the event, the earlier you need to start.
1. Sales research
Most conferences provide the list of attendees (name, title, company) but not their contact data. The contact list of conference attendees isn’t something you can easily purchase from a platform. That’s why you’ll often need to generate it from scratch.
- Who should be in charge of the research? In many sales organizations, SDRs are. However, I think that it’s an additional distracting workload on reps. That’s why CIENCE suggests having a separate role for this: Sales Researcher.
- When to start sales research? As late as possible to ensure that all leads are up-to-date. At CIENCE, we usually make a sendout to the conference leads that were generated the day before and passed quality control.
- Ask the person in charge of research to check for the late ‘registrants’ while the outreach is going. Reaching out to a couple of decision-makers to fit your ICP can win you a deal in the end.
Detailed research on possible event attendees that match your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) is the part with the most drudgery that most people skimp, or skip. Don’t do either. It is where campaigns are set up to succeed or fail.
2. Outreach to conference leads
On average, an SDR who isn’t in charge of sales research can reach out to between 35-50 leads per day via email and phone. He or she will also have enough time to manage the CRM, write replies, and follow-ups to renew the conversation.
Tip: The overwhelming focus, messaging-wise, should be on the event itself and human connection. Overly sales-ey or marketing-heavy campaigns underperform relative to campaigns that value the simple opportunity to meet for two people that share more in common than just an opportunity to sell something.
Timely follow-ups are also huge. Conference attendees change their schedules on the fly and missed meetings are common. However, any missed meeting is actually an even bigger opportunity to leverage the reciprocity (okay, guilt) of standing someone up. Rescheduling is viewed favorably and often greatly appreciated.
Tips from one of CIENCE’s top-performing SDRs Ivan Vakulenko on how to make phone calls for B2B event lead generation:
1. Before making a call
- Make a reference sheet of all the free slots your sales managers have for the duration of the whole event. If you get a ‘yes,’ you won’t waste time looking for a convenient time.
- Do sales intel! Find out what the company is doing, write down a reference sheet of their services and how your company can help them.
- You should believe that the prospect and their company really needs your product/service. To test that, try putting yourself in their shoes and ask yourself: “What do I get from this solution?”
- Think of several options in which your company can help. Example: when we call a decision-maker offering outbound prospecting services, some of them say that they do inbound exclusively. Instead of giving up, we tell them about our inbound SDR service.
2. When talking to a gatekeeper
- Say you’re calling about an appointment between your boss and theirs. You’re calling to get the details.
- Use the conference to get through. Gatekeepers have heard about the event their boss is heading to. They probably helped with the arrangements. Tell them your call is related to a business meeting at the upcoming conference.
3. Talking to the decision-maker
- Make it clear that you’re not selling vacuum cleaners. You want to set a business appointment at a conference. One of the key purposes of such events is to meet new people, listen to important insights into your business and find new improvement opportunities.
- Have a plan B. Say, your prospect decided to skip the event. Don’t hesitate to set up a video call for them during the week following the conference. Say that your experts have studied their company and have some valuable insights to share with the prospect. You’re calling to discuss it.
- If a prospect says “we have such a solution already” don’t give up. Ask questions about their satisfaction, month/quarter/annual results, KPIs, efficiency, ROI, etc.
- If you made a call at the wrong time, say it’s very important. Ask the prospect politely when you can call them again.
4. After the phone call
- Send a warm email with a summary of your conversation over the phone. Don’t forget to express your gratitude and share the content that you deem fit specifically for this decision-maker and company.
- If you didn’t set an appointment with the prospect during the call but you feel that they’re ready, write down three time slots for a meeting in your email.
General Best Practices:
A. Choose the appointment place
Cafes are the best place to meet. They provide necessary space, have snacks and beverages to crack the ice. Your prospects may be hungry after a long session they’ve just attended, so treating them would be an act of kindness.
In addition to that, cafes give you the necessary visibility for other attendees to spot you and take an interest — especially if you’re wearing branded shirts.
B. Do your homework (sales intelligence)
Some of your prospects may be speakers at the conference. You can leverage this in your outreach. For example, you can use the title of their talk in your email. You can also build rapport by asking questions and showing sheer interest in what your prospect will be talking about.
Regardless, pre-meeting SMYKM (show me you know me) is ALWAYS welcome and offers the ability to start any conversation off on the right foot, allowing the prospect to talk about themselves, first.
C. Sequences and waves
Don’t make sequences too long. I suggest no more than 5 touches for the first outreach week and 3 touches for the last week if you are compressed to the last two weeks before the event. A longer head start gives more breathing room and slower, more deliberate tempo.
If you send the first wave of emails to the remaining prospects on your list on the eve of the conference, make sure that it’s also the last one. There’s no point in trying to secure meetings during the event itself.
Step Four — Event
Obviously critical is the schedule and agenda that your sales force comes to any conference ready to execute. However, events are free-flow. It’s common to find a well-organized schedule shifted.
The event is often the most overlooked part of the Outreach Team’s role. They can, and should, be at the ready to adjust meeting schedules — your sales force’s and prospects’.
Negotiate and make an agreement for further steps after the event is finished.
Tip: Be ready to text. Make sure that your SDR sends meeting reminders on the eve of and morning of appointments.
Texting is often your best friend to rescheduling meetings on the fly.
Step Five — Follow-up
If this statistic wasn’t so depressing, it would be surprising. Follow-ups are a must-have for any outreach. If you want to successfully convert your conference leads to sales, you shouldn’t rely on their (or your) memory of your conversations during the meeting. Remember that conference attendees are (over)loaded with information.
You need to follow up with everyone:
- Prospects you had appointments with
- People you met at the conference
- Those who never showed up
- Leads who never agreed to meet you
- People who never replied to a single letter/phone call.
Follow-up is usually made via email, but you can also call. As a rule of thumb, your salespeople should be the ones to follow up with prospects they met at the event. Your SDR can write or call everyone else.
Tip: Prepare messaging playbooks for follow-ups to all the above-mentioned categories before the conference, especially those you met with! Make them sweet and nice and filled with the shared experience that was the event.
Conferences provide fantastic opportunities for networking and lead generation. Companies can enhance and make the most of it with the CIENCE B2B event lead generation methodology. A firm can conduct active email and cold call outreach to potential buyers attending any event before it starts.
Maximizing time and ROI at any event is a nearly foolproof strategy for increasing business. Taking conference conversations to the next level is achievable and will pop any sales funnel with the right execution.