As a sales leader, when I attend events and conferences, I’m in a unique position; I’m looking to meet and engage new business opportunities, while simultaneously being prospected by other attendees. From this perspective, I’ve seen quite a few changes on both sides: bigger and brighter booths allow sponsors to hang back and wait for the leads to come to them, and more attendees limit their time in the vendor area altogether.

These changes reflect some larger trends in the industry. An increase in the number of B2B vendors has exacerbated what was already a competitive and over-saturated space. In addition, more and more potential buyers prefer to do their own research on their own time. If buyers are more empowered online, they are less curious to see new products and services when they attend face-to-face events.

Funnel Clarity is no stranger to the importance of buyer behavior, but sellers could be doing better to provide value at events. Often enough, it’s not for lack of trying; many of us have experienced an overly enthusiastic seller aggressively bringing attention to their booth. As with many sales skills, finding leads at events can be improved through training. Here are four steps that sellers can take to be more effective:


Empathize When Working the Booth

Put yourself in the shoes of the prospect, an attendee of this event. Imagine you are walking the vendor area, scanning the booths for something interesting. You might be looking at the signs, though it’s usually hard to quickly digest what the company does. You’ll probably move past any booths that appear too busy, or too quiet – especially booths with disinterested or distracted sales people. On the other hand, a salesperson who leaps into the aisle, reaching out for a handshake, would seem friendly, but a little over-enthusiastic.

It’s valuable to remember this perspective and the role that this plays in your success at events. When at the company booth, sales people can increase their likelihood of making connections just by seeming approachable and receptive. Often enough, prospects will approach a booth just because the people behind it seem reputable, positive, and friendly.


Ask These 3 Questions

After casually initiating a conversation with the prospect, they might begin scanning your materials or your signage to figure out what you do. It will be important to elaborate on that later, but first, remember: people go to events for a reason. Craig Elias, the creator of Trigger Event Selling, tells us that event attendance is a signal that something might be changing to loosen the status quo within the organization. Discovering what your prospect cares about will be helpful in laying the groundwork for a continued mutually beneficial conversation. In order to find out what’s top of mind for them, you have to ask!

Here are the three questions to elicit that answer:

  1. “What are you working on at {company]?” (read their name tag!)
  2. “What brought you to this event?”
  3. “What session have you found most useful so far?  Why?”

Let’s break them down:

  1. “What are you working on at [company]?”  This question might be answered in a few different ways. Many people will start with a short statement on what their company does. Even though you didn’t ask this specifically, they are used to giving the one-liner to give some background. By asking what the person is working on instead of “what they do,” you come across as curious person, instead of a seller trying to qualify. Asking this question first will help you determine if you are talking to a company that would be a fit for you as a customer. If it’s the opposite, you can be friendly but avoid investing too much time in the conversation.
  2. “What brought you to this event?”  This question is a lot more than an icebreaker. A great deal of attendees of these events are looking for something specific: they have something they are trying to address in their business, either a problem or an aspiration. At first, you might hear an answer such as ‘I came to learn and network.’ You might ask a follow-up question about what they’ve learned so far, and that’s when you’re more likely to get a specific answer such as ‘What we’re really struggling with is…’ or ‘I absolutely need to figure out...’ or ‘What I’d love to do is…’ When you hear responses like these, make sure to note them later on the back of the person’s business card.
  3. “What session have you found most useful so far?  Why?” This is another very casual question that reveals a lot.  Remember the wisdom of Craig Elias – people go to these events for a reason. If you know what content has been most useful to them then you will quickly know if your products/services are related to that need. Don’t get discouraged if the answer isn’t a perfect match against what you do. Often, there’s more than one way to solve a problem. This person might be exploring one path, but the root of the problem might be something that can be solved by what you have to offer, too. People love to talk about themselves and they love to give their opinions. Be genuinely inquisitive!

Arrange Meetings with Other Attendees Before the Event

Check social media in advance to determine which of your prospects will be at an event. Reach out to them to book a meeting at the event with a message like this:

“Jennifer – I noticed that you will be at the AA-ISP meeting next week in Chicago.  Can we get together and have a conversation over coffee?”

Arranging appointments with prospects in advance means getting ROI on marketing dollars before you even show up for the event. If you plan to meet your contacts at your booth, it has the added benefit of bringing attention to your booth in a subtle and organic way.


Compile Your Notes Immediately After the Event and Connect on LinkedIn

In the changing business landscape, one thing that has stayed (pretty much) constant is the business card. However, badge scanners like iCapture and BadgeScan are being used more frequently at events to manage attendee information. In either case, at an event, it’s important to collect and organize attendee information after every meaningful conversation.

After the event, while you are going through your stack of business cards or notes, enter key information into your CRM. It’s easy to put off doing this and let a week go by, and run the risk that you won’t remember the context of the conversation. Record all the details of the conversation as soon as you can.

Finally, find the people you met and send them a LinkedIn invitation. Change the default LinkedIn invitation message to something referencing your conversation or worst case, a memorable moment from the event.

Your marketing team works hard to put together materials for the event. There’s a reason the booths or tables need people at them – to bring it to life! Don’t rely solely on your great display to attract potential customers. Focusing on these four areas is an effective first step towards being more successful when finding leading at events. 


Want to get more out of the sales events you plan and attend?


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