It was late August when my boss pulled me into his office and said, “I was supposed to go to Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco this year, however my wife is expecting our first child and I need to stay close to home.” Who could blame the guy?! I understood I would be responsible for attending this event and coming back with a bagful of contacts. It felt like a daunting task.
I thought to myself… Where do I start? Which booths at the business expo do I visit first? Will I have enough time to cover all the booths? Will the Sham-Wow! guy be there?! It was enough to make a first year account manager’s head spin.
Luckily, prior to leaving for Oracle’s OpenWorld my boss gave me some pearls of wisdom and they have served me well ever since.
Expectations: First thing he said is to set realistic expectations. Always seek Contacts and not Contracts. “Do NOT sell”, he said, “break the ice, create mind share, and connect with people.” After all, people buy from people, right? Connecting with a target client builds a relationship rather than being just a name or a face in their memory.
Goals & Planning: He asked me to set a goal for the networking event and to start reaching out to target clients before the event. This includes identifying the prospects and then researching them. If it’s done right, they should know you before you walk to their booth to introduce yourself. This activity gives you a numerical goal, and a plan to execute.
Keep Your Promises: It’s very important to keep your promise of contacting new prospects after the trade show—follow up is key. He said persistence pays, but don’t be a pest! Be sure to keep some information for another time, that way you can commit the prospect to another conversation. This allows you to stand out from the flood of email solicitations they’re likely to receive after the trade show.
The last piece of advice I received was the most fun. If at any period during the event you get tired and want a smile on your face, “Visit your competitors at the show and ask them what they DON’T do well. Then stand back and watch ’em squirm.”