We are beginning the budgeting process for the marketing department at our firm and the question of industry conferences has come up. Senior management has questioned the need to attend conferences at all, and a few in particular that are really quite expensive. What are your thoughts on attending conferences?
Conference participation a great way to build business
Attending conferences — or I should say actively participating in conferences — can be a cost-effective way of meeting with clients, prospects and consultants.
Importantly, one has to have a very disciplined approach with a well-honed overall strategy and very specific goals for each conference. Select the conferences that will be discussing your firm's products or are targeted to your primary channel of distribution.
The key is that you really have to “work the conference” to justify the costs, both out-of-pocket expenses and the dedication of sales and client service resources.
Well in advance of the conference, find out what the agenda looks like, who is speaking, if you can get a money manager on a panel or even better as a keynote speaker and what that might cost. Sometimes conferences will extend an invitation (for free) to get a great speaker on an esoteric subject. Many times however, the firm will have to be a conference sponsor and will be required to expend some serious money for the right or privilege to speak.
Location is important, but not so much from a cost point of view as will the location attract clients, prospects and consultants that you want to see. If possible, try to set up a small dinner in advance of the conference, say the night before the conference begins, but in no way should your dinner interfere with a scheduled conference event. Don't try to spirit away conference attendees from an official event.
It is very important to attend every session, every coffee break, certainly every reception and, of course, every conference dinner. You will certainly know who the speakers are in advance, so you will know whom you want to meet and greet. Most conferences also publish a list of attendees in advance, so you should have a definite plan on making sure you have an opportunity to meet and converse with key individuals. The conference venue is not the place to make a new business pitch. Meet new people and set the stage for a follow-up call or visit; say hello to clients and consultants you already know.
Conferences should be an integral part of your overall sales and client service program, but they take careful planning and require a total commitment of time and effort by the participants.