Monday, May 5, 2014

How to Close Deals while Having Fun at Your Next Conference (ft. Casey Kerr)

Conferences are both the most valuable and challenging environment to make new connections.  While there are people everywhere a deft hand is required to effectively identify high potential prospects, make contact, and get the follow up meeting.  I've personally always struggled with this art, so for this post we're tapping in my good friend @caseydkerr - a prospecting guru - to show us the ropes. 

The Challenge

Imagine being by yourself. You enter a room full of tables of people you don’t know. These people are there to listen to someone else, not you. In fact, some of these people don’t want to be bothered. And you’re bothering them.

Welcome to how most people feel when attending a conference! As a sales rep or business owner, your goal is to get past any awkward feelings and find the folks there who want to buy what you’re selling, invest, or partner with your business. A friend of mine who I really admire approached me recently and asked me for guidance on how to have an effective strategy at a conference.

Having hit the conference circuit for over a year and building/training a sales development team, here are my ideas about making the most of your next conference:

Prepare for success:

  1. Exercise is great before a conference. Work out, listen to music, or go for a run. Your energy will affect others.
  2. Grab breakfast or coffee. Clear your mind. Focus. Try deep breaths, yoga, prayer, or whatever works for you.
  3. Message speakers or attendees beforehand to arrange meetings. LinkedIn is best.Be happy! Call a relative or a friend to catch up. Laugh hysterically. Feel loved. You’re about to have hundreds of conversations with strangers, so have fun!

Set goals:

  1. Your main objective should be to book meetings. Each day should a minimum quota of 3 qualified meetings with decision maker(s).
  2. Do 10% - 30% of the talking. Ask questions & learn about this person. Leverage what is said to book a meeting.
  3. Ideally, your goal is to get your prospect to take out his or her phone or laptop & create the calendar event.
  4. Set silly small goals along the way. Give 3 people a high-five. Talk to someone in line. Make 5 people laugh. Talk to 10 people in 10 minutes.  The sillier you make it, the more fun you’ll have.

Approach people:

  1. Pay a compliment & immediately ask a question. My favorite opening line is “This looks like a fun group!” followed by a question like: “where are you guys from?” or “what brought you to the conference?”
  2. Be topical. If the speaker just spoke about a particular business strategy or piece of software, ask their thoughts. If you’re at the breakfast table, ask if they usually eat pineapple for breakfast.
  3. Ask questions to qualify your prospect. For example, if you’re selling Marketo, you may ask:
    • “Do you use marketing automation currently?” [project]
    •  “What are you guys thinking of spending? Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands?” [budget]
    • “Who’s typically involved in these decisions? Who signs? [decision maker]
    • “When are you thinking about buying? Tomorrow? Next month? Next year?” [time frame]
  4. Be aggressive at getting contact info! Ask for cell phone numbers. If you have a gimmick, getting a cell number is easy (see #4).
  5. Ask for the meeting! “What is the best time on Tuesday 7th, how about 10am?” or “what time works best to get Susie and Bill together next week?”
  6. Most importantly, remember to ask questions and nail down a date and time on their calendar for a meeting.

Have a gimmick:

  1. Plan an after hours party, an iPad giveaway, a helicopter tour, etc. Anything that allows you to approach someone you don’t know and ask: “Have you heard about our after hours party happening at the Yard House across the street at 6pm?”
  2. For an event, promise amazing attendees. Get (or beg) someone important to attend. Go around telling anyone and everyone that the “VP of Marketing at Facebook” or whoever is coming.
  3. Have something memorable to hand out. My favorite example is a girl that handed out blinking plastic rings at an Employee Engagement Conference and said, “let’s get engaged.” Giving a gift no matter how small induces reciprocation.

Follow-up:

  1. Send really nice, heartfelt confirming emails to everyone who scheduled a meeting. Send a reminder email 1 day prior to the meeting.
  2. For others: call, email, call, email, call, email, make more calls, send more emails, and so on. Be friendly and remind them of the conversation you shared. 
The most common mistake is talking to vendors or folks at the booths. It’s an easy conversation, but it’s a waste of your time. Find your prospects listening to the speakers, standing in line, in the lobby, eating lunch, or wandering the halls. The busier and more unapproachable the person seems, the more likely he or she is to be of importance.

In summary, have fun, ask questions, have high-energy, talk to everyone there, and book meetings on the spot. If all else fails, imagine that these people have bags of cash waiting for you to talk to them. After all, that’s kinda true. :)

About Casey

Casey’s efforts helped grow Findly.com over 900% and revolutionize social/mobile recruiting technology. Starting as first salesperson, Casey personally closed over $1.5 M in Enterprise sales while managing 3 teams, including inside sales, lead generation, sale operations (10+ members).

Casey loves Bay Area tech companies and playing ping-pong, racquetball, and tennis. Casey currently leads sales efforts at Vessel.io, a Sequoia-backed mobile app tech company that helps mCommerce and social apps with monetization and optimization.


Follow him @caseydkerr or visit his LinkedIn profile.

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