Picture Above: MSP attendees and vendors network at CompTIA ChannelCon in Washington D.C. (August 2018).
Make the Most Out of Your Next Networking Event
Last week I had the opportunity to attend the CompTIA ChannelCon 2018 event in Washington, DC. Our Collabrance and PathShare® teams shared a booth in the technology fair, and our GreatAmerica colleagues were there as attendees. After a jam packed three days of sessions, activities, and late nights, we had made hundreds of new connections. One thing I am always amazed by is the amount of connections we make at events that are NOT at our booth. It got me thinking about how important networking is at events, and how much it can determine whether it’s successful, or if you leave disappointed. As someone who networked at hundreds of events over my career, today I wanted to share with you my top 10 best practices I have learned that have helped me build new connections at events. Hopefully some of these networking best practices will help you at your next event as well:
Separate from your pack and introduce yourself to people you don’t know. Engage with others at your table at meals, start conversations when in line or waiting for sessions to start, or introduce yourself to others in the lobby or bar during down time. Some of the best connections I have made at events was by sitting next to someone I didn’t know and simply introducing myself. It can be uncomfortable at first, but worth it! Remember, other attendees and sponsors are also there to make new connections, so be proactive and start a conversation.
Get to know the other vendors around you. Anyone who has stood in a booth knows that there are busy times and there are slow times. During the slow times, use it as an opportunity to introduce yourself to other vendors. Not only does this help you make new connections and learn more about the industry you serve, but many times you can form new partnerships and referral networks with others who have similar customer profiles.
Don’t always be in “sales mode”. Initiate conversations, ask questions, be curious, and make friends. I have always told friends and family that I make friends for a living, and if you get good at making new friends and just connecting with others, there will be plenty of time to make your pitch later.
Participate! What do I mean by this? If you are a vendor sponsor, don’t just show up when it is time to booth and retire to your room as soon as you are done. Go to the event, watch the keynote speakers, attend the sessions, ask questions, and attend the elective events as well. For example, I participated in the 5k run last week at ChannelCon. I don’t necessarily like to run, but by just participating in this event I was able to meet several new people. If you just show up when it’s time to booth and do not participate in anything else, you will miss out on key opportunities to make new connections.
Always have your business cards on you. You never know when you might meet someone in the elevator, in a session, or in the lobby that wants to engage in a further conversation with you later. Make sure to be prepared and that you can give them your contact info!
Take advantage of social media before, during, and after the event. Let your customers know you will be at the event, post pictures, videos, and special offers on social media during the event to drive people to your booth. Also, make sure to connect with prospects you meet through social media after the event as well. It goes a long way and offers a nice platform for future conversations.
Use your team members and customers to drive traffic to your booth during the event. Last week there were several times when the GreatAmerica attendees walked prospects over to our Collabrance booth that they met in the hall or in a session. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your current customers to refer others to you as well. Many of your customers already have connections at these events, and if you simply ask them for help they are almost always happy to do so.
Proactively introduce yourself to staff at the event, and also to members of the media. The companies who put on the events, as well as others in the media, look for things to post about. Why not have them post about your company? In addition, the companies who put events on are always looking for educational content for their audience. Volunteer your expertise to create opportunities where you could present to several people at once at future events. This has worked great for us over the years. However, if they don’t know you, they are less likely to write about you, or think of you when they are coming up with content for their next event.
Be present at your booth. I know this one seems obvious, but I am consistently surprised by the amount of companies that are not at their booth during open booth hours. Always make sure someone at your booth while it is open so if someone walks by you are ready to engage with them.
Follow up fast! It is obvious that you would be expected to follow up with your prospects after the event, however, one additional tip would be not to wait until you get back to the office to follow up. If you have time during the event set up the next step. If you have any action items from your discussion, complete them that same day and impress the prospects you are talking to. Make them feel important by being responsive and following up fast. If the action item is for one of your reps (not yourself), communicate with them right away so they can start working on the opportunity while the event is still going on. Remember that every other vendor your prospect has talked to should be following up with them after the event, so make sure to do as much as you can when you are at the event so your message doesn’t get lost in the mess of follow ups and other phone calls once your prospect gets back to the office.
Events are fun and full of opportunities – including networking with others. Follow these networking tips above to make sure you make the most out of your next event!
Jim Hocking is the Director of Strategic Relationships at GreatAmerica Financial Services in the Connected Technology Group.
Jim started at GreatAmerica in 2011 and has held multiple sales positions and mentor roles in the Office Equipment Group, the Communications and Data Group and most recently served as the Director of Sales for Collabrance from 2016-2018.