Are you getting 4+ inbound leads per day?
If yes, bravo. However, the reality is most small businesses and startups struggle to build their inbound lead machine.
Inbound strategies take a long time to develop. They require constant creation of content, online engagement, advertising, and tireless writing, SEO, and guest blogging.
Scaling up your inbound machine IS a viable way to build a business, but it requires time. The real question is how long you can last doing JUST an inbound strategy.
For the majority of us, not long. We need cashflow (and we get that through sales).
Across all the data I’ve ever seen, events have proven to generate the largest amount of qualified leads and return on investment; yet a lot of people struggle on how to “work” an event.
This article sheds light on how to get leads at events, conferences, and trade shows.
Prospects vs Leads – What’s the Difference?
Marketers and salespeople often group prospects and leads into the same bucket – they’re people the company wants to do business with.
However, there IS a difference.
A Prospect is someone that the company identifies as a target for sales enablement. The company goes on the outbound to speak with them, email them, and message them on LinkedIn.
A Lead is someone that naturally comes to the business for help or assistance. In this case, the company has done things that attract the visitor and they become a lead for the business.
This is a very small difference, but an important one when we talk about lead generation through events (and here’s why).
When attending conferences, you can do proactive research and homework before the event; connecting with people, setting up meetings, etc. This activity is known as ‘gathering prospects’.
People are considered leads when you’re actually at the event and you people naturally walk up to your booth or were referred to your workshop.
The Deeper Reason Why We Separate Prospects from Leads
Marketing and sales departments use systems called customer relationship management platforms (CRMs). It’s essentially a database for marketing and sales management. You can tally people with similar characteristics, build charts, forecast revenue, etc.
When we differentiate between prospects from leads, we’re able to segment sales reporting and identify how our inbound sales operations are developing versus our outbound sales operations.
Ideally, a company would focus on doing outbound sales activities while the inbound sales machine grows.
Segmenting prospects and leads will show whether or not the business is on track.
How to Gather Prospects for an Event
It’s showtime. Your industry leader announced their next annual event and it’s 1 month away.
Here’s what to do:
1. Start a Spreadsheet, Build a List
Head over to Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel and start a new spreadsheet.
For columns, we’ll want to use labels “Name”, “Job Title”, “Email”, “Company Name”, “Industry”, “Company Size”, and “Target (Y/N)”.
We’ll build this list out over the next few steps. The idea is that once we populate it with contacts, we can switch gears into communication mode and start emailing.
Organizing this information ahead of time helps us write more personalized email faster.
2. Check the Event Website for a Guest List
When you registered for the event, was there a dedicated app or website you used?
Some events and conferences require attendees to buy tickets and register through online applications. A common feature among these event apps is a guest list of who is coming to the event.
If available, check the list. See who’s coming and start carrying information over to your spreadsheet from step 1.
3. Check the Event Hashtag
Event organizers want to build hype and excitement for their upcoming conference.
It’s become almost standard that event conferences feature their own dedicated hashtag, allowing guests to engage online, connect with new people, and to enhance their experience.
Marketers know this and will sometimes use the hashtag as exposure to their brand. “Heads up [LOCATION], our team from [COMPANY] will be at [EVENT]. Can’t wait! [# EVENT TAG]”.
Use the hashtag to see who else is coming.
Find businesses that aren’t already on your list and add their information to your spreadsheet.
4. Leverage Facebook Groups
Facebook groups might be the most under-utilized tools for gathering prospects.
Jump into your Facebook groups and use the search feature on the discussion forum.
Scroll through the results and see who’s attending the conference.
Engage people who comment on the questions. Message them, connect with them, become a friend. They might not necessarily buy your product, but they can be someone you hang with at the conference who can introduce you to their networks.
Keep it Human – Don’t Exploit These Tactics
A big flaw founders make is assuming everyone could be their customer.
This is where prospecting becomes pushy selling and spam.
Remember that People buy from other people.
These tactics show effective ways to mine prospects, but in the SaaS game, you’re looking at 1 in 1,000 prospects converting to a sale; assuming you’re a small company no one really heard of before.
Use these tactics to find your best 1,000 prospects, but when you engage, be genuine.
Please do not be one of those founders with an evil laugh running shitty sales dialogue.
5. Email Your Existing Contacts
FYI: This email needs to be a direct one-to-one communication. You technically violate the GDPR regulations if someone hasn’t opted-in your marketing materials and then you send them a big flashy email screaming “are you attending this event”.
Here’s a script you can copy and use:
“Hey [NAME], it’s [EMPLOYEE NAME] from [EMPLOYEE COMPANY].
A few members from our team will be attending [EVENT NAME] in [EVENT LOCATION] next month and we were wondering if you’re planning to attend?
If so, maybe we can set a time to grab coffee and catch-up in person.
All the best,
From the replies you get, see what makes sense for your schedule and book those meetings.
“Maybe we can set a time”
In sales, it’s typical to use direct forms of communication: “Let’s schedule a time to do a demo” instead of the wishy-washy “Hey, if you’re available, maybe we can chat”.
However, for the case of an event, you have a very limited time to meet people.
If you email 300 contacts and 50 of them reply “sure”, then your schedule is a mess and you won’t actually meet new people.
This is why I suggest using the softer-sided “maybe” in the script above.
6. Head Back to Your Spreadsheet & Start Qualifying Prospects
Which industries do you want to target? What company size works best for your product or solution?
Work through your list and determine who exactly you want to target. Prioritize the people and companies that you’d be most interested in meeting first, so your calendar isn’t full by the time you email them.
Email the first batch of targets and book what meetings you can.
If there’s still room in your calendar, head back to your list and work through the next batch of prospects.
Repeat this process until you have a healthy amount of meetings scheduled.
This will help you hit the ground running upon arrival.
The Best Way to Get Quality Leads from an Event
This section is short, but it’s the most important piece of this article.
Across all the data I’ve ever seen about marketing, sales, and revenue, events have proven to generate the largest amount of qualified leads and return on investment.
The key is to be mentioned or even better, speak.
I’ve attended a few conferences and I always get the most amount of leads when someone popular mentions me, or when I speak.
People tend to gravitate towards people the keynote speaker mentions. I had an Entrepreneur in Residence mention me during his opening speech at a conference once and to my surprise, my traffic grew and people approached me later in the day.
The other situation is when you speak or facilitate workshops/discussions.
When you finish up, people approach you to ask questions and get more personalized advice. Where I’ve created blog posts that answer a lot of questions I get, I usually tell people to read my blog. They come in, subscribe, grab ebooks, buy products, and become part of my inner circle of fans.
But building up a speaker profile is difficult (and I’m by no stretch a pro at it).
The advice I can give you for this is to start small and build up.
Join speaker groups like Toastmasters. Volunteer to facilitate workshops. Apply to speak at events, or even ask event organizers if there are any pieces of the conference you could introduce.
A tactic that worked years ago for me was trading my booth sponsorship for 2 minutes on-stage speaking (this is a cool little story).
I figured it was a better use of time speaking for 2 minutes on stage instead of standing at a booth for 4 hours. I contacted the organizers and asked if I could do a 1-2 minute pitch as an intermission between speakers. That I would forgo my booth in exchange for the pitch (and that they could sell another sponsorship to someone who wanted my booth).
They went for it and it was awesome. Me and my co-founder got a lot of leads from that little stunt!
This article dove into the details of how to get leads from events and conferences.
Because of the differentiation between prospects and leads, we dove into some methods for building a list and gathering leads; helping you book more meeting BEFORE the event.
We then switched gears and reviewed the best way to get leads from an event.
Speaking can be a huge game changer for your lead generation strategy.
As I said earlier, in all the data I’ve ever seen, events have generated the most amount of leads and ROI.
- Peter Loving’s Facebook Group “SaaS Founders and Execs“.
- Arne Giske’s Facebook Group “Millennial Entrepreneur Community“.
- There were no academic sources listed in this article. The tips and advice mentioned in this post came strictly from our marketing experience over the years helping startups, small businesses, and large enterprises build and engage their audience.
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