We're still coming down from our #INBOUND17 high—as what happens to us every year that we've attended. As HubSpotters and inbound evangelists, there's a common understanding among us that HubSpot's annual Inbound conference is a must-attend. And we did! We attended all the sessions, accepted all the swag, went to all the parties, and drank all the kool-aid.
But here's the problem:
Last year, we just didn't gain the most value out of it as we had hoped. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
As attendees, it was difficult to learn anything new. Afterall, it's already our job as an inbound marketing agency to be on top of all the new trends and strategies in inbound. I never thought we'd be one of those guys handing out cards and swag to hundreds of strangers. That was just so... traditional *shudders.*
But, lo and behold, there we were, sporting SparkReaction t-shirts, handing out free swag and chatting up attendees like we were courting at a singles mingling event.
If you're a business that eats, sleeps, and breathes Inbound, posting up at a conference or trade show may not be your top choice for marketing strategy. But.
If you're open to other "less" inbound-y ideas, you may want to consider it—I know we came out with valuable lessons and leads. So, take it from us:
Here is what you need to know before investing in a conference booth.
Find your audience, and go to them.
For us, the annual Inbound conference was a major hotspot for HubSpot users and inbound marketing enthusiasts. With over 21,000 attendees of our top buyer personas, sponsoring a booth was something we couldn't write off. For us, sponsoring a booth at Inbound was like diving into a pool of 20,000+ potential leads.
If you're choosing to sponsor a booth, keep your personas in mind, and ask yourself these questions before you invest:
- Are the people attending this similar to my personas?
- Are they expecting to be spoken to?
- Do I need to speak to these attendees differently than I would speak to leads on my website?
While inbound best practices generally preach that your leads should come to you when they are ready, many attendees walking around trade shows or conferences are already expecting to learn about the companies and their services at their booth. This puts you at a major advantage.
But because these people may not be regular visitors to your website, you're still essentially a stranger to them. That, in and of itself, means you'll have to speak with them differently.
There's an art to marketing conversations—master it.
It wasn't until half-way through day 2 that we all figured out how we wanted to direct our conversation.
While it's important to maintain your personability and authenticity at your booth, to make it a strategic marketing conversation it can't just skim the surface of a, "Hey how are you the weather is gorgeous isn't it yes it is how're the kids" kind of exchange.
But talking about your brand isn't about gimmicks and mind-tricks—it's about asking the right questions to determine what kind of conversation that person wants to have. Try to make it less of a pitch, and more of a conversation. You do this by asking about them.
Here's how my best conversations typically went.
Me: Hi there! How's your week going?
[Insert pleasantries here]
Them: So, what do you do?
Me: We do a lot of things for our clients, it just depends on what they need. Do you use HubSpot, or are you thinking of using it?
Them: Yeah, we actually just started with it. It's really great.
Me: It is! HubSpot is a beast of a platform, and that's actually where we primarily work out of. We're an inbound marketing agency that does full-funnel inbound marketing strategy, specifically out of HubSpot for our clients to help them get the most out of their tool and high-quality leads. You'll see there are a handful of agencies here, too. They also do great work, but what differentiates us from this is [explain how you're different than the rest]. What kind of work do you do? How are you using HubSpot?
Them: [Insert lots of key information about who they are, what they do, and their successes and their problems]
Me: [Insert pleasantries] Well, that's great to hear about [make comment about what they just said]. Well, keep me in mind if you ever have any questions. Here's my card, and if you ever have any questions about the tool and HubSpot support misses the target, feel free to shoot a question my way. Do you have a card or email?
Them: I do—here it is.
Me: Awesome. Don't forget to grab your free t-shirt.
Remember your prospects.
After dozens of conversations a day, most of your conversations are going to blend together—that's just a fact. But remembering each of them individually may be the key to them remembering you.
Once your prospect walks away, document their information.
I. Can't. Stress. This. Enough.
I'm not just referring to remembering their name an email. Properly document their company, their pain points, as well as the information your business cares about. For us, for example, we care if they've been using HubSpot for a long time or if they just got started with it.
If you're using HubSpot, you may want to edit their contact properties as you import these contacts into your system.
Set realistic expectations.
The people you meet and speak with at your booth will more than likely not move down your funnel right away. No matter how great your conversation with them went, they won't be signing up for your Decision Stage offer their first day back in the office. Like your other leads, they'll take months of nurturing before they may be ready to buy from you.
When you're sending follow-up emails, it's best to try to keep them as familiar as possible. It's not only you that has spoken to a lot of people during the conference—your prospects have spoken to dozens of people, too.
Have the follow-up emails be from the person your lead spoke to.
Here are the Do's and Don'ts of conference follow-up emails:
- Include a photo of yourself to jog their memory.
- Include a note or two about the conversation you had. Mention any issues they may have shared with you.
- Send them helpful information. The more relevant to your conversation, then better.
- Be pushy. Asking them to schedule a meeting the week they return may be asking for too much too soon.
- Ask to schedule a meeting even after two emails—put them in a workflow that automatically checks up on them every week or two. Ease into the relationship—just because it started off "outbound-y" doesn't mean you shouldn't keep your inbound mindset. Nurture, be patient, and let them come when they are ready.
Standing behind a booth at a conference or trade show may not be the sexiest or most inbound-y strategy, but part of being an inbound marketing evangelist is to be open-minded and eager to try new things. So order your swag, grab your name tags and business cards—don't shy away from the booth table. You'll never know who you might meet.
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