Getting the Most from Exhibiting at a Conference: Part ✌

As our return to Xerocon London draws nearer at an alarming rate. Our attention turns from the longer term (big picture) planning for the event (covered in our recent blog post on the subject), to smaller, more technical details of the day itself.

This is where the rubber meets the road, the push comes to shove, the bird meets the plate glass window….you get the idea.

In short, it’s crunch time. The time to really clarify how to make the best possible impression on the day, then go out and do it. The following are a few lessons we’ve learned from experience that will help you do just that.

To illustrate these, we’ll continue our case study of our Xerocon 2018 attendance. For which, a ‘good impression’ involves showing Xero partner accountants, and the finance managers of businesses, just how complete our all in one expenses management platform is.

 

5) Know what you’re going to say

Of course, making a good impression involves knowing what you’re going to say. This is fundamentally important to establish early on as it allows for a consistent message across the following areas:

  • pre-event marketing (including social media, blog posts, website updates),
  • pre-event emails to both existing and prospective customers,
  • printed and audiovisual media at the event,
  • Social media at the event
  • Post-event emails to leads that were gathered
  • Post-event marketing and follow up

Hopefully, with just a week or two to go before the event, your marketing & awareness building is in a high gear, ready to build the brand awareness on the back of the event marketing itself.

This is an especially important time for smaller organisations because, when done well, you’ll be able to leverage the increased exposure the event provides to build your own audience more effectively.

 

6) Tailor the message to the audience

Whenever you do kick it in to overdrive though, you’ll want to make sure what you are saying across the areas above is telling a consistent story in a compelling way.

Being compelling involves ensuring the message you’re providing is relevant to the target audience you expect to appear at the event. As well as providing some value to the individual who is reading it. A simple formula for this incorporates the three pillars of why, what (or more specifically - WIIFM) and how, and resonates best if packaged into a story.

At Xerocon 2018, we expect the audience to be 80% Xero Accountants and the rest finance managers for businesses that use the popular cloud accounting platform.

Therefore, in tandem with the above, our messaging will be very focused on our class-leading, seamless Xero integration. As well as all the improvements we’ve made to it since Xerocon 2017 - when we first launched as a connected app on the Xero Marketplace.

We’ll be aiming to specifically address the improvements we made in response to specific questions posed by the Xero accountant partners we spoke to. Such as the ability to add expenses from any source via our expense claims feature, customisable categories and our ability to sync with Xero tracking categories. Weaved into a story of proven ability to provide a reliable, valuable expenses management solution (through social proof) and a mindset of constant improvement to our all-in-one platform.

Finally, it’s always good if you can time announcements of significant milestones, product releases or partnerships to coincide with the event. This offers a focal point of new engagement and interest as well as something for your existing customers to learn about.

Oh, just make sure you avoid crossing the 'creepy line', and using the kind of messaging that will cause your customers to tune out.


7) Capture leads - and record what they say!

The whole point of attending industry events is to meet your market, engage with the people that comprise it, and generate valuable leads in the process.

It’s also an excellent opportunity to start a conversation with them too. One where you can listen to their concerns, discover their most pressing problems, and ask the questions to help you determine how best to solve them.

To this end, you’ll want to make sure you have a reliable and efficient method for collecting the details of the people you talk to. Many events now provide their own scanners and badges with QR codes to scan. However we’ve found the reliability of these to be suspect, and usually too few are provided - especially if you’re stand is very busy (and, of course, you have to pay for extras).

Therefore, it is worth thinking about how you’d like to organise this. Will one or two people be tasked to scan all the badges? Or will you pass the scanning device around as necessary? We recommend an organised approach as it makes the ‘starting a conversation’ bit much easier. But how exactly is that done? And why is it important?

 

7.1) and record what they say!

We’re glad you asked! The importance of talking to your customers should be self-evident. Listening to existing customers has provided us with valuable insights about how they’re using our expenses app, as well as a better understanding why they chose us as their expenses management solution in the first place.

Prospective customers offer an important education about the problems they’re trying to solve, and how those led them to consider our solution. Often, the reasons they opt against using your particular service can be more instructive than the reasons they do. As we found at Xerocon 2017, many of our existing customer insights were well-founded, but we’d also discovered a number of things that were important to accountants that we hadn’t even considered. Highlighting the key items preventing us from building a product to really manage business spending effortlessly.

All of this feedback should be analysed and used to inform the development of your product - accelerating your progress to product-market fit. And, while it’s difficult (or near-impossible) to quantify for ROI, you can be sure this knowledge (and, therefore, the conference) will contribute to the ongoing long-term success of your business.

Of course, this requires you not only actively listen to customers, but record what they say too. It’s easy to think you’ll remember who said what to who and when and why. But you won’t. A fog of vagueness descends from even the day after the event, a situation worsened further when the event lasts multiple days (and has evening networking parties too).

Which is where we come back to those handy lead capture devices.

Many of them now offer a way to add ‘notes’ to a lead, which you can extract after the event. It’s best to make the effort to use this to record anything of interest that was spoken about - even though it can feel onerous at the time. As a backup (or even primary) you may want to assign an individual with a laptop or tablet to record information in a spreadsheet on the day. Some things we like to know at Expend are: the contact details, their organisation, industry, role, current expenses provider, issues/problems we can solve, requests for features, how ‘hot’ they are as a lead, who they spoke to, and their general level of enthusiasm for our product.

This will help quantify what the most common requests or issues are, as well as who raised them. Not only that, but it can be key to turning your post-event reach-out into an ongoing conversation and even converting the lead. Which brings us to...

 

8) Have your post-show reach-out prepared in advance.

This is perhaps the most critical part of the entire, weeks-long effort. The stage where you turn the interest and engagement in to new customers. Or start the longer - digital - conversations that will continue to inform your development until you solve the problems your market faces. Indeed, McKinsey found CEOs consider digital customer engagement paramount in a 2014 survey.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes though. Chances are, they’ve shared their details with a fair number of organisations at the event. All of whom will be sending them post-show communication too. They’re likely to be overloaded with pitch-like emails, reminding them of the feature XYZ and the ‘limited-time special offer’ requiring immediate action. You therefore have two options, 1) get in ahead of everyone else, 2) wait until the noise dies down. We have yet to work out which is best.

Either way, your life is made far easier if you have this message written in advance - if you’re really efficient, you may even be able to send the email the very same day! The content itself is of course up to you. However we’ve found personalised, relevant messages land much better than a generic email that has obviously been sent to just about everyone under the sun. How exactly do you achieve this?

A simple, but admittedly manual approach is to write a generic template that leaves room for personalised elements to be inserted in to it. That way, you can get the best of both worlds! A message that’s quick to get out if necessary, but appears to be written for the individual reading it. Your meticulous lead records generated during the conference will help you achieve this, of course. Meaning you can prioritise the ‘warmest’ leads, sort by the most appropriate role, refer to a specific topic you discussed with them, emphasise how you can solve their most pressing problem and sign the email with the name of the person who actually spoke to them.

Of course, preparing more than one version is highly recommended! (Similar to how politicians prepare multiple versions of speeches). Especially if you’re fortunate enough to be so busy on the stand that you are unable to take the ‘lead-notes’ required.

For a quickly customisable template, we lean on Microsoft Word’s ability to fill data from an excel spreadsheet.

 

9) Look after the troops

Finally, if your conferences are anything like ours, they’re exhausting! Long days (8am - 10pm anyone?), spent almost entirely on your feet, and in near constant conversation with a vast number of people (while usually repeating same thing). Therefore a priority should be taking care of the best asset you have there - your people.

We’d encourage a system that lets everyone get away for regular (if short) breaks, as well as to have a look around the conference itself. We’ve also found encouragement in a steady supply of coffee, sweets (or other energy source), and a nice cold beverage after a hard days work!

And, shameless plug time, your team will be even more empowered if you give them an Expend card too! Not only will they not have to worry about keeping hold of the receipts or performing any time-consuming admin, but you'll be able to better track the spending with our oversight and control too.

Why bother doing this though? Well, don't listen to us! Richard Branson has long championed his philosophy that if staff are happy, customers will follow. Even going so far as to say "clients do not come first. Employees come first." And he would seem to know a thing or two about running a successful business.

So while you're looking after your team and making them happy, why not give them effortless, automated expenses too?

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