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It's Time to Update Your Conference Strategy: Tips from Top Firms

Get tips from top firms on how to get the most ROI out of attending trade shows

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May 2, 2023

Conferences may have fallen off during the pandemic, but to the happiness of many a dealmaker, they're back.

However, dealmaking has changed significantly post-pandemic, with firms adopting new methods and tools to address the changing landscape. To discuss how conference strategies have evolved, Sourcescrub brought together four experts from across the industry:

  • Raya Al-Khatib, Strategy & Operating Advisor, Francisco Partners
  • Mike Cavallaro, Investment Banker, Morgan Partners
  • Sean Cole, Investor, Accel-KKR
  • Brandon Knapp, Managing Director, Evercap Advisors

During the webinar, they shared insights on how their firms approach conferences today, ways they use data to select which trade shows to attend, and their top tips for maximizing the ROI of every event. Let's dive in!

Trade Shows: A Two-pronged Approach

Trade shows have been a favorite method of dealmakers for many years. As Mike put it, "There's no substitute for a handshake." The rest of the panel agreed that conferences are far more productive than other means of making connections, with Brandon revealing that conference-related outreach drives Evercap's highest response rates.

When asked about their specific conference strategies, most panelists shared a two-pronged approach:

  1. Attend the Same Conferences Yearly: They (or the companies they're advising) have a "shortlist" of shows that they re-evaluate and usually attend each year.
  2. Find New Conferences Based on Attendees: Research what conferences are taking place and determine which ones are worth trying based on how closely the companies planning to attend align with their firms' investment criteria.

However, research shows that while 84% of dealmakers use conference lists and industry guides to source deals, just 44% use data to inform their conference strategies. Fortunately, all four of our panelists went on to explain exactly how they use data to get the most out of these industry events.

Augmenting Conference Strategy With Data

According to Mike, "Those with the most data are able to differentiate themselves, identify the best opportunities, and get in front of the earliest clientele." When vetting the events your firm usually attends annually, look retrospectively at past years' lists to gauge each show's continued relevance. Take time to map trends of which businesses attended, how healthy those businesses are, and their recent activity.

Then, find attendee lists for this year and research those companies. Analyze which ones your firm has connections to by integrating your data sources with your CRM. If there are enough matches, the conferences are likely still worth attending. Finally, use those matches to focus more on the companies that you're most interested in and start reaching out for meetings the earlier, the better.

To find new conferences, Raya shared that Francisco Partners prioritizes quality over quantity and begins its search by looking at the events that match the specific industries and sub-sectors the firm is focused on. Other panelists agreed with this tactic, and suggested also sorting new conferences based on how many attendees match companies already in your firm's CRM. They also recommend starting research on new conferences at least six months out.

Regardless of whether you're investigating a new or annually-visited show, ensuring you're prioritizing the right conferences and meeting with the right people is only possible by using the most recent deal sourcing data and technology available.

Tips for Making the Most of Conferences

Throughout the webinar our panelists shared many tips for making each event as successful as possible. We've detailed a few of them below, but make sure to check out the on-demand webinar for yourself for more!

  • Add local companies to your meeting list: Brandon shared a little-known trick for ensuring firms get the highest possible return on their trade show travel investment: sort target company lists by location and filter for those that reside within a certain distance from an event. With Sourcescrub, "you have the capability to figure out 'how else do we fill the holes in this calendar and make the time we have out in Boston, for instance, more productive and efficient?'" he explained.
  • Know who to talk to: Do your research beforehand to find out what your target contact looks like. If you do drop by a prospective company's booth when you're at an event, rather than strike up a conversation with the booth attendant about why you're there, it's usually better to ask directly for the executive, CEO, or founder so you don't waste time making a connection.
  • Embrace the human connection: Remember, you're in-person at a conference to make real connections that just aren't possible virtually. As Raya said, "Zoom is no replacement for face-to-face." Before traveling, learn everything you can about your contact and their firm, engage in small talk before diving into business, and be honest about whether you've met before or not. Then, use pen and paper to take meeting notes instead of using your laptop.
  • Make meetings as productive as possible: Schedule buffers of at least 10 minutes in between meetings. Everyone's calendars will be jam-packed, so don't be afraid of oddly-timed meetings, either (e.g., starting at 12:50). At the end of each meeting, create a list of next steps for you and your contact so no details slip through the cracks.
  • Be kind to yourself: Trade shows always have a lot going on, and the days are long. Bring some healthy snacks (granola bars go a long way) and a water bottle. Wear comfortable shoes (no high heels!) and if you wear socks, bring a second pair with you each day.
  • Let the post-conference madness die down: A lot happens at trade shows, and the week after a show is usually full of follow-ups. Don't let yours get lost in the mix. Wait a week, and then when you do send that email or make a phone call, ensure you're as clear as possible about why you're following up. Personal touches (e.g., "How was your trip to the Grand Canyon?") that show you paid attention to more than just business can help you stand out from the crowd.

How to Revamp Your Conference Strategy

This year is a perfect time to take a hard look at your conference strategy and make some valuable changes. By utilizing data to make stronger decisions, you can spend time more efficiently on your overall trade show program and maximize the ROI of each event. Learn how when you download this guide all about how to give your conference strategy new life.