At conferences, as in all marketing, there are a lot of ways to ensure higher results, but also a lot of ways to throw away your investment. This question came up recently as a client was intent on visiting a conference armed with a banner, branded coffee cups and a smile. Yes, personality can get results, but personality combined with a great strategy can be killer.

Since most of the clients we work with would not sell directly at a conference, I am going to focus on strategies to make sales later—which are strategies that will help the direct sellers who realize not everyone is ready to buy right then and there. Let’s start developing a strategy based on the steps in the process:

  1. Get our audience’s attention
  2. Give the audience multiple action points
  3. Obtain contact information
  4. Engage our contacts
  5. Convert our contacts into sales

Get our audience’s attention
There are a lot of ways to do this, but keep in mind what types of people will be attending the event, their interests and how you want to portray your company—don’t be boring or unapproachable. Some great attention-getting ideas I have seen are people playing Nintendo Wii, amazing contests giving away big ticket items, or arranging a celebrity appearance.

Give the audience multiple action points
Not everyone will want to engage with you in the same way. Some will be fine dropping a business card in a contest box, others will prefer to speak with someone and exchange cards, some may just fly past picking up materials you have set out. Make sure that all your areas are covered so that people can engage how they prefer; otherwise, they may just pass you by. The key is to ensure all your action points drive to the right goal described next.

Obtain contact information
Getting contact info is easy when a person exchanges cards or drops them in a box, but for those just passing by your booth or picking up some material, you need a better process. For your conference, create a custom palm-card or brochure with a unique landing that optimizes conversion. Make the page unique to the conference, continue the conversation of what you were offering, explain your benefits & USP, and have a sign-up form right on the page for your newsletter with an incentive.

Engage our contacts
All your contacts from the conference, whether obtained from business cards or our landing page, should be placed into a targeted, segmented list to follow up. Create a plan over 6 months or a year to stay in contact – in 6 months, send three e-mails and two direct mailers with a personal phone call thrown in. These blasts should speak about the event where you found them and should continue the message, benefits and a clear action step to contact. Do this over time and provide the audience with valuable content or information – people do not buy right away and will appreciate your brand more if you don’t hit them over the head with your sales pitch.

Feel free to drive them to your other engagement marketing such as Twitter, Facebook, Ning, events or classes.

Converting our contacts into sales
In the end, our goal is to get sales. Engaging an audience and giving them clear actions will convert. Keep them tied into your e-newsletters, social media and other advertising channels. Provide quality information they will see as value and not a sales pitch. Give them the direct benefits of your product or service. Provide the action to contact you easily.

Just don’t let your contacts go – I have heard too many stories of clients collecting cards only to have them sit on a desk for 6 months.

Conclusion
Have a strategy before you go! Cover as many bases as possible to build contacts, engage them regularly over time and convert them into customers.