I attended one conference this past year where I wasn’t speaking. There were two CEO’s I wanted to sell to, three people I wanted to meet and one presentation I thought would be interesting.

It was a two-day conference. It was expensive. And of the two days, I spent 45 minutes seated in the conference room, for the one presentation I wanted to see.

The rest of the conference was spent in corridors starting and doing deals. The return on investment (ROI) of that conference was positive and there are reasons why that was the case which I’d like to share with you. A third factor would have made for a higher ROI had LinkedIn released a new feature earlier than last week. More on that shortly.

There’s little doubt that speaking at conferences is a marketing force multiplier. And for those who pay to glean insights and network, their ROI is often a stack of business cards that join a growing pile in their office.

Hustle, network and new content

Conferences are expensive in terms of capital and opportunity cost. I can usually think of 10 other ways I could be investing time if I weren’t attending a conference. But from time to time, I can sell, network and learn from the speakers and if all three of these conditions are met, I buy a ticket.

The conference I mentioned earlier provided the opportunity to kill three birds with one stone but just turning up and hustling wasn’t the strategy.

Going into the conference I knew three things.

First, I was there to introduce and make B2B sales of a software service (inkl).

Second, people attending conferences are (usually) in sales mode. They are trying to put their best foot forward and because they are working to convince people of their value, they rarely expect to receive value.

And third, business cards are the standard form of initial value exchange, the first sign of mutual relationship.

Learn about who you want to know

I knew who I was there to sell to before I arrived and I was armed with three factors of mutual interest for each person I wanted to speak to. We either knew the same people, were connected through previous organisations or shared a love for a sport or humanitarian pursuit. Like me, those people weren’t interested in the conference content and spent much of their time in corridors on calls and doing business which made it easy to talk.

Deliver the unexpected

As far as rarely expecting to receive value is concerned, I worked with one of my fabulous team members to hatch a plan to deliver a personalised gift to each person I met and wanted to create a great first impression.

Here’s how it worked.

After they provided me with their business card, I told them they would receive a gift subscription to inkl in the next 10 minutes. When we moved on to new conversations, I sent a photo of the business card via Slack to my teammate. She immediately organised the gift and sent the recipient a welcome email.

Seven of the nine people who received a gift came back to me during the conference surprised that the gift had arrived at all and sealed the deal on first impressions.

The point here is that while I had a team member to help with the process and we had a gift that we would send virtually, you can easily achieve a similar outcome using a virtual assistant. As far as the gift is concerned, it could be exclusive content or an invitation to try your product for free.

Authentic surprise and delight mean a lot to people, especially when they least expect it.

Say goodbye to business cards

“I don’t do business cards.”

I haven’t done business cards for years.

When someone offers me a card, I offer to send them an email so they have my details. Nine times out of ten, if I want to engage with them in the future, I send an SMS thanking them for their time instead. Their number is now in my phone and my number is in theirs. And you’d be surprised how many people end up calling me to be in touch instead of sending me an email which saves time. Obviously, sending an SMS is a judgement call. There are some people I’d prefer didn’t have my number and I’m sure the reverse use case is true.

Each of these steps brings you closer to customers and influencers and consequently increases conference ROI.

As of last week, however, LinkedIn launched a feature which takes no more business cards to the next level. Here’s how it works:

1. Download the latest version of LinkedIn for iOS or Android.

2. Look for the QR code icon in the search box and press it.

3. Ask the person meeting if they have LinkedIn and ask them to do the same

4. Ask them to select ‘My Code’ and hover over it with your LinkedIn app while you’re in scan mode

5. Let the magic happen! Their profile will appear and then you send them an invite.

conference     conference     conference

How good is that?!

One last thing…

There are those who consider conferences a short vacation away from family and the office. I don’t.

If you can sell, network and learn (in that order), then go but go with a plan to maximise the ROI.

And take a look at LinkedIn’s new feature, it’s brilliant!