It continues to amaze me how few suppliers of products and services bother to attend educational sessions at conferences, restricting themselves to the associated trade show. Folks, you’re making a mistake! Peter Evans-Greenwood explains why:
“To sell to members of a tribe you must be part of the tribe. It’s not enough to be in conversation with the tribe, your identity needs to be interwoven with the tribe.” —Identity is a funny thing, Peter Evans-Greenwood
Is there a better place to join the tribe of the attendees to whom you’re selling than the conference sessions themselves?
I don’t think so.
Even if the sessions are lectures with time for Q&A at the end, you’ll get an opportunity to hear what someone—hopefully with expertise and experience—is sharing that’s relevant to your market, and the audience questions may supply useful clues on pain points and selling propositions that you can address (perhaps during the session, if it’s done without a crude pitch).
And if you’re participating in interactive peer-to-peer sessions (like the sessions I’m facilitating at PCMA EduCon 2015 this week) you are bound to meet and connect with potential clients. Smart suppliers and vendors know the value of building these kinds of relationships, and spend time cultivating them. Paying for a trade show booth but skipping the associated conference sessions is simply throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Instead of marketing to the conference tribe, why not join the conference tribe?
Traci Browne of Trade Show Institute has been reading my book and recently wrote:
One of my biggest questions is around vendor pitching at peer-to-peer sessions and not letting them dominate. You know who these people are, they are everywhere and it’s hard to avoid them.
If you’ve read my book you’ll know that unwanted vendor pitches are not a problem at Conferences That Work. Why? Because attendees know that they determine what happens at peer sessions. Not conference organizers, and certainly not vendors.
Vendor representatives who wish to attend peer sessions are given a set of clear expectations by the conference staff, including having representatives sit quietly and observe, and only providing contributions if they ask for and receive an OK from the people present. They are also warned that it’s possible the session attendees may not want them to be present, though this is rarely a problem in my experience.
At sessions where sensitive personal experiences may be discussed or where frank discussion of commercial products and services may occur, the session facilitator asks at the start for attendees’ permission to allow vendor representatives to sit in. If someone objects, vendors are not allowed to attend.
When I ran traditional conferences with vendor exhibits, unwanted vendor pitches were a sometimes distasteful and seemingly unavoidable component of the conference experience. Since moving to the peer conference format I have not had one problem allowing vendor representatives to attend conference sessions.