A Salesperson’s Guide to Conference Networking for Fun, Education… and Profit [Part 2 of 2]

By Jeff Dieffenbach, EVP Sales and Marketing, Medallion Learning

For extroverts, conferences can be a veritable playground. For introverts, a slog or even a worst nightmare. For both, a waste of time… in the absence of a thoughtful plan for how to make the most of the event. This guide outlines a set of actionable steps—for introverts too!—to enjoying, learning, and selling at conferences and similar events.

Part 2 goes for the close: making an introduction, guiding the conversation, identifying a fit, and closing the sale.

Find the right moment to introduce yourself

So, you’ve got your “pitch” practiced. When’s the best time to deliver it? In short, any time you’re not interrupting a conversation that’s already well underway (but unless the topic is clearly private, that shouldn’t stop you from joining and listening quietly until there’s a chance to introduce yourself). Here are examples of times that fit the bill.

  • While standing in line at registration
  • With your seat mate prior to the start of a session
  • With a speaker immediately after their talk (consider sitting close to get a jump on the line)
  • During a coffee or refreshment break
  • With your seat mate and table at lunch
  • While waiting to board or riding a shuttle bus
  • Mingling at a reception or with your seatmate and table at dinner

In particular, look for people alone—there’s a good chance they’ll be grateful to you for reaching out.

Guide the conversation

Start with a “Hi, I’m [name] with [organization]” and extend your hand to shake. Listen (and remember!) their response. Then, deploy your brief introduction. As quickly as you can, direct the conversation back to them with a (politely relentless) set of questions along the lines of those below. It’s no surprise—people generally like to talk about themselves. After they’ve spoken with you a bit, their subconscious usually tells them that they like talking with you—they wouldn’t be talking with someone they don’t like, would they? And liking you is the start of a (micro-)relationship.

  1. Who are you with?
  2. What business is your organization in (if it’s not obvious—consider skipping this one if they’re from Ford Motor Company!)
  3. What’s your role?
  4. Who’s your internal or external customer?
  5. What are the challenges you face?
  6. What are the resources you bring to bear?
  7. Where are you based?
  8. With what other organizations have you worked before?
  9. Where did you go to school?
    If appropriate—best for people on the younger side
  10. Would it be okay if I contacted you after the conference to arrange a time when we might talk?
    Assuming that the person you’re talking with is a good fit with your offering
  11. Do you have a team that’s responsible for (product or service that your organization offers)?
    Assuming of course that the person you’re talking with doesn’t meet that description
  12. Would you be able to make an introduction on my behalf?

Identify a fit

What you’re looking for, of course, is a fit. What’s a “fit?” In short, it’s a reason to keep talking and start a “conversational relationship.” The fit might be an obvious business connection or an indirect experience in common. The fit might be with the person with whom you’re talking or someone else within their organization, in the latter case either at the conference or back at their office. To get to that fit, you need to build trust, trust that’s earned as the conversation (even a short one) unfolds.

Let’s take a deeper look at the numbered questions above.

  • Questions 1-3 are designed to determine if the person might be a customer of your offering
  • Questions 4-6 are designed to do one of two things
    • If their role is NOT likely to buy your offering, let them demonstrate their expertise
    • If their role IS likely to buy your offering, help you target their need
  • Questions 7-9 are designed to help you find people, places, or organizations in common
    • This is “bonding” time

For the most part, conferences are where you start relationships, not convert them to business. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a “sale” to close.

Close the “sale”

The final set of questions are about closing the “sale”—that is, arriving at a successful conference outcome.

  • Question 10 is designed to get agreement to set up a time to talk with the person you’ve met
    • A right you’ve “earned” through bonding
  • Questions 11-12 are designed to get agreement to get you the name of someone else with whom you might talk
    • A right you’ve “earned” through bonding

In sum, if you come away from a conference with an agreement to schedule a near-future conversation to explore potential fit, to get an introduction to someone else from the organization with whom there might be such a fit, or both, you’ve successfully closed.

To be sure, selling is an art. Taken as a whole, selling can seem a daunting task, especially early in the process when relationships first start. Breaking this phase of selling down into concrete, actionable steps adds science to the art.

Comments 1

  1. Matt, it’s too bad we hit the “publish” button before this gem from the Onion came out! [grin]

    “ATLANTA—A new study published Tuesday by Emory University determined that 89 percent of networking encounters occur forcibly and without the consent of one of the parties involved, a disturbing finding that suggests far more people are victims of unwanted career-related discussions than was previously thought. …”

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