We all know that a trade show is one of the best places to get qualified leads. It’s really the only place where most of us can ever meet prospects in the flesh. And, as they say, nothing beats a face-to-face meeting.
But have you ever thought what would happen if your company created its own event?
I’m sure you’re thinking, “That would be amazing! Buuuuuuut…it would be really expensive and hard to pull off.”
Not so fast! Don’t brush off the idea just yet…
There are a few ways to capitalize on this strategy, and it’s not as hard as you think. We’ll start with the easiest method and end with the slightly more involved. I’ll go over a few real life examples that have worked astonishingly well.
Let’s get into them!
Create Your Own Meetup
There is good reason to start with a Meetup, meaning a plain, old, basic Meetup and not a full-blown trade expo “powered by” your company.
The key to a great Meetup is to not make it about your company, your product, or your service. The best Meetups are just casual gatherings of like-minded folks getting a drink after work. There’s no hard selling, just networking and good times.
It’s really easy. All you have to do is:
- Pick a topic/theme and give it a name: “Tech Sales & Cocktails.”
- Create it through Meetup.com: https://secure.meetup.com/create/.
- Do a little promotion on your end. You know, Twitter, Linkedin, and a few emails to local industry buddies. Oh, and don’t forget the office refrigerator door!
Even if you get only 15 people to your Meetup the first few times, that’s fine. That’s actually a really normal headcount. As you nurture and foster good vibes at your event, usually typical Meetups will grow in size. Just keep up a consistent schedule and put a little energy into it.
Obviously, have the members of your sales team attend your Meetup. Again, make sure they’re not in full sales attack mode. Teach them to keep their cool, start conversations, and be professional…but not dull.
But what about the leads!?! Will it produce leads???
The leads will come. Just chat with people, start conversations, exchange business cards, and, afterward, make an effort to follow people on social media, and be sure to follow up with an email. Don’t wait a week to follow up. Do it within 24 hours after the Meetup.
This is actually the most important area where you do want to be aggressive. If you’re too slow to follow up, people will forget who you are, and the latency will seem unprofessional. That’s why it’s a smart idea to host your event early in the week so you don’t lose touch over the weekend.
A useful sales tactic for the follow-up email is to set up a time to show off your product to industry people you met at your Meetup, even if they’re not a typical prospect. Providing information about your product gives people social currency to talk about it to other people.
Before you know it, you’ll get people hitting you with, “Jim told me about what you guys are doing and WE TOTALLY NEED THAT. Can I see a demo?”
See. Not hard. Sure beats cold calling ☺.
But back to why you start with just a simple Meetup…
Getting the Meetup down allows you to get your team used to doing events. More important, it gets your team in the groove of doing events that people actually enjoy attending and doesn’t come off as too pushy or salesy.
This is a really important art to master first, before you go big. You don’t want to launch a big event with hundreds or thousands of people in attendance, blow through a 6 figure budget, and produce a total flop.
It’s really a building process, and what better way to start than with a simple Meetup.
Here are a few Meetup Bonus Tips:
- Have your marketing team follow all the people from the Meetup on Twitter using the company Twitter account. This is really important for marketing touches, branding impression, and disseminating content to them.
- It can’t hurt to have a simple (but professionally made) poster on an easel that concisely explains what your business does. That way, as people move about during your Meetup, they’ll probably learn a bit about your company on their own time.
- If you’re going to do swag, be sure to get the best shirt you can buy (American Apparel), and don’t make the shirt a giant wearable billboard. Keep the logo minimal and the material comfy. The idea is not for the shirt to advertise to new people, but for the person wearing the shirt to remember who you are. If they like the shirt, they will keep it and wear it often. That increases the chance that they will talk about you to others.
Go Big While Keeping Costs Down
Once you have the casual Meetup hard-wired, you may find that you’ve outgrown local bars and lounges, and you might want to kick it up a notch. This is a common growing “pleasure,” as you will learn below.
A good way to get to this point is to add value to your event. Try these ideas:
- Invite guest speakers – Believe it or not, some people love to educate and talk in front of an audience for free. Just start reaching out to your contacts to see if anyone is interested. Even consider asking some of your local customers. What better way to keep the relationships strong and long-lasting.
- Create panel discussions – Panels offer more value because the speakers can synergize and develop ideas and topics on the spot. Additionally, healthy debate can occur, which gives your audience the juicy inside industry knowledge that is rarely exposed.
- Dodgeball! – Who says it needs to be all about work? Try just having some fun instead and see where that takes your event.
Adding this kind of value will require more floor space. Many local hotels will have floor space dedicated to events of this size. And it can be quite affordable! Remember, you don’t need to do Vegas here. It’s just about finding a space to accommodate the right number of people for the right price.
I challenge you to think even bigger. If your brand’s thought leadership and content is making waves, you could try putting on a 2-day event. Invite multiple speakers, allow for booth space, and call the taco trucks. Again, this is assuming your Meetup or smaller events have been building momentum and sizable audience for a while.
Another option for something of this magnitude is to look for unused warehouse space.
It might require some driving around on your part. As you cruise the warehouse sector of your city, you’ll see big leasing signs – usually in the parking lot. Contact the commercial real estate agent on the sign and ask, “Can I sublease the place for a few days?”
Finally, you can always ride the coattails of other large events. If there is a particular trade show or expo that you would like a piece of, contact the event organizers and ask if you can take over a side room or meeting room. Sometimes, if you call at the last minute, you can score some great deals. Of course, your team has to be ready to move at a moment’s notice.
Real Meetup Success Stories
Zach Sekar and his partner C.J. Windisch started LATHH in 2011 as part of their launch strategy for a mobile payment app they were building. They have since moved on from their app development days, but their Meetup has turned into a beast:
Anyone who’s involved in the L.A. tech scene has probably stopped by one of these events at some time or other. But, as with all Meetups, it started out relatively small. Now, they are up to 6,888 members; 232 people showed up at the last event alone – pretty good for a happy hour!
The trick was they just kept at it, week after week.
Startups Uncensored is another success story. When Docstoc.com founder Jason Nazar started Startups Uncensored, he simply invited a handful of people over to their office for sandwiches and beverages after work.
It quickly moved to taking over an auditorium at the Santa Monica Public library and then to selling out (yes, they charge now ☺) convention floor space at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel.
Again, plant the seed, and see what grows out of it.
Some Final Tips for Getting the Most out of Events
Ask for business cards!
Even if you’re only attending an event (not sponsoring or organizing it), don’t rely on the after-show automated list that you’re supposed to get. This is really key. Getting someone’s card has several advantages:
1. There’s the personal connection that develops as you have a conversation during the card exchange. You’re warming up your lead. In person! They are expecting to hear from you. That’s a great thing!
2. Their contact information might not be on the after-show list; they might not be registered on that master list; or they may have used different contact information.
3. You can follow them on Twitter and LinkedIn. Have your marketing department follow them using your company account. That way, they will start getting brand touches on their social feeds as well as exposure to your company’s content. All these touches help nudge a prospect closer to doing business with you.
What this is all about is bringing the people, the action, the talent, and the sales to you. But, first and foremost, be sure to create an environment of giving and educating. The rest will follow.
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