Industry events can be a big waste of time or they can be the key to growing your business. How an industry event like the upcoming Innovation Showcase will impact your business depends on how well you prepare and what you do afterwards.
I can’t tell you exactly how many trade shows or expos in which I’ve taken part; I stopped counting after I hit triple digits several years ago. One thing I know for sure is that the day (or days) of the event is only the middle of the process. Whether you are an attendee or an exhibitor, it’s the legwork beforehand and the follow-up afterwards that make these events worthwhile.
I contacted several past Innovation Showcase participants and asked them about their experiences. Two past honorees, in particular, confirmed that having a presence at the event made a difference with customers and investors.
Reuben Zielinski, CTO, ReDux, said his startup actually received a number of investment leads following Innovation Showcase two years ago. The company evaluated several offers and chose to move forward with the best fit for the direction they wanted to take the company.
“It was a good experience worth the time and effort,” Reuben said. “It was exciting to showcase new technology and have so many people interested in what we offer.”
Reuben’s advice is to make sure you think of the “what ifs” so you aren’t left with a lackluster presentation. Do your demos work? What happens if you lose power or Internet service is slow? He recommends making sure you have a backup or some sort of plan for putting your best foot forward even if conditions aren’t optimal.
Bluebridge Founder and CEO Santiago Jaramillo ended up hiring new employees he first met at Innovation Showcase. He had success on the investment front, too.
“I think participating in events like Innovation Showcase lays a ground work of trust with investors that is important later on. So it really is putting all the data points together and creating a momentum trend for investors. The one I think mattered most was that we got to spend some face-to-face time with investors, and that led to our funding rounds as a follow up to some of the connections that we made at the Innovation Showcase.”
Santiago recommends making time for some good training before the event. “Make sure that all of the folks who are participating in the event are aligned on the messaging of the company — have a compelling 30-second elevator pitch ready to go.”
That’s good advice for exhibitors as well as attendees. Everybody should be able to deliver a clear pitch with a description of the business problem they are trying to solve and what value proposition they bring.
Here are 5 tips for making the most of Innovation Showcase and other industry events:
Have a plan with defined goals and objectives.
If you don’t yet have your first paying customer, an all-out effort to court investors at events may be premature. The approach you take to woo investors is probably altogether different than how you present yourself to customers, so think through the primary objective and design your plan to achieve that first customer signing goal. The reverse may be true for growth-stage companies — of course you need to have a customer-facing aspect if you have an exhibitor booth — but how you prepare and staff the event should focus on the messaging to investors.
Identify and reach out to prospects before the event.
Some events provide an attendee list beforehand, which you can use to contact likely prospects. If you don’t have an attendee list, you can still reach out to your own customers, existing customer prospects and possible partners and investors to invite them to meet with you during the event. You are putting your best foot forward at events, so make sure your key stakeholders see you there.
Practice your pitch.
No matter who you are in the organization, from the intern helping set up the booth to the top salesman and CEO, everybody needs to know why you are there and how to deliver the pitch. Practice pitching to one another out loud until it’s perfect and flows naturally.
Collect and organize contact information.
There are sophisticated lead collection systems you can use if you want to, but simply collecting business cards and jotting down handwritten notes on site can still work just fine for reasonably sized companies. Come up with an easy-to-understand way of indicating what the prospect is interested in and who should follow-up, like writing SALES and JIM for a new business lead.
Events aren’t magic. Attending or exhibiting alone won’t grow your business, you have to get the information into your pipeline and follow-up with everybody. Consider sending thank you notes to top-tier prospects. Designate a follow-up champion to ensure that you come off of each event having done everything possible to secure the best return on investment.