After a few years of disruption from COVID, in-person conferences and events are back in full swing. As our annual survey of business-to-education (B2E) marketers revealed, 83% of respondents attended education conferences last year—and fully 92% plan to do so this year.
Conferences provide a key opportunity to meet with customers, prospects and business associates in one convenient location. They’re an important way to collect sales leads, develop your network, build brand awareness, forge closer relationships, gather market intelligence, find new business partners and more.
If you’re new to the education conference scene, these events can seem overwhelming. And if it’s been a few years since you’ve been to an in-person conference, you might be a little rusty.
In our experience, we’ve found that it helps to have a solid plan for making the most of your time at conferences. Based on the advice we’ve given over the years, here are some tips for taking full advantage of your education conference experience.
Stay Happy, Healthy and Productive
Conferences can be stressful environments, and they’re also a significant financial investment when you add up the cost of travel, meals, registration fees, renting booth space, shipping materials and so on. Here are some strategies to get the most out of your investment—while also preserving your well-being:
- Set clear goals. Think about what you’re looking to accomplish beforehand, and budget your time accordingly. Schedule meetings with specific customers or prospects you’d like to see in person. If you go into the conference with a clear game plan, you’ll be sure to maximize everyone’s time—including your own.
- Don’t overschedule yourself. Leave time for chance encounters and spontaneous meetings as well. These unplanned conversations might be the most important ones you have.
- Be mindful. Wear comfortable shoes, and stay hydrated and well-nourished. Remember to take care of yourself.
For more advice on making your education conference experience as happy, healthy and productive as it can be, see “PR: Spotlight: A Conference Guide for Busy Professionals.”
Drive Traffic to Your Booth
If you’re exhibiting at a conference, encouraging prospects to visit your booth is critical. Many companies use social media to announce their presence at an education trade show by posting something like: “We’re going to be at booth X. Swing by and say hello!”
While that’s okay, Matt Gambino, founder of PROPEL Skills Development, has a better suggestion. His process goes like this:
- Find a conference session that has broad appeal and aligns with your business.
- Identify a common problem that can be solved with the help of this session’s information—and that your product or service also addresses.
- Create an interlock between the session and your business that encourages prospects to connect with you at the conference.
This technique positions you as an expert in your field, and it gives people a much more compelling reason to come to your booth than just “swing by and say hello,” Gambino says.
To learn more about how it works, see “How to Drive More Booth Traffic at Education Conferences.”
Ensure Your Conversations Matter
Getting people to your booth is just the first step. Once they’re there, how can you turn this brief encounter into a meaningful conversation?
Again, Gambino has some useful advice. Instead of launching into your standard sales pitch to educators who’ve heard it all before, try what Gambino calls the “CASH” method:
- Lead with the challenge your product or service aims to solve.
- Explain who this problem affects and why this is significant.
- Explain how your company helps solve the problem.
- Flip the conversation back to the prospect by asking them how they’re addressing this challenge for themselves.
For more information about this approach and why it’s effective, see “Tips for Having Productive Conversations at Education Conferences.”
Education conferences are ideal for building your professional network. Here’s some advice for how to do this effectively:
- Be prepared to “talk shop” at any time. You never know when the opportunity might arise to forge a new connection: on the way to the exhibit hall, in line for coffee or wherever you might be. Be open to making these new connections, and have an engaging, 30-second elevator speech rehearsed for just such occasions.
- Be ready to pivot quickly. Flexibility is essential. Although it’s important to have a plan for how you’ll spend your conference time, feel free to go off script if a new, more compelling lead arises.
- Prioritize sales first and investors later. When making the most of your limited time, conversations with prospects should take priority over potential business partnerships. Remember: The customer always comes first.
For more networking advice—as well as tips on crafting a powerful, seven-minute presentation about your company’s services—see “3 Expert Tips for Making an Impact at Education Conferences (Like ASU GSV).”
Hold Focus Groups
Conferences offer a chance to gain valuable knowledge, not just network and collect sales leads. Taking advantage of events where educators are gathered in one place to collect unique market insight can help you improve your products and hone your messaging.
Focus groups with customers and prospects are a great way to do this. When done effectively, focus groups help you learn more about your customers’ needs—while also engaging with customers more deeply and building brand loyalty. But the key is to be transparent. You’ll only hear genuine feedback if you’re open to listening and acknowledging what needs work.
To learn more about running successful focus groups, see “The Benefits of Running a Focus Group at an EdTech Conference.”
Turn Meetings into Sales
The conference might be over, but your work certainly isn’t. Now is the time to take all the new contacts you’ve made and the insights you’ve learned and spin them into gold. Here’s some advice for doing this successfully:
- Hold a conference debrief. Shortly after returning, convene a meeting in which you share post-conference lessons and insights among your team. Come up with a list of key takeaways or lessons learned that can make your next conference experience even better.
- Don’t forget to follow up. Make sure you follow up with the new contacts you made. Thank them for their time, and ask if they have any questions or would like to chat further. If you promised any additional follow-through or information, don’t drop the ball—this is a key opportunity to show that you care and can be relied upon.
- Think long-term. A single follow-up email typically isn’t enough to convert a lead or land a feature story after a conference. Take detailed notes of your conference meetings to inform future interactions with these contacts. B2E sales and marketing is all about building and maintaining relationships over the long haul.
For more post-conference insights, see “Seal the Deal: Maximize Your Education Marketing Efforts After the Conference.”
Make the Most of It
Whether you already reentered the conference world last year, or you’re just returning from COVID-related absences in 2023, we hope our tried-and-true advice makes for a better and more successful conference experience for you this year.
You can further explore the topics covered in this post—and find more conference tips—here.