Let’s be honest. Not all sales conferences are created equal. You probably don’t even remember the worst conferences you ever attended. After all, they were far from memorable, but suffice it to say you ducked out as soon as possible, feeling like you would never get that time back. With so many conferences to choose from, and so many that don’t live up to their promises or can’t justify your time, how do you make sure you pick one that’s worth your time (and money)?
Use a Structured Approach:
Like everything we advocate in our sales hiring philosophy, we believe in a structured approach. Haphazardly selecting conferences to attend and showing up without any preparation leaves conference ROI to chance. We recommend following a defined process to help ensure the next sales conference you attend is a catalyst for real results.
Don’t worry; it’s easier than it sounds.
Set Desired Outcomes:
Start by jotting down some outcomes that would make a sales conference worthwhile for you.
Here are a few we came up with:
- Network with thought leaders, peers, new client prospects, and potential sales team recruits.
- Gather competitive intelligence for benchmarking, insight, and strategic planning.
- Brainstorm new ideas to improve your company’s processes and performance.
- Learn from industry experts sharing their own successes and failures, tactics and strategies, and tools and technologies.
- Sell your company’s services to existing and new leads when relevant and appropriate.
- Get actionable insight on the trends, developments, and forecasted changes in your industry.
Determine Selection Criteria:
Now that you know your desired outcomes, use them to come up with appropriate selection criteria to determine the conferences that are most likely to produce those outcomes.
- Large (250+) number of participants. Why? Higher attendance means more chances to broaden your network, gain actionable insights, and uncover new opportunities.
- Targeting B2B sales executives and managers. Why? The content will be tailored specifically for you!
- Cost $300 or more to attend. Why? Amazing speakers deliver amazing value…and charge for it.
Pick a Conference:
We used the above criteria to compile our own list of 2015 sales conference recommendations:
Philadelphia: March 16, 2015
San Francisco: April 27-28, 2015
Hosted by Selling Power, this is a high profile series of events typically held in four or five different U.S. locations each year. The Sales 2.0 conference focuses on helping sales leaders leverage Sales 2.0 technologies and strategies to optimize operations, enablement, and marketing performance. The 2014 San Francisco event featured 40 speakers, including Jim Dickie of CSO Insights and executives from Selling Power, Xactly Corporation, and Oracle.
Boston: September 8-11, 2015
Hubspot strives to inspire, teach, and empower sales and marketing leaders to transform their businesses in its annual INBOUND conference. The 2014 event hosted 7,500+ marketing and sales professionals from around the world, an impressive list of speakers (including Martha Stewart, Simon Sinek, Malcolm Gladwell, Guy Kawasaki, Jill Konrath, and Marcus Sheridan), an INBOUND Rocks evening event, INBOUND Happy Hours, and Club INBOUND (the lounge at Hubspot HQ).
San Francisco: September 15-18, 2015
Hosted by salesforce.com, Dreamforce boasts a 95% recommendation rate by its past attendees. Past speakers have included Hillary Rodham Clinton, Al Gore, Tony Robbins, and Jill Konrath. The innovation-focused conference offers over 1,000 breakout sessions, sales-focused themes, reduced-cost salesforce.com training and certification opportunities, and a gala and benefit concert.
Sales Force Productivity Conference
Atlanta: 2015 Dates TBA*
The Sales Force Productivity Conference focuses on sales strategy and operational effectiveness; sales force technology, motivation, incentives, and compensation; and sales manager education and development. Hosted by the Sales Management Association, this event promotes collaboration among attendees, speakers, and solution providers for a more personalized experience.
Chicago: September 24-25, 2014 (2015 dates TBA)
As its name implies, this event’s claim to fame is its focus on improving the conversations between your salespeople and your customers. Attendees gain insight into all types of conversations, from differentiation to justification to deal maximization. The 2014 conference featured 20 speakers and 40 sessions emphasizing the importance of sales and marketing alignment and compelling story creation and delivery. Conversations That Win also includes a “BIG” evening entertainment event.
Ready, Set, Go!
Once you’ve selected the conference that’s most aligned with your desired outcomes, apply these tips for extra assurance that you’ll get game-changing results from your experience:
- Set auto-responders on your email and voice mail so you don’t feel the need to check them constantly. Instead, use your downtime to engage with as many people as you can. Jump in the coffee line, and strike up a conversation with the people next to you. Sit with someone different at each meal.
- If you do find yourself on your smartphone, get on Twitter. Participate in the event hashtag to connect with other attendees and keep a pulse on the conference. Tweet takeaways from the sessions you’ve attended so far to share knowledge with your network. (You took notes, right?)
- Talk less, listen more. Show a genuine interest in the stories of the people you meet. Maybe you can help them solve a problem. Maybe they can help you solve one?“It’s no longer about interrupting, pitching, and closing. It’s about listening, diagnosing, and prescribing.” – Mark Roberge, SVP of Sales and Services at Hubspot
- Don’t be afraid to approach a speaker. These folks may be famous, but they’re there to help you. Just do your homework and pay close attention during their speeches so you can ask thoughtful questions.
- Speaking of homework, research the speakers, sponsors, exhibitors, and attendees in advance. Have a specific game plan for each person you want to meet. Review the conference agenda. Schedule meetings during session breaks with anyone on your list that you’re able to reach in advance (but don’t book all of your time).
- Keep an open mind. Remember your list of desired outcomes, and consider these words of wisdom from Jill Konrath: “Sometimes a change in perspective changes everything.”
- Focus on action. Conference speakers will share a plethora of stories, insights, and wisdom, but keep your ear tuned for actionable advice. If you hear a tip you can implement immediately, write it down or star it in your notes. Write down any necessary action items on the back of new contacts’ business cards.
- Follow up. Share key takeaways from the conference with your team. Put ideas into action. Thank attendees and speakers who gave you their time and insights. Fulfill any commitments you made to new acquaintances or prospects to send them additional information, make further introductions, etc
- Focus on Priorities – While we suggest keeping an open mind, if there are some sessions that don’t offer lessons that are immediately useful, feel free to use the time to make calls and get some work done. Sometimes it only takes one or two really good sessions to make a whole conference worth the investment.
What sales conferences will you attend in 2015? Are there any we missed that deserve a mention? Let us know in the comments.
*Note: 2015 dates for some of the annual conferences had not been announced as of the date this article was written. Post will be updated as information becomes available.
4 Tips for Better Networking at Conferences – Lisa Gschwandtner
50 Tweetable Quotes From Sales’ Top Thought Leaders [SlideShare] – Emma Snider
20 Inspirational Sales Quotes from Jill Konrath – Gareth Goh
Photo Credit: BenRogersWPG via Compfight cc
Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.
He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.
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