7 Networking Tips for Properly Representing Your Company at Events, Conferences and Trade Shows
You want to soundly represent your middle market business at events by showing a thorough knowledge of your company, its product/service offerings and your market. When you interact with others at a conference or trade show, it's all about exchanging information, sharing your brand and analyzing potential relationships. As a middle market business leader, however, you have a lot on your plate, and networking will often be left in the hands of other employees. Therefore, you want to equip them with the right networking tips.
Middle market businesses don't have the resources to spend on wide-reaching ad campaigns, so networking opportunities are often extremely valuable. Here are seven specific ideas to consider when sending representatives to your company's next big event:
- Have a goal in mind for each event. The best networkers are fully prepared and know exactly what they are trying to achieve. Goals can be as varied as generating sales leads, building your brand image or launching a new product. Whoever is representing your company should meet with leadership beforehand to identify these goals. Surprisingly, even sharing proprietary information with competitors can be mutually beneficial, as a recent study from MIT showed. Think hard about your goals and what strategic information you're willing to give (and want to get in return).
- Allocate marketing materials and budget. You'll need business cards to give to each relevant contact you meet, but you may also need brochures and catalogs of your offerings, small branded giveaway items and enough budget to pay for entertaining important prospects you may encounter.
- Make your presence known ahead of the event. Existing customers or suppliers should know that you'll be attending. Email everyone on your contact list, inviting them to visit your booth. Have the people representing you arrange lunch meetings or casual interactions with important contacts to get the ball rolling in advance. This way,contacts will know when and where to expect you.
- Work with your representatives to decide how to prioritize their time. If there are 10 different panel discussions and 20 speakers, which are worth attending? Focus is key at these often frenzied events, and you don't want your people to go in unprepared.
- Know how to represent your company in terms of dress, conversation and action. Professionalism is a must if you want to leave a good impression. Your reps need to keep your policies foremost in mind, even in the most casual settings. Sharing a fun time at an event party can help strengthen business relationships, but you want to trust that your people won't sacrifice the chance to get good networking done.
- Show enthusiasm and confidence. The people sent to represent you are your ambassadors, so they need to speak with knowledge and infectious enthusiasm of the company and its products. Nobody wants to talk to a drone at a trade show booth who gives answers that anyone could find on your website. Your representatives need to be engaging, and showing passion and conviction are crucial for doing that. Before sending anyone to an event, know which of your employees are comfortable engaging with people who know nothing about you.
- Organize information and follow up with contacts. Have a system or template ready. When you gather new contact information, it's important to quickly put everything relevant into a usable format for follow-up.
In the end, these networking tips aren't worth much if you don't trust your best representatives to think about your end goals while keeping interactions personable and meaningful. Your reps need to be empathetic listeners and react with curiosity to the stories of others. Strengthening or starting business relationships is about working effectively with people, and people are complex. Your representatives need a high degree of emotional intelligence and likability to network effectively, so be completely on board with whoever is working the floor in the name of your business.
Which employees, in terms of position, should represent you at events? Are there any other people to consider besides your sales and marketing people? Let us know what you think by commenting below.
Boston-based Chuck Leddy is an NCMM contributor and a freelance reporter who contributes regularly to The Boston Globe and Harvard Gazette. He also trains Fortune 500 executives in business-communication skills as an instructor for EF Education. Circle him on Google+.