How to Work a Trade Event.

I've lost count of the industry conferences, trade shows and networking events I've attended over the last 25 years. But I'm certain I've been to more in the last five years than in the first 20. There are probably not more than 20 days a year when the industry event machine goes dark. And collectively we spend hundreds of millions to mingle, drink and panel with one another. You won't hear me crying that there are too many events: I host one of my own and have DMG -- a major event producer -- as a minority investor in my company. But we can all get more for our money with a little advance planning and strategy. So here's my list of simple rules and practices to consider as you pack team members off to their next event.

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1. Marketing, Meet Sales. In far too many cases, trade marketing (the folks who buy the sponsorships and tickets) are not well-aligned with sales (the folks who end up attending). The result is a lot of confusion about who will "represent" the company at this event or that one. Personalize it: As you plan your sponsorship and conference schedule, be specific about who will attend and why.

2. Level Set. If your CRO is attending every single event on the calendar, that's not a good thing. They're not all worth the CRO's time. Events, like nightclubs, have their own natural crowds. Some are very high level and strategic; others are more tactical and transactional. Push the event producer for a sense of who's really attending and what they're likely to talk about. Create an internal hierarchy about which events are relevant at which levels.

3. Have a plan. I'll put it right out there. The vast majority of sellers show up at resorts and conference centers with no real plan in place. Get the attendee list in advance. Figure out the ten people you have to meet and find their photos on line so you have a visual cue. Reach out in advance to attending buyers and set appointments. Most of all, know what it is you want out of this particular conference and measure it. "Was this event a success for us?" is not a rhetorical question.

4. Spread Out. Yes, trade events can be a good time for sellers from different offices to bond with each other and with management. But when I see sellers from the same teams never leaving each other's sides for an entire evening -- or an entire event -- I smell trouble. Divide, conquer. If you're part of all the same conversations, half of you aren't necessary.

5. Ask Questions that Mean Something. When meeting someone at a trade event, be prepared with a question that will spark a real conversation. "What's on the agenda you don't want to miss?" or "What's Your Highlight so far?" Do NOT ask the following: "So....when'd you get in?" That's a non-question: you don't really care about the answer, it will produce meaningless data, and they know you didn't really care to think up anything better.

6. Don't Close the Bar. Enough said.

7. If you Present, Personalize. Nobody wants to hear the general presentation. Pick a couple of customers who will be in the room and tell them how you can help them. The others wont' be offended: they'll be intrigued and curious about what you could do for them.

Take a few of these to heart and you'll be able to answer "What did you learn?" and "Who did you meet?" instead of "When'd you get in?"