I was recently at Dreamforce, the largest enterprise software conference in the world. The goal was to connect with potential customers and future investors for Troops, as well as to get a better pulse on everything that is happening in the sales software ecosystem.
There’s a boatload of different tactics that can and should be employed at large conferences or events, and today I wanted to share two related to follow up and cold approaching busy people.
At conferences of this magnitude everyone is meeting a ton of people. Business cards are exchanged and sometimes you can meet 50 people in one day.
One challenge in these brief interactions is creating enough rapport that someone will want to hop on a call with you in the future. You have to assume that everyone you meet is getting 50-100 follow up emails from people asking for their time after the conference.
One strategy I like to employ is called callback humor. The idea is to find something funny or unique that you bonded over in a conversation and use that as an anchor in your follow up. A lot of times this happens naturally, but these situations can be engineered when you find someone you want to meet with whom you want to set aside time for a future date.
Here is an example of callback humor:
You meet someone at your booth. You notice they are from San Diego and you get talking about stand up paddle boarding. Turns out they like that topic and there’s energy there, so you keep talking about it. You go on to discuss a funny story of the first time you tried stand up paddle boarding, and it really turned out to be lay on your stomach boarding while everyone else around you was a total pro. They laugh, and you exchange business cards after some brief conversation around your business.
Rapport and a story is established. Now when you go to email them the next day, the email you send goes something like this:
Subject: The worst stand up paddle boarder that ever lived….
John! Great meeting at the conference…I’m glad that I wasn’t the only one who needed training wheels the first few times I tried stand up paddle : )
As I mentioned, we’re releasing our solution for the mobile first sales rep shortly. Have 15 minutes for a demo in the next week?
BTW have you seen these hoverboards that connect to a Jet Ski? I guess you can rent them in mission beach. Looks pretty cool…
47 of the other emails this person is going to get are going to be generic.
Nice meeting, can I have your time?
It’s not to say this can’t work, but which one do you think is going to get a higher likelihood of response?
Learning how to have these type of dialogues with strangers is a skill that involves empathy, storytelling and intent. You can build these skills with practice.
Cold Approaching Someone Important
I was sitting at a panel with a bunch of investors, and audience members started pitching their companies during what was supposed to be Q&A…sheesh.
As investors walked off the stage and left for their next event, many of the same people started hounding them during their walk to their next event.
Like a cold call, it was a classic example of one person trying to push their agenda where the other was waiting for the right opportunity to politely excuse themselves.
The best way to get an in touch with someone like this is through an intro. But a lot of times this route isn’t available…and there can be value in getting some face time at an event like a conference.
If you find yourself in this situation, one move I like is to approach the person you want to talk to and say something like the following:
Hey John, I know you probably have to run right now, but I really want to talk to you about what we’re doing with my company X. I’m going to send you an email tomorrow and, if it makes sense, we can set up some time to chat about it over the phone.
Anytime you cold approach someone in any context, it’s always best to disarm them by acknowledging their concerns. It shows you’re socially calibrated and puts them at ease.
In this instance, someone might be thinking “I have to get to my next meeting and don’t have time to hear a bunch of half-baked pitches.” So it’s your job to alleviate this concern immediately by voicing how you’re not going to do that.
When you email them, make sure to reference the fact that you connected briefly, and maybe even go as far as making fun of the situation to establish that you’re part of the “this person gets it” camp:
We connected for a minute yesterday on your way out and I told you I was going to follow up here about what we’re doing at [company]…I was the guy in the green shirt, not trying to pitch you on your walk to the bathroom : )
This usually works pretty well and certainly works better than jamming your pitch down someone’s throat when they’re not receptive.
These two strategies for cold approaching and follow up after a conference came up for me recently.
What are some best practices that work for you getting the most out of these type of events?