Effective Cold Approaching and Follow Up At Conferences

by Scott - 10 Comments

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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. 

Callback Humor

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:

Hey John,

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?

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10 comments, add to the conversation.

  1. Scott Foubister

    Great tips. I find for general networking an effective strategy is to “give before you get”. If possible, try to followup on something from your conversation that will help the other person. For example, “Great meeting you at the conference yesterday. Here’s a link to that app I was telling you about that might help your customer service team.” Zero ask at this point. If you need something down the road, then you’ve already to sketch out a relationship rather than coming in cold. And if you don’t end up needing anything, at least you’ve helped someone with something!


    1. Post Author Scott

      Yeah great call. This is always an awesome thing to do when meeting new people. You can even go as far as having a go-to thing you bring up in conversation that you know will elicit this opportunity for an appropriate follow up in your back pocket. For awhile, mine was my phone credit card holder that I’d pull out from time to time. People always asked questions about it which often provided a very natural segway for a thoughtful followup


      1. Christian

        Love this, makes sense to come in prepared with a fun little thing you know they’d ask about. Just need any simple reason to follow-up!


  2. Andrei Lebedynets

    Great post! Love the part “it’s always best to disarm them by acknowledging their concerns”. When somebody points out obvious things or concerns, it definitely discharges situation and concerns a person might have

    I’m actually creating Standard Operating Procedure, for following up with people (after conferences, dates, networking events, whatever it is). I find that my own ready made templates of followup take guess work out of it… and I don’t forget to follow up this way. As I usually forgot before 🙂


  3. Christian

    The “BTW” is an excellent alternative to “P.S” that I never thought about. Much more casual. “P.S” always seemed old school, like your writing a pen-pal back in elementary school :0)


  4. Mercury

    Cold approaching is one of my biggest weak spots – I just get so nervous whenever I think about doing it! I’ve just got it so deeply ingrained in me to “not be a bother” that the idea of just walking up to someone and “bothering” them seems crazy to me, even though I know it’s not.


  5. Patrick

    Hi Scott,

    I especially liked your thought of finding something unique about a person and using that as an anchor in followup. Good call! When you show people you remember, they experience that “wow” feeling. This will stand out in their mind, no matter how many people they’ve met that day. To achieve that I use meeting debriefs about which i wrote in this blogpost. http://www.mindmaven.com/blog/the-meeting-debrief/


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