By Angelique Solorio
You must commit both time and money to attend any conference. All businesses wish they had more of both, but small businesses, like many MBEs, are especially careful about spending. Each expenditure is an investment that must have a solid ROI. Office supplies or phone and data services more easily demonstrate their importance, and it can be tempting to see it as a luxury and discount the benefits of attending industry conferences.
If you didn’t get a contract with your targeted companies after the first time you attend, you may find yourself thinking, “Why go back?” Don’t make the mistake of thinking this way—it takes time to develop a relationship and really understand companies’ needs and how your goods or services can help them. As an MBE, you may need to grow and strengthen your company’s offerings so that you are prepared to work with some of the larger global corporations. Also remember that moving from your first contact with a program manager to a sale is a process, and annual attendance at the Opportunity Fair can be an important step in that process.
Recognize that the benefits of attendance are cumulative. Each year, you build on what you did and whom you met last year.
- Year One – The year of introduction. Spend your time getting the lay of the land, so to speak—find out which companies are present, the location of the booths, how the sessions and workshops apply to you, and which workshops you will attend. Spend most of your time introducing yourself. Perhaps one of your clients or another MBE owner you know are attending, but many first-time attendees don’t really know a lot of other people. That’s the point of going—getting your company noticed, meeting people, and connecting with buyers from companies looking for your product or service and beginning the process of getting to know each other.
- Year Two – The year of reconnecting. Research whom you want to see again and whom you would want to meet for the first time. However, meeting with every company and person will waste your time. A good idea is to reach out to people you met last year to set up a meeting or let them know you’ll be stopping by their booth. You’ll use this conference to further the relationships you made last year. Of course, a business opportunity can arise at any time, and one meeting at any given conference can result in something awesome. But it’s usual for it to take time, especially if you are trying to break into a large Fortune 500 company. There may be a wait before they add suppliers to their roster through an RFI or issue a specific RFP.
- Year Three – The year of improving. The third time you attend, and each subsequent time, you’re improving your relationships across the diversity community. You’re reconnecting with clients, prospects, and fellow MBEs, people you have met at past conferences, and perhaps have also seen or worked with throughout the year. You’re cementing these relationships, but you’re also developing new ones. Each year, the conference provides a chance to improve and deepen your relationship with the people you know. It also gives you the opportunity to meet new program managers and procurement professionals from companies that may not have been represented before or may not have needed your services until now.
Of course, reconnecting and improving your relationships will be much harder if you do nothing in between attending conferences. You need to stay in touch throughout the year by sharing thought leadership, connecting on social media, or some other appropriate way. If a company offers informational webinars or seminars, attend one. Learn more about the company and its supplier diversity program from its website, and reach out with questions. Or share knowledge with them by sending an article or information they would like; be sure it’s relevant. Even if it is just to say hello with a holiday note, keep in contact until the next conference.
The point of annual attendance is to help take your relationships to the next level. Like a good friend, you can always learn something new that will deepen your connection and make you better able to serve them, whatever it is that your company does. As an MBE, don’t underestimate the importance of the relationships you develop with other MBEs. They can be a great source of referrals, recommendations, and references and can provide introductions to buyers you may want to know.
With this advice in mind, it’s applicable to any conferences or events sponsored by industry organizations. If it’s relevant to your business, then the right people, the people you want to meet, will be there. That’s why you go. But going once isn’t going to give you the best results. Repeat attendance, whether it’s an annual conference, or a monthly luncheon seminar, means that you build better relationships. Better relationships are what lead to greater sales success and growth.
About the Author
Angelique Solorio is Corporate Outreach Manager at ATR International.
Source: ATR International