The fintech and financial services industries have relied heavily on in-person trade shows, conferences and other events to drive business for as long as I can remember. And even as the world became more digitally focused, we stuck to what we knew: Exhibit halls, keynote speakers, networking happy hours and salespeople pitching product demos from 10’ X 10’ booths.
When COVID-19 stepped in and blew up the comfortable event circuit for us, it forced a re-evaluation that probably should have happened years ago:
Are conferences, as they’ve traditionally been executed, still relevant? Do financial professionals and fintech firms get as much value from them as they used to?
Do in-person events still drive results – growth, new business, innovative ideas, deeper connections with clients, peers and prospects?
The answer is the classic and unsatisfying catch-all, “It depends.”
In this case, it depends entirely on you. You control your own event destiny – meaning you get out of events and conferences what you put into them.
Setting up a tired booth with a wrinkled table skirt and a couple of sales enablement pamphlets is going to earn you exactly the results it should in 2022: None at all. In the fintech and financial services spaces, which get more competitive by the day, simply being at a conference is no longer enough.
And as the price for attending and sponsoring industry events skyrockets, it becomes even more important to make the most out of every dollar. Follow these tips to start getting more value out of conferences and events:
1. Choose wisely
Every dollar counts, remember? Curate your calendar accordingly, with the events most relevant to your business and your goals.
This could mean conferences that offer you speaking spots, that are especially attractive to your target audience, or that have the real potential to teach you how to transform your operations. (It’s great if the stars align and the events that can make the biggest impact for you also happen to be in, say, Florida or California, but it doesn’t always work out that way. If your customers are headed to Wisconsin in February, you should be too.)
2. Send standout pre- and post-conference communications
Firms salivate over registrant lists, but rarely spend the time to use them to their fullest potential. Every one of your competitors sponsoring the same conference is also sending communications to the same list, so be thoughtful about making yours stand out.
What that doesn’t look like:
A mass email blast before the event with your booth number and boilerplate language about your firm
What that could look like:
- A valuable asset they can use right away to address challenges you know they’re facing
- A quick, fun video from your team members attending the conference
- Personalized outreach to several key prospects inviting them to one-on-one coffee at the event (the key here is personalized – for this to work, you need to make a meaningful connection, so do your research before you send anything)
3. Get the booth right
Let’s get this out of the way first: A clean, modern and uncluttered booth is table stakes. If you’re bringing banners, they should look sharp, bright and new, not like they just stumbled off a red eye from LA to Philly. (As your team is working on banner design, by the way, remember that what’s most important should be at eye level. Most people will never even see the bottom of your banner.)
Think about how to make your booth one that people want to visit. There’s a balance to strike between doing something unexpected to capture attention in a literal noisy, crowded space, and being completely gimmicky. Keep your brand and the conference environment in mind as you think about how to draw people in.
For example, broadcasting or capturing audio in a packed conference hall can be difficult, but you can put together a photo booth Hollywood style with your logo as the backdrop, and encourage attendees to share their photos on social media.
And don’t hesitate to leverage the pandemic’s unsung hero, the QR code, to get your brand and your message into people’s hands. Put a QR code at your booth and set up a dedicated, mobile-optimized landing page for the event; even if they don’t look at it right away, it’ll be on their phone’s browser the next time they open the web.
Finally, make sure your most charismatic and informed employee is working your booth (if this is two different people at your company, send them both).
4. Or think outside the booth
All that said, there’s no law requiring you to actually have a booth presence at a conference. In fact, sometimes it’s more valuable to put that money toward something else, like inviting your top clients and prospects to a nice dinner near the event location.
You can also think about conducting on-site client interviews in smaller breakout rooms, setting up a fireside chat, or recording a podcast episode with some of the key thought leaders speaking at the event.
Free yourself from the way you’ve always thought about conferences, and instead take advantage of having both your audience and the thought leaders they respect all in one place.
5. Maximize the impact of speaking spots
If you or someone from your firm is lucky enough to be given airtime at a conference, don’t squander it.
Make sure your presentation:
- Is hyper aligned with the goals and challenges of the conference audience
- Is timely and relevant (this doesn’t mean popping a pandemic slide into a deck from 2018 and calling it good)
- Is updated with your firm’s most recent language and branding
- Is on a topic you feel natural and comfortable talking – and answering questions – about in front of a large group of people
Perhaps most importantly, amplify the power of your presentation after the event. Record it and upload it to your firm’s YouTube channel. Cut up snippets and parse them out on social media. Send targeted post-conference emails with clips that hold value for key prospects. Turn the topic into one or several blog posts.
6. Spend money where it makes sense
Most of these tips boil down to being thoughtful about your approach to events, and this is no exception.
Almost every conference offers countless sponsorship opportunities. Choose the ones that a) align with your budget and b) will actually help drive interest in and awareness of your brand during and after the event.
For example, spending $5K to feature your logo on cocktail napkins at the opening night happy hour may not be your best move.
But $6K on elevator wraps, which you can treat like bonafide billboards for the entirety of the conference, with targeted messaging and QR codes that point to a dedicated landing page, could be worth the spend.
7. Put the ‘work’ in networking
Conferences are exhausting. It’s draining for anyone, even sales reps used to spending the entire day on the phone or in meetings, to show up and bring their A-game to every single conversation for two to five long, full days.
But aside from speaking spots, being able to build your network and make real connections is the single biggest benefit of attending in-person conferences. You can book and give demos from home. You can buy ZoomInfo and cold email your entire target audience from home.
What you can’t do from home is buy an impromptu cup of coffee for a prospect, or set up a meeting over a beer at happy hour, or grab an Uber to the airport with the tech vendor you met at the concert last night, who just might have the answer to the exact problem your business needs to solve.
If you’re going to an event, give it your all. You never know where the next conversation could lead.
8. Share valuable information with your team
Don’t leave the best insights from the conference at the conference.
Whether you’re learning more about your clients’ needs, checking out a demo of a new tool or absorbing motivation from a keynote, put a process in place to share that information with the rest of your team as quickly as you can. Create a dedicated event Slack channel, or hold a post-mortem immediately after the conference to walk through highlights, takeaways and action items.
Our events team has seen and done it all, from putting major industry conferences together to driving pre- and post-conference engagement to building booths and setting up network events. If you need a hand making the most out of your 2022/2023 event calendar, let us know!