The education conference season is officially upon us, and it will continue strong throughout the spring, summer and fall, from FETC in January to iNACOL in October. As an education marketer, chances are you have one or more — or all — of these events on your 2017 calendar.
That’s a great strategy for getting in front of your education audience, because Agile data shows that educators value these events for learning about products and services. In a recent survey of Curriculum Directors, 83 percent said conferences were valuable resources for learning about edtech; in a 2016 survey of teachers, 53 percent said they value conferences for product and program information.
So, keep those conference dates on your calendar, but also keep in mind that they won’t be just a considerable investment of time, they’ll also require a considerable investment of your marketing dollars. However, if you take appropriate steps before, during and after your upcoming education conferences, you can attract and nurture leads that will pay off in the end.
Before the Conference
- Plan in advance. Conferences are getting bigger and bigger, therefore making it more and more difficult to catch the eyes of the thousands of educators milling around the exhibit hall. Invest in a booth design that will capture attention and reflects your brand. Just as important as your booth’s outward appearance is what educators will encounter when they step inside. Make sure you have plenty of business cards, that your promotional materials are polished and printed and, of course, that you have great swag for educators to remember you by.
- Explore conference sponsorship opportunities. If there are particular conferences that fit your niche market or have proven lucrative in the past, look into ways you can grow your company’s presence beyond the booth. Consider sponsoring a session, submitting to be a speaker or hosting a panel with a handful of your best customers. These speaker and sponsorship opportunities are an effective way to drive people back to your booth, or even promote a piece of great content you recently created. Just published a new white paper? Repurpose the content and build a presentation around it.
- Reach out to your contacts. If you have customers or prospects who you know will be at the conference, let them know you’ll be there, too, and where they can find you. Better yet, schedule time between breakout sessions to meet — even if it’s for 15 minutes.
Start promoting your attendance during the weeks leading up to the conference. For example, share pictures from last year’s conference on Facebook with a note about how you’re looking forward to this year’s event — and don’t forget to use the conference hashtag. Also, look into participating in a vendor showcase. Many education conferences offer these as an opportunity to get in front of attendees.
During the Conference
- Schedule special events. This may be one of the few times throughout the year that you’re in the same city as all of your best clients and most promising prospects. Take advantage of this opportunity to meet with current customers and leads face-to-face. Sometimes conferences will allow you to sponsor a breakfast or cocktail hour. If this isn’t offered, arrange a get-together of your own, such as a dinner, outside of the actual event.
- Take detailed notes. When you’re working a booth or jumping from meeting to meeting, it can be easy to toss a business card into your growing stack. But when you return to the office, chances are you won’t remember the conversations you had with each and every person you spoke with. During these conversations, take the time to take detailed notes about each contact so that you have something to jog your memory later on.
- Treat it as a learning experience. Sneak away from your booth, if you’re hosting one, to attend keynotes and breakout sessions, and even to explore the exhibitor floor. This is a great way to keep tabs on what conversations are happening in the market. It’s also an opportunity to get insight into your competition and how they’re marketing their products and services.
After the Conference
- Download and decompress. When you get back home or to the office, organize your thoughts as well as the information you collected. Start by going through each of the contacts you made, and enter their information in your CRM. If your company isn’t using a CRM, that’s fine, too. Create a file complete with each person’s contact information as well as a description of their interests and needs.
- Follow up with leads. Immediately after the conference, engage with promising leads in a soft follow-up on LinkedIn. Send them a request, along with a personalized message. Then set up a hard follow-up email campaign that begins to nurture leads through your sales cycle. This can be a simple series of follow-ups for every contact you made, or it can be more targeted. If you’re utilizing marketing automation software, organize the contacts in your database and set them up on a specific nurture track that delivers exactly the information they were looking for at the conference.
- Sit down with your team. Schedule time after the conference to analyze your ROI. How many people did you meet? How many of those contacts were qualified leads? Did any of those leads convert to sales? Compare these results to the costs of attending the conference, including travel and daily expenses. This will help you determine if attending will be worth your time and money next year, or if you should focus your efforts on a different show.