How VanHack Booked 60 Meetings at a Recent Conference Without Springing for a Booth or Sponsorship

Collin Stewart, CEO

21 September 2017

Attending a conference (or two or three) is one of the highlights of a salesperson’s year.

You get out of the office, often to a cool city, and get some face time with with customers and other sales professionals.

What’s not to love?

The only trick, of course, is turning that conference, and all the expenses tied to going, into some revenue. With every new tradeshow you attend, some new business has to follow.

And that can be a tricky thing. How do you make sure you get enough meetings with prospects? Do you book meetings ahead of time, or focus on networking at the conference? And, finally, how do you work towards closing leads you meet at a conference? Do you risk losing a deal if you don’t close it right there and then?

According to Yousuf Khatib, Chief Business Officer at VanHack, the secret to conference domination is simple: plan your conferences out, and respectfully email attendees ahead of time, attend all meetings you book.

If you can do that, your conference attendance will be a success.

“Conferences are a necessary evil for everyone. So, people reach out asking if they should be investing in conferences – we have that same questions all of the time,” says Khatib, on a recent edition of The Predictable Revenue Podcast.

“The big thing, of course, is to close deals without spending a ton of money. At our last conference, we landed 16 new clients, with a $3,000 investment. That resulted in $60,000 in closed business, with another $250,000 in pipeline over the next 90 days. All that with no booth and no sponsorships.”

Plan which conferences to attend

Conferences, more often than not, have fantastic marketing. As such, they all look great. But you can’t go to them all – you have to choose wisely. So, Khatib says, do your research and plan out where you’re going to be. And, when in doubt, follow your customers.

“The place to start is choosing the right type of conferences. We want to hang out at the conferences where our customers hang out,” says Khatib.

“So, we just start with a list. For us it’s just a simple Google doc, and we’re constantly constantly adding to it.”

Typically, VanHack is planning their conference attendance three months in advance, to give them time to decide and prepare. And, depending on where your business is located, how much travel you’ll have to do to should be a factor. When planning conferences at VanHack, Khatib says attending those located “close by” is a good way of saving money.

“Try be strategic with your logistics,” says Khatib.

“If there is something close by we’ll go to that conference.”

Securing attendee lists, and email reach outs

When you’re goal is meeting, and eventually selling to, attendees of a conference it’s imperative you get a copy of the attendee list.

Khatib says conferences will often include attendee lists when you purchase a ticket. When that’s the case, researching email addresses is straightforward. Other times, conferences provide an app (for scheduling and promotion etc.).

When an app is available, Khatib says his team will “dome some hacking.”

“We’ll be able to hack the app a bit and go through there, and finding out who we want to connect with,” says Khatib.

From there, it’s time to start drafting and sending emails. At VanHack, the theme of their conference prospecting isn’t sales at all – it’s networking. Khatib says VanHack prefers the soft approach because people don’t feel pressure to buy anything. A simple chat is easy to agree to, he adds.

From there, if an opportunity arises in that conversation, he, or his colleagues, will proceed as necessary.

“One of the things we’re focused on is making sure our outreach isn’t to close business. That’s what we want to happen, of course, ut our first intention is to network. We want to meet, expand our network, and get introduced to 10 more people,” says Khatib.

“So, our outreach is focused on that – it’s to meet and get to know each other.”

How that translates to an email is simple: short, focused messages asking for a chat. For example an initial email would include a short intro, a short sentence about the company, and an ask for a quick chat at the conference. Khatib will send this one week before the conference begins.

The first follow up is even more simple, all Khatib includes is one question: Will you have a few minutes to meet at the conference?” Khatib will send this email three days later.

Finally, the day before the conference, Khatib will send one more note.

“We do our reach outs as close as possible to the conference,” adds Khatib.

“It helps keep things top of mind.”

Success rate

It may sound like a simple plan – research, build contacts, reach out.

But the system works. Check out these mind boggling results from a recent conference the VanHack team attended:

524 people contacted
197 people replied
60 meetings booked (40 held)
16 new clients
4 clients from the emails themselves

Conference investment: 3 tickets / accommodations $3000
$250,000 potential in 90 days
$60,000 closed
No booths / no sponsorships – priceless

524 emails delivered
22.7% emails bounced
85.7% emails opened
37.6% emails replied to
7.1% people interested

“I remember at another company we spent $55,000 to be there for a couple days. Led to great relationships, but not much else. You need to have a plan so you can get a proper ROI from it,” says Khatib.

“I literally don’t ever want to spend money again on a sponsorship. But, the key is to meet people. Don’t try and close people in that email – it’s networking first.”

Conference conversations

Of course, once the planning is done and the emails are sent, it’s time to actually meet your prospects.

When getting into those critical face-to-face meetings meetings, Khatib stresses keeping it cool. It’s easy to laid back via email, and only ask for a simple chat. But, when you meet a prospect, sales people often jump right into selling. That’s not a good idea because ut runs counter to what your emails said.

Stay consistent, it will impress the person you’re speaking with.

“My main question is always to ask people if they found what they were looking for. We just had a bunch of meetings, so we can likely help them. And because of the law of reciprocity, they ask what they can help us with – and we chat from there,” says Khatib.

“You can train people not to be sales-y, but don’t train them that this is another sales tactic. If you keep that in mind, good things happen. We have people making introductions for us because they appreciate us.”

For more on Khatib’s conference tips and tricks, check out his recent edition of The Predictable Revenue Podcast.