For anyone in the B2B (business-to-business) space, a great way to build your customer base is to speak at conferences. But not the conferences related to what you do.
Let’s say you have a corporate IT management business. Your company manages the IT department for small businesses that don’t have a full-time IT person and that are located within a 50-mile radius of your city.
So what conferences should you be attending? Not your local or state IT conferences. Rather, you should attend conferences and events that your clients attend. Any successful business attends conferences on a regular basis, both on a regional and national level. So ask your clients which ones they attend, and research to see if this is a good place to speak about corporate IT management.
Next, create a topic that’s applicable to the attendees. Most businesses have a very basic understanding of IT issues, like network security or virus protection, so you could do a talk on “5 Security Flaws Your Business Could Fall Prey To” or “5 Common Security Mistakes Companies Make on Their IT System.” Chances are, this is not the kind of talk they’re getting at that conference, because they’re all learning about their industry’s best practices, and not the extra pieces of knowledge they need to run their day-to-day business—computers, accounting, finance, payroll, etc.
But don’t sell. Your temptation may be to tell a roomful of people how great your IT company is, and how you’ve helped dozens of clients save thousands of dollars. You can never, ever sell your business or your service during your presentation. Everyone is attending these conferences to gain knowledge, not to be marketed to. That’s what the trade show floor is for. Your job is to share knowledge and help people do their job better. So adopt a strategy and mind-set as a teacher, not a salesperson, and teach people. What we’ve found in our years of giving presentations is that people are more likely to respond favorably—by hiring us after the conference—if we teach.
This last point may run counterintuitive to what you’ve been told, but share as much knowledge as you can. Most people worry about giving away the good stuff, and that if they show people how to do what they do, they won’t get hired. It doesn’t work that way. Ask anyone who runs a business how much time they have to spend fixing their computers, and they’ll tell you “none at all.” If they have plenty of time to do it, they won’t be in business long, because it means they don’t have customers. The best way we’ve found to get clients is to tell people how to do our jobs. They quickly realize how much time, energy, and effort is involved, and they decide they’re just better off having us do it instead.
Speaking at conferences is a great way to demonstrate your expertise and improve your credibility with potential clients. So, talk to your current clients, see which conferences they’re attending, and then submit a speaking proposal.
About the author: Duncan Alney is the president and founder of Firebelly Marketing. He is an entrepreneur, writer, speaker, and photographer, and he’s working on his first social media marketing book, which will be out in late 2012. Duncan has lived on 3 continents and in 5 countries, but is proud to call Indianapolis home.