Ep 40: Sales Conferences: To Attend or Not To Attend

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“I would find the right conference and make sure that the dollars that you are going to spend (invest), are going to bring the best result.” – Taylor Barnes



Josh Sweeney: Hi, my name is Josh Sweeney, joined by my co-host, Taylor Barnes Taylor, how are you?

Taylor Barnes: Well, I’m in a pickle, Josh, because I’m sitting here looking at this request from one of my salespeople, and it’s for this extravagant conference out in Vegas in the middle of March Madness. And I’m thinking to myself, is this sales rep going to get anything done at this conference in Vegas in March Madness? And it just got me thinking, are these even worth it?

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, I mean, that’s that’s the leadership challenge, right? Everyone goes to conferences, but they cost a fortune. And the question is for you as a leader, is it worth it? Is it worth it to send that person out or to pay for that booth or to show up en masse? What do you have to commit? How does it work? So let’s talk a little bit about why conferences can fall short.

Taylor Barnes: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: Like what are some of the challenges with, like, getting your ROI from conferences?


ROI Challenges that Accompany Conferences

Taylor Barnes: Yeah, I mean, honestly, I’m dealing with it right now and here’s what’s in my mind. The reason that I’m being very speculative of this is it’s a ton of money. OK, number one, it is an investment. These conferences nowadays are so extravagant. They’re like these huge productions. They’re basically concerts. and they have speakers and they have all the stuff to pay for and they have sponsors and all this. And I’ll tell you, it still blows my mind how easy people find it to sign up these silver, gold and platinum sponsors. And I think a lot of them, at the end of the day, it just comes down to those really those big brothers of the business, you know, the 800 pound gorilla that just have got extra coin to throw around. And just because they want presence there now, I don’t want presence there. Josh, what I want is to make sure that we are making an impact and true efforts towards business development at some of these conferences. So that’s what I struggle with,  am I paying for presence or am I paying for actual business development? And regardless, it’s going to be a lot of money.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, definitely, I mean, like you said, the money is extravagant, I know one of the first conferences I went to and, you know, they’re like, well, no, that doesn’t that booth doesn’t have Wi-Fi. You have to pay for the Wi-Fi package. And then they

Taylor Barnes: Exactly.

Josh Sweeney: Send me the cost of the Wi-Fi package. And I’m like, I think I have a jetpack in my backpack I can just kind of set up.

Taylor Barnes: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: This is ridiculous. Nobody would pay that amount for why are there the extra carpet, you know, the extra piece of carpet.

Josh Sweeney: And like what?

Taylor Barnes: Fifty

Josh Sweeney: I was like, holy cow.

Taylor Barnes: Nine dollars a day. We’ll get you a thousand megs a second, 59 a day. I’m like, OK, I get it now. This is like when you walk into the dealership and you’re like and the cars are like, you know, 20 grand and then you’re like, hey, can I get some air conditioning? You’re like, the cars are 30 grand.

Taylor Barnes: Wait a minute. For air conditioning?

Josh Sweeney: Exactly.

Taylor Barnes: Yeah, exactly. So I know, I know that’s one. And I’d like to hear your thoughts there because I know you struggle with this one too. I think a lot of this comes down to is it worth taking quote unquote, time away from the office, time off, whatever you want to call it. Are we making more of an impact, being in the office, working on proposals, working on business development from headquarters or whatever, versus going on out there? Now, some of this comes as far as the personality type is, you know, depending on who’s going to go out there. But I think another big reason is time away from the office. Do you agree with that?

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, definitely, I mean, there’s there’s an ROI that says if this salesperson stays at their desk for the next four days, they are likely to close X number of dollars of deals

Taylor Barnes: Hmm.

Josh Sweeney: If they are away. I’m not only paying for all the expenses. Right. So if a conference costs me 20 grand and I’m taking five people, well, you can divide that out and know what the cost per person is. And now you’re subtracting and the question is, will they make it up or they make it up in deals or would have been better just for me to have them stay at the office, you know? So there is an ROI calculation that has to happen or there’s other ancillary benefits that you’re willing to commit to. But I mean, that leads into really the next section of like why people don’t get some of the value is when they take that person away from the desk and when they take them away from the office. Do they have a concentrated effort at the conference?

Taylor Barnes: Right.

Josh Sweeney: And that’s another thing I see when I’ve gone to conferences with people is the lack of a concentrated focus or effort.

Taylor Barnes: Mm hmm.


Lack of Concentrated Focus and Effort

Josh Sweeney: So, You know, what are you seeing? Like when people go out and they go to a conference and they aren’t focused? What’s up?

Taylor Barnes: They just don’t have a plan. Don’t have a plan.

Josh Sweeney: Right.

Taylor Barnes: Just no plan. I mean, I see that all the time. They’re like, I just want to go, OK, what are you going to do there? I see people like what people do, those guys, what are their names? You know what I mean? I mean, it’s every single time. So

Josh Sweeney: They’re showing up for the party right there, showing up for the party.

Taylor Barnes: Exactly right.

Josh Sweeney: Right?

Taylor Barnes: They’re showing up for the party. And look, that’s fun. I get why you would want to go to Vegas in March Madness. I get that. That’s cool. And, you know, to be able to spend some time with some customers or some, you know, some whatever resellers or whatever that you do some business with, I think there’s merit to that. My issue is I don’t know if it’s in the form of a conference. So lack of concentrated focus and effort is definitely something that we look at when I say, OK, you can go. I don’t even broach that yes or no until I get like a legitimate plan while they’re there. I’m going to do these three things. I’m going to meet these three customers. I’m trying to accomplish these three goals and I’m going to leave and bring back these three things or whatever it is. If you just go to an environment like that, you’re not going to probably get the ROI that you’re expecting. So I think another big reason that I struggle with this and that I’m sure you struggle with this is the lack of concentrated focus. No plan, no goals. And when he or she comes back, it just from what I’ve seen, it’s not good enough just to kind of lay it out there.

Josh Sweeney: Right. Right. They didn’t bring in enough leads to make that worth it.

Taylor Barnes: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: All right.


Entertainment vs Real Business Development Value

Taylor Barnes: That’s exactly right, and I think a good segue that you just mentioned is entertainment versus real business development. Now, let’s get practical for a second, because I’ve been on both sides of this. I’ve been the guy that goes out there to the conferences and I’ve raged and partied and had a great time and made an impact at a personal level. And that’s cool. And everything like that. Maybe that did help me down the road. Who knows? And I’ve also been on the management side of this thing where I say, if I’m going to send someone out there to do this and all they’re going to do is rage and party, well, that that’s that’s tough to justify the expense. Right. They can do that on their own time. So really rage and party go to games. Whatever the situation is, there is a big gotcha in these large conference environments where it becomes heavier weighted towards entertainment and fun versus what really the conference is there for, which is to spur networking, business development, relationships, introductions, new ideas, new partners, new vendors, whatever it is, it just tends to be a little bit more entertainment and a little less work

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, definitely.

Taylor Barnes: You see in that.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, I mean, and there’s I think there’s a number of solutions. I mean, that’s a good segue. What’s the solution to the entertainment versus real business value? And I think for me, there’s a two it’s two sided coin where, you know, there’s a lot of value in having somebody go out and enjoy the conference. Right. Want to be there. And a lot of people talk about maybe having a work hard play hard culture. But I think when you go to a conference, that’s where you can actually have a real conversation around, like what is work hard, play hard, work hard is you’re standing on your feet out in front of the booth table all day long, drawing people in and calling people out and bringing them over to get your content and hustling. But in exchange for that hustle where you’re exhausted, we’re taking you to a game, we’re taking you to one of the best meals like that is a way that you can solve the problem and say, how do we get maximize your time

Taylor Barnes: Mm hmm.

Josh Sweeney: On that conference room floor. But also, here’s the perk. You know, and I know I’m in other associations where it’s like it’s a lot of work to be part of an association or part of a board, you know, in a nonprofit perspective. But then every year they take their board on a trip and it’s like, OK, we’re we’re we’re providing something else and return other than to give back that you’re getting in the fulfillment you get from being part of this. And I think that’s one of the solutions is, hey, we’re going to write up this agreement and this is the the work hard play hard agreement and big letters

Taylor Barnes: I like that.

Josh Sweeney: At the top. And like, here’s the hustle we’re looking for and here’s what you’re going to get out of it. And you’re going to get this filet and lobster meals.

Taylor Barnes: Yeah.

Josh Sweeney: And we’re going to have a good time.

Taylor Barnes: Yeah.


Maximizing Conference Visits

Josh Sweeney: But, man, when you’re on the floor, when conference hours are ending, this is what we’re expecting. We’re not expecting you sitting at the table playing on your cell phone. Actually, you’re just going to turn that thing off, right? It’s in the agreement. Turn off your phone. You will not be looking at it. So that’s one solution.

Taylor Barnes: Brilliant.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah.

Taylor Barnes: That’s a really great idea. What can you draw up with the person that you’re going to send out there contractually and to say, look, this is going to be work and play. This is the definition of work and play. We are going to be on our feet for seven hours. We’re going to be hustlin. We’re going to give out these 100 things that we brought here and we’re going to get 100 emails. We’re going to get 100 business cards, whatever it is these days. And then you can say and as a result of that, we will celebrate that night on a job well done by going to, you know, the Vegas Lobster Bar. They will

Josh Sweeney: All right.

Taylor Barnes: Go get some Macallan 18 or whatever. And I mean, I’ll tell you what I mean. That’s fun. That’s fun for both of you. 

Josh Sweeney: You have something to be, you know, at the end of that dinner or that event like, OK, who did the most? Like, you can turn it into a game. You can give out a gift card. You know, here’s a five hundred dollar gift card to go blow at the shops at Caesars, for your spouse, because you won the three by five card giveaway.

Taylor Barnes: That’s right.

Josh Sweeney: Like you can enjoy a conference and both ways and maximize the value.

Taylor Barnes: Yeah, that’s so well said.

Josh Sweeney: All right.

Josh Sweeney: What are some other solutions to get more out of the conference?

Taylor Barnes: I love that one.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah.


Picking the Right Conference

Taylor Barnes: So on top of that, I think I think finding the right conference is really important, too. I mean, the one in Vegas in March Madness, that is a monster big time event. I mean, you know, that’s, you know, loads and loads of dollars and time away. And it’s obviously across the country from where we are in Atlanta. It’s got a lot of reasons why not to go right. But, you know, like you said, there are some reasons to what I would say is do yourself a favor and research the type of conference research, the amount of folks are going to go there, research the amount of groups and potentially what this association or or group thinks about, because the chances of you making a bigger, better impact in a smaller, potentially more local environment are going to be probably two or 3x. You’re going to be able have a small amount of people so you can get a better, more concentrated audience. It might take you less time to get there. It might take you less overall time to be there. There’s a lot of different ways, but I would say find the right conference and make sure that the dollars that you’re going to spend are going to be the best, best, best result from that.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, I mean, that’s a good point, because I remember going to a conference in an ecosystem that I was in a while back and one of the biggest complaints, or most of the people were it’s mostly partners

Taylor Barnes: Hmm.

Josh Sweeney: And most of the people that show up are working with one of those partners already. And, you know, they don’t really want partners poking and messing up the ecosystem. And so it’s like, OK, well, then why am I here? You know, I’m spending all this money.

Taylor Barnes: Yeah, right.

Josh Sweeney: If, you know, unless you were like a software add on or you were an easy enhancement. If you’re another solution, partner is like, this isn’t so good, you know. So definitely want to know what the ad audience is like, what the opportunity is for you based on your types of service and how that is a fit or isn’t a fit.

Taylor Barnes: Yeah, yeah, and, you know, it’s kind of along the same lines as, OK, let’s say that let’s say that it’s the big conference, right? And that’s the one that’s the one that we got to go. OK, well, do we need to be there the entire amount of time? Right. I know you’ve been here, Josh. You’ve got four days of it, probably like Wednesday through Saturday or whatever. And then there is breakfast every day. There’s a speaker every morning, there’s a conference. Every afternoon there’s this and there’s and then there’s different talking points and different agenda items. Do you need to be there for all of that or can you just show up for Thursday? Because that’s going to be the most educational for you. You’re going to be able to bring some industry secrets back, some industry trade secrets back, and then maybe meet a customer. Do you have to be there the whole time or can you come back a little bit earlier or show up a little bit later?

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, definitely, because, I mean, some of those have like kickoffs where, you know, it’s a training session or, you know, that they wrap up on the last day and, you know, there’s not a lot of people there. So there’s all kinds of timing aspects to that. And then, you know, in addition, another solution, like we alluded to earlier, we were talking about the challenges is have a plan. You

Taylor Barnes: Yes.

Josh Sweeney: Know, there’s all kinds of ways that you can have a plan and really maximize the visit. So, you know, things that I see, for example, are if you’re going to a conference, you’re emailing everybody ahead of time asking if you can meet them at that conference. And I know we’ve done that before. We’ve done big campaigns. Hey, I’d love to meet you at the conference. It’s a prospect. And, you know, when can we get together and you just send those assumptive emails like we’re just assuming everybody is going to the big awesome conference and they have to respond to you and say, oh, I’m actually not going to be at that one. OK, no problem. But what I’ll do is I’ll hit on a number of people that are going and I’m scheduling those individual times. Hey, here’s where we’re going to be at. You know, come to the booth at this time, will call. We have a little side table, whatever you want to do to really lock it in on a calendar. And I like to send the calendar invites just like I …

Taylor Barnes: Absolutely.


Execution List of Goals

Josh Sweeney: Would any other meeting, like, put it on there. So it’s going off while they’re walking around. Oh, man, I got to go see Josh in fifteen minutes, like, I need to start walking over to the vendor booth or wherever it’s hosted. So what are some other things that you like to see implemented in the plan that are documented says here’s how we’re going to maximize this, make sure we do. We plan ahead of time.

Taylor Barnes: Absolutely so most of the time, we will be able to generate an attendee list, right? Most of the time, if you sign it for the conference, one of the things that they do is before you go out there, they send you out the attendee list. You know, it could be executive sponsors and things like that. So what I do is I make sure that, when and if some of my folks want to go, we have a specific individual time with those specific people. And again so much of this comes down to the planning. Like, I understand you want to go tell me if this was your money, what would you be trying to get out of it? And then they’ll say, oh, wow, I want to meet John Smith at ABC Company. I’m going to do that Tuesday, 2:00 p.m. I’m doing that Thursday, five p.m. I’m doing that. I’m going to take this person out to breakfast and then I’m going to recycle and do it again and meet up with them, like you kind of called it a contract earlier, almost like an execution list for each person that we’re flying out. The three things that you need to get done, the three people you want to meet, the three things you’re bringing back, what have you. And I would say, Josh, if the execution list includes maybe seeing some folks that are around that area that may not be coming to the conference, that’s almost as worth it in some cases. Two birds, one stone. Right. So I know that you and I have talked about this. I mean, when you send people out, I’m assuming you really want them focused not just on the conference itself, but who else can we see in that area that may or may I? I’m in town for this conference. Do you have a minute to meet for coffee?


Local Area Prospecting during The Conference

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, I mean, local area prospecting is a big part of it, because here’s the thing, the biggest expense is you’re already paying for the flight and the hotel. So if that last day is like one of those down days, one of those half days, it’s

Taylor Barnes: Yeah man.

Josh Sweeney: Like, hey, on the last day we already stayed over the night. We were already here. We could fly out early or we could we could just go ahead and pay a little bit more for another night. And that day could be maximized. And ahead of time, you’re sending emails to all prospects in that city. So you’re going to a conference in San Francisco. Well, get everybody in your ideal client profile in San Francisco and start emailing them.

Taylor Barnes: Mmm.

Josh Sweeney: Hey I’ll be in for this conference I have this day. Would love to drive out and meet with you. You know, I’m going to bring your team, some donuts and meet them, whatever it is, like whatever you have to do. But because you’re local and because you’re nearby, most people will respond at a higher rate to those emails and schedule time with you. And, you know, that’s just another way you can utilize it. Yeah, it makes it a little long, but you already paid that flight money to get wherever you’re going.

Taylor Barnes: Exactly, I think one more hack here that I found beneficial, and you don’t have to do this with, you know, potentially your seasoned veterans who you’ve been doing this for years and years and years. But as you’re developing your salespeople and giving them experience and letting them see, you know, getting some exposure to some of these things, I think a very reasonable request is a daily recap. If you’re there two or three days and the rep, you just say, look at the end of every day, five or six o’clock, run up. Give me a daily recap. Tell me who you met. Tell me what’s going on. If you have any questions, if you have any like, you know, do you have some guidance on, you know, I met this person, here’s his or her title. You know, I’m not really sure what that means. And then what would be just really, really, really great is assuming you make a good first impression and you see that individual the next day, well, you might be able to help that rep get into the weeds a little bit and learn and, you know, extrapolate some information from from those individuals a little bit more, you know, heavier. And again, the older that you get Shinsei older, the more mature you get in your career, the more seasoned you get in your profession might not be necessary, but especially for some of your younger folks that you’re trying to develop, that’s a really good hack that we’ve seen some some good results from.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, definitely, I mean, I like the recap either way, because you get an idea of, oh, I talked to this person about this and, you know, you can schedule meetings with them later. So I would bring those to a manager or leader, whatever it is, and say, hey, when can we schedule a follow up? Like,

Taylor Barnes: Totally.

Josh Sweeney: I think this is a good person. Can you know, there’s all kinds of reasons to follow up. There’s also ways that, you know, you need to recap at the end of the conference, get all those cards into the system so that they’re getting retargeted after it and looking at the follow up process.

Taylor Barnes: Right. Teamwork.

Josh Sweeney: So that’s another one.


Refresh Yourself On the Client and Conversation

Taylor Barnes: On Rickon, too. I mean, if I meet somebody, the chances of me knowing every transaction that I’ve done with that client off the top of my head, OK, depending how big or small you are, that might not be very realistic. So, you know, especially the bigger the business that you are, you could say, hey, nice to meet you. I know I’ve heard of your organization. I know that we’re involved and I know that we’ve done some business together. It would be really nice for you to dial back to headquarters and say, can you tell me about the transactions that we’ve done together so I can have the most I can have the easiest expansion conversation with these individuals. That’s huge. And without those recaps, well, it’s kind of like, all right, I’ll see you next Monday and

Josh Sweeney: Yeah.

Taylor Barnes: You have no idea how it went throughout the process. So another way that I can validate sending them out there is doing just that.


Question to Sales Leaders and Listeners

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, definitely so as we’ve discussed, I mean, all kinds of solutions to really get your money out of a conference, you know, you can go shorter times and make it a little less expensive. You can make sure you’re going to the right conference. I think a big one is having a plan and executing on that plan, having a contract where it’s a work hard, play hard experience, and we’re going to make it awesome and fun to go to and we’re really going to crush it. So as a final question, I want you to think about what you are doing to make conferences worth every penny?

Taylor Barnes: And this has been Purpose-Driven Sales with Barnes and Sweeney now go to that conference with purpose!

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