Business to business events can be critical to your international student recruitment strategy. You have all the agents you want in one room, with a full meeting schedule and your stretch targets in mind. But how do you make sure that you make the most of the opportunities provided at an event like StudyWorld?
Here are some top tips by our StudyWorld Commercial Director and attendee of scores of business to business events, Tim Barker, to make a success out of your next B2B event.
1. Find a way to measure the success of the event
It’s 9am, you’re back in the office after a week of meetings and networking and everyone wants to know; “So, how was it”?
Your colleague in marketing wants gossip, the student services team want to know what you actually do with all your time and the whole team are terrified to hear what new programme you’ve cooked up with a new agent.
Being able to answer this question in the hours, days, weeks and months after an event is critical. It will allow you to make better decisions about how you use your marketing budget in the future, will give a sense of achievement to your teams and show you how you and your teams are performing.
You can only do this if you have clear, specific and measurable goals set for each meeting before the event and the event as a whole. Depending on the records you keep, this goal could be revenue, student numbers/weeks or even forecasted numbers based on agents commitments (though of course you need to be careful here!). This goal can be adjusted when you find out in the meeting that the agent loves your product or, conversely, has no interest in your sector.
Use these adjustments to set your next monthly, quarterly and yearly mini-goals and use the data for every event to rank the return on investment for your marketing activity. As well as helping you to plan your marketing spend better (and give feedback to the event organisers), this will mitigate against the dangers of using your intuition to judge success. We’ve all had amazing meetings that leave a warm glow of success after a tired conference morning which lead to no bookings or meetings that appear to be going nowhere, yet lead to great returns.
2. Do more before
Most people claim to have done their research before going to meetings, but that is usually limited to a quick glance at the event guide and a browse of a Google translated agency website. If you really want to make the most of the limited meeting time and impress the agent with your professionalism, go a little further with your pre-event research.
It takes ten minutes to pick up the phone to a friend in the industry who the agent works with for a quick rundown, or to try and find out a little bit about the person that you’re meeting as well as the organisation (LinkedIn stalking!). Some agents love to receive a quick pre-meeting email simply asking; “What do you want to talk about?” This way you can arrive at the meeting prepared and ready to do business.
3. Be prepared to be unprepared
With all the preparation in the world, however, time doesn’t stand still in the days before and during an event. Some of the most valuable and immediate returns on investment can be won by being flexible to a request that has either just arrived at an agent’s door which they haven’t been able to fulfil with their usual partners because it’s a bit ‘complicated’, or that someone has just let them down on. These provide great opportunities for you to get your new partnership off to a great start by demonstrating how flexible and professional you are.
To respond to this kind of request, you need to know clearly what you can do and be able to quickly calculate whether you can do it for a certain price. You can’t say yes to everything (after all, you still have to work with your student services and academic teams), but you might miss a valuable opportunity if all you can come up with is “that sounds interesting, let me get back to you in a week.”
If you need to check in with someone back at the office, use the five-minute coffee break to call in and assign someone to work on the request, then track down that agent later in the day to give them the good news.
4. Don’t treat your follow ups like a to-do list
When I started attending B2B events I returned to the office with my notes and business cards, put them in a pile on my desk and then worked through them by sending an email to each one until I reached the bottom of the pile at 7:30 that evening. I was delighted, I’d ‘done’ my follow-ups.
This was not my most successful event. Firstly, not all meetings are created equal, and you don’t want to arrive at the high value, hot lead halfway through the afternoon when the whole process has already started to get you down. Secondly, a good follow-up takes time. You want to get in there when things are still fresh with the agent, but you also want to do it well. If that takes a bit longer, then it’s time worth taking. Lastly, the first email follow-up should be part of a well-planned and individually targeted process, not as they say in US sports: ‘one and done’. Take the time to plan how your first follow-up fits into the process of visits, training, phone calls and further emails that are needed to maximise the opportunity.
5. Ask the right questions
We all know we should be listening more and talking less – there isn’t a sales manual written that doesn’t labour this point, but this is easier said than done. Sometimes you get nothing back from the agent from your perfectly sculpted questions, yet on another day, ask an innocent question about how they’re enjoying the event and you could spend the next 15 minutes looking for a chance to talk about business.
So what are the right questions, and how can you use them to navigate the meeting to a happy win-win scenario? Unfortunately there is no simple list that you can run through, like any conversation you have to react to the person that you’re conversing with.
The crucial thing to remember is the overall aim of the questions you ask. You want to know what is currently hurting their business and what would make their business really happy. For example, they’re working with a competitor in your market, but the school is full of one nationality and they’re facing unhappy clients as a result. It hurts them – it’s an opportunity for you. Or, they’ve always wanted to expand into a certain market but never found the right partner, you can help build this business for them, it’s going to make their business happy.
Do you have any top tips to add? Are there any that you disagree with? Share yours using our social media links.
For more information on attending StudyWorld, email Tim. He’s always happy to talk business to business events!