Amy Boehm, Marketing Manager at Kar Auto Group, shares tips for making the most of the next conference you attend.
1. Network, Network, Network
There are several reasons why networking is at the top of this list. Getting to know likeminded people in your industry who can help you long after the conference is over is invaluable. These people are your lifeline when you need help with video, Facebook, SEO, SEM, lead management processes, CRM questions, etc., throughout the year. Meeting the right people will help you find your answers, while also helping you develop your own processes that are a fit for your own store. After all, nothing in marketing and sales is one-solution-fits-all. These connections you make now will last forever, as long as you put effort into them, just like any good relationship. You must nurture these new friends and build on your connection.
That leads to knowing who the “right” people are to meet. I could easily offer a list of some of the smartest, most innovative, helpful, and fun people I know, but you should determine that list for yourself.
A great place to start is Facebook! Search for some automotive Facebook groups to join. From there, you will be able to watch and learn from others who post questions as well as answer them. You can find peers who are facing similar issues and meet them to collaborate on what each of you are doing to address those issues, or you can watch for industry veterans who offer advice that you find valuable. If you appreciate their answers and would like to work with them or learn more from them, reach out via messenger! Most are willing to help, and many times this can lead to a great professional working relationship. Once you have made an online connection, try to meet up with them at the conference to form a better relationship in person.
Networking, in my opinion, should never come from the “What’s in it for ME?” mentality. It should be done with an honest approach for wanting to better yourself and the company that you represent.
2. Go in With a Plan
Now, I have read other articles that advise the opposite, but in my experience, the best advice is to go in with a plan, but be flexible to changes.
I think it is important to take a good look at the areas of opportunity in your position and at your dealership before the conference and search out sessions that address those concerns. Maybe you want to learn more about marketing on Google Ads or beef up the SEO on your website. Perhaps you are a sales manager who wants to learn more about managing your employees, or maybe you are looking for a new CRM or video product. All are excellent things to focus on at a conference, but it is important to identify those things before you go so that you spend your time wisely while there.
In a recent visit to Digital Dealer 25 in Las Vegas, I had done my research ahead of time and had ideas on what sessions I wanted to attend and which vendors I wanted to visit. When I got there, I almost got swept away in the excitement of it all. Seeing old friends and meeting new ones, seeing new products I thought were cool, finding different sessions I thought would be interesting … but I had to pull myself back in and refocus on the needs that I and my dealership had so that I could prioritize my time to make the most out of what I had available. Not only was I able to get all of my must-do’s addressed, but then I was able to find time for my want-to-do’s!
3. Be Brave
Getting out of your comfort zone can be difficult but necessary in these types of environments. If you are usually an introvert, it is important to meet new people and be comfortable asking vendors or peers questions about what can help you and your business grow.
A great way to go about doing this is to watch where others are going after the conference closes for the day. Because most of the extroverted people like to socialize, a centralized bar or restaurant is a great place to start. Even if you do not drink, others do, and finding those individuals to chat with and get to know is often easier in a social situation. Plus, most people are still wearing their badges and are easily recognizable as being a part of your conference. Of course, this can always be done in sessions by speaking to your neighbors and asking them about themselves as well.
My bravery came into play this year at Digital Dealer 25 when I saw Ali Reda standing next to me. I had wanted to attend his keynote speech and ask him to sign my copy of his book, but never in a million years did I think I’d have the chance to introduce myself, pick his brain, and tell him what a fan I was of his and his relationship-selling techniques. I knew I had to take advantage of my good fortune, so I called out his name, introduced myself (as my heart was racing), and blurted out all the things I respected about him and engaged in conversation. Luckily for me, he was very gracious and kind and gave me 20 minutes of one-on-one discussion. It was amazing. We hugged as I fan girl’d out and took a selfie! It was a highlight of my conference, and I would have missed out if I weren’t brave enough to take advantage of the opportunity.
4. Have Fun and Keep It Classy
Conferences can be a blast, but they can also open you up to the opportunity to be unprofessional. This is not the time or place to call unwanted attention to yourself or let others see you in a less than ideal light. Don’t forget – you are at this conference for work purposes. Like it or not, perception is reality and unsavory behavior can lead to a loss in business or lack of respect for your seriousness in business.
It is important to keep your wits about you and make good choices. Sometimes this is the only time and place your vendors or potential vendors will see you and it may dictate how or if they choose to do business with you. Also, automotive is a fairly small community and is not immune to gossip. Force the gossip being spread about you to be positive, like about how smart and impassioned you are. At the same time, be genuine. Likeminded people will respond well to you and help you achieve your goals and further your conference agenda.
5. Follow Through
This may seem like a throwaway step, but it is just as important as what you learned and who you met at the conference!
There are several things that can be done to follow up, but here are a few I suggest:
1. Thank-you notes. By writing a personal thank-you note to people who made a difference in your experience, who inspired you or helped you in a significant way, you are acknowledging them in a positive way that will lead into the next time you connect. Who doesn’t like to know they made a difference in someone’s life in a positive way!?
2. Recap your experience in writing for your boss. This is an excellent way to reflect back on what happened during your time at the conference; recall whom you spoke with, what vendors you met with, and what you discovered; and report on what sessions you attended and what you learned! This will not only add value to your experience, but also show your boss that the money was well spent! Remember – if it was valuable to you and your position in the dealership, it will be valuable to them as a company when you put action to the ideas you come back with.
Semi-Pro Tip: I have found in my own experience and in others’ that bosses like to ask you “What can you save us money on?” when you return from a conference. Maybe you have found ways to save them money, so you will surely want to have that answer ready, but also think about and report back with things that will make them money. Those conversations are often more interesting and thought-provoking.