Conferences, vendors, and connections

“What travel has taught me – more than anything else in my life – is that it’s ok to connect with someone for a just a few seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks. Connections don’t have to be long term to be authentic, memorable and meaningful.”

This is a great piece of reflection from Diane, and it hits a note with me. I’m going to be part of the blogging contingent at this year’s CIPD Annual Conference. I’m really looking forward to it, and glad to be able to share content with people who can’t be there. There’s been something which has been playing on my mind though, about the whole inclusive aspect of the conference with relation to the vendors/exhibitors. It’s no secret that vendors help to fund the event and help make it a success in different ways. Some exhibitors have videos, some have actors, some have sweets, and some have competitions, and some will even be speaking in the shorter sessions on the exhibition floor. Some of the more clued up vendors will also be on the backchannel, promoting themselves with the very typical “come visit us on Stand 433 to talk about your HR needs!”, or “can’t wait to get started with today and meet loads of people!” type tweets. It’s all about attracting people to the stand to have a conversation.

It’s an attraction strategy yet there’s something quite important missing. There’s very little dialogue. It seems to mostly be about the broadcast.

The good folk at CIPD have been quite conscious about the usefulness of having bloggers present in order to promote what is happening there. In most cases tweets and other content is flying about all over the shop. This year, Doug Shaw will be curating various content in order for people to follow a narrative of some sort. I’ve seen Doug do this when he curates things like the Carnival of HR, and he does a good job of that, so doing this will be really cool for the conference.

What I’ve reflected on, though, is that vendors are quite reluctant or reticent to actively be involved in the backchannel discussions. It’s bizarre because people buy people. I have never, and probably never will, bought something from someone by being cold called or not had some kind of connection which I can trust. It’s no different at conferences. Vendors need to find a better way to connect with potential buyers, and one of the easy options available is being actively involved with the backchannel. Social media now means people are willing to talk and share their experience of a conference with ease. Here’s the typical transactional conversation which takes places:

ME: “Hoping to find a better solution to performance management system at the conference today.”

VENDOR: “We have a great solution for the problem, come talk to us at stand 433.” or “We’ve produced a white paper on this very topic, why not come along and talk to us about it?”

Ugh. How awful and ininviting. Why not try something more genuine and inquiry based?

ME: “Hoping to find a better solution to performance management system at the conference today.”

VENDOR: “What is it you’re looking for when you say ‘better’?” or “That sounds like an interesting problem, what does ‘better’ look like?”

An inquiry based approach means I can build a connection with you because you’re asking questions – not selling. Connections, like Di tells us, can happen quickly, or they happen over a period of time. Either way, if I’ve made a connection with you, I’m likely to remember you, and I’m likely to follow up with you directly.

Let’s take this a bit further. If you’re a savvy vendor, and the connection has been fruitful enough for the potential buyer to come visit your stand, you could quite quickly do a LinkedIn search on them, google their company if you don’t know them, and be ready to have a focused and open conversation with them about what they need. (You would totally need to disclose you did this though otherwise that’s not playing nice.)

At the same time, though, I wonder where if there is a responsibility on the part of the bloggers to be more inclusive too. It’s something I’ve been very guilty of, when I’ve not spent time on the exhibition floor to actually get to know the vendors present. More fool me, hey?

So, this year I’m changing my thinking. I’m going to make my way round to see various vendors, with the specific purpose in mind of helping share their message and purpose. They’re there to connect with potential buyers, and I could help with this. Some will know why exist as a business, what their message is, what they are at the conference for, and know their products well. I want to hear about that, and potentially help others connect with them. I’m not doing this to sell my reach, or make money from it. I’m going to do this because if the vendors help to make conferences happen, let’s show them some love too.