Let’s journey back to 1979 when COMDEX (the Computer Dealers Exposition) marked the beginning of a new era for the channel with its inaugural event. Ask any seasoned professional in the channel, and they’ll reminisce about the early days of trade shows, the notoriously long taxi lines at COMDEX, and, more importantly, the business opportunities and lasting friendships forged during these gatherings. Since then, the number of channel events has exploded, with hundreds of events drawing tens of thousands of attendees annually. The channel is a people-first ecosystem, and events have played a key role in developing many channel programs.

The value of trade shows is unmistakable, with Lincoln West noting that 81% of attendees wield buying power, making these events a prime venue for vendors to connect with partner decision-makers. According to Highway85 Creative, 74% of customers are more inclined to purchase a product after encountering it at a trade show – good news for vendors looking to recruit or more upsell partners. Furthermore, a QuickTapSurvey reveals that 5-10% of leads from trade shows typically convert immediately after the event. There are scores of other data points that reinforce what you already know: Especially in the channel, there’s nothing quite like in-person events to move the needle.

Identifying the Right Events to Attend

Jay McBain, chief analyst from Canalys, is on more stages than we can name, so it’s only natural to look to him for a count – and it’s a doozy. In May 2023, Jay published his thoughts on the top 218 events for every vendor and partner. With only 260 business days in a year, how do you choose which events are right for you? Here are some tips:

  • Clearly Define Your Objectives: It seems obvious, but too many vendors simply show up at events without really identifying why they want to be there. Begin by pinpointing your goals for event participation. Whether it’s lead generation, brand awareness, product launches, or networking, you have to have a clear understanding of your objectives. Then assess each event’s potential to provide a satisfactory ROI.
  • Conduct a Thorough Cost Analysis: Consider the financial implications of attending events, including entry fees, travel, accommodation, and marketing expenses. Weigh these costs against your budget and the expected ROI to make informed decisions to determine how you want to show up (more on that below).
  • Set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Establish specific KPIs to measure the success of your participation. These should include referral tracking and conversion rates, attendee satisfaction and engagement levels, as well as sales and lead quality analysis.
  • Evaluate Your Market Fit: Analyze the relevance of the event to your specific market segment. Research the event’s focus, industry alignment, and attendee profile to ensure it matches your target market, geographical focus, and business strategies.
  • Analyze Attendee and Speaker Profiles: Study the quality and relevance of attendees and speakers. Prioritize events where decision-makers, influencers, or industry thought leaders who align with your market will be present.

Want a checklist and timeline for event execution, complete with team responsibilities? We’ve got you covered here.

Deciding Your Level of Participation

Now that you know the events you feel your team should attend, it’s time to figure out how you’ll show up. Align your participation level with your defined objectives. For instance, if brand visibility is a key goal, consider more prominent participation forms like sponsoring a booth or a speaking slot. If networking is the priority, attending or hosting smaller, more intimate events might be more effective.

  • Consider Sponsoring a Booth: If your goal is high visibility, lead generation, or product demonstrations, a booth can be an excellent choice. It provides a physical space to showcase your products or services and engage directly with potential clients or partners.
  • Buying a Speaking Slot: This is ideal if you’re looking to establish thought leadership, share industry insights, or highlight innovations.
  • Happy Hours and Social Gatherings: These are perfect for informal networking and relationship building. Consider hosting a happy hour if you aim to create a relaxed environment for deeper, more personal interactions.
  • Sponsorships and Branding Opportunities: If you have the budget, look for sponsorship opportunities that align with your brand. This can range from sponsoring specific segments of the event to branding merchandise.
  • Collaborative Opportunities: Explore opportunities to co-host events or sessions with other brands. This can broaden your reach and offer mutual benefits while lowering your total cost.
  • Personalized One-on-One Meetings: Schedule personalized meetings with key prospects or clients during the event. This focused approach is great for deepening relationships and discussing specific opportunities.

Turning Connections into Opportunities

There’s no point investing in an event if you aren’t prepared to do effective follow-up. That’s where the magic really happens, but it’s hard work. It requires attention to detail, time to personalize communications, and the ability to move quickly. The key is to be timely, relevant, and persistent in your efforts, ensuring you capitalize on the momentum from the event.

  • Immediate Post-Event Communication: And we mean it when we say immediate. Initiate follow-up communications within 24-48 hours after the event. This helps keep the momentum going and ensures your brand stays fresh in the minds of the contacts you’ve made. Send personalized emails or messages that reference specific conversations or points of interest from the event. This personal touch can significantly increase the response rate.
  • Segmenting Your Contacts: Segment your contacts into groups based on their potential value, type of interaction, or specific interests. This enables more targeted and relevant follow-up communications. Create different follow-up messages for each segment, ensuring the content is relevant to their specific interests and interactions.
  • Utilizing CRM Tools: It should go without saying, but make sure to enter all new contacts into your CRM system promptly. Include detailed notes about each interaction to provide context for future communications. Use your CRM to set up automated follow-up sequences, ensuring consistent and timely engagement.
  • Leveraging Social Media: Connect with new contacts on LinkedIn or other relevant social media platforms. This can help maintain the connection and provide opportunities for ongoing engagement. Don’t immediately go for the jugular, either. Sending a sales email right off the bat without greasing the wheels with interaction first is a mistake. Post highlights or insights from the event on your social media channels. Tagging the event or specific individuals can increase engagement and visibility.
  • Scheduling One-on-One Meetings: For high-potential contacts, propose one-on-one meetings or calls to discuss potential collaborations, partnerships, or business opportunities in more detail.
  • Tracking and Measuring Follow-Up Success: Remember, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Track the responses and engagement levels from your follow-up efforts. Use metrics like email open rates, response rates, and meeting conversions. Use this data to refine your follow-up strategies and improve for future events.
  • Maintaining Long-Term Engagement: Keep in touch with your contacts regularly, even when there’s no immediate business opportunity. Don’t lose sight of the fact that the channel is a relationship business, and we should all devote significant energy to establishing, strengthening, and maintaining those relationships. Regular check-ins can build a strong foundation for future collaborations.

The Bottom Line

Though there’s no doubt solid friendships are made and honed at channel events, they’re more than just get-togethers. These gatherings are key hubs for establishing and nurturing enduring professional and commercial relationships within the market. Integrating these events into your business strategy opens doors to expanding your network, launching new products efficiently, and enhancing partner-generated revenue. Recognizing that not every event aligns with each vendor’s needs, the variety of options available today offers the flexibility to craft a marketing events strategy uniquely suited to your business goals. Participation in these events unlocks many benefits—rich networking opportunities, close-knit meetings, interactive peer groups, and the chance to build new, long-lasting relationships.