It's no surprise that conferences have been among firms' top deal sourcing tactics for decades. Trade shows give dealmakers an unmatched opportunity to pack a ton of company research and prospect meetings into just a few days. In fact, a recent survey found that the two most popular methods firms use to identify, research, and connect with companies are networking (88%) and conference lists (84%).
As Vice President of top investment banking firm Vaquero Capital Dominic Chan recently said, "I still think there's no substitute for the in-person, as efficient as Zoom sometimes may be. Whether that is a road show or an industry conference, in-person meetings create better relationships and are more memorable."
But major advancements of technology, coupled with the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic, forever changed the face of the events industry. Now, market uncertainty and the decline of both deal volume and value is requiring firms to go beyond traditional conference strategy and rethink how they plan for and prioritize these historically bankable events.
Historically, harnessing conferences as part of your deal origination efforts meant attending all the big shows and meeting as many people as possible. However, showing up and wandering expo halls in hopes of running into a high-quality, transaction-ready opportunity simply isn't efficient or reliable in today's highly competitive and increasingly specialized market.
Conferences also tend to be expensive, which makes generating a return on your trade show investment especially critical during slower market periods. To maximize deal flow from trade shows, today's dealmakers must harness the latest data and technology to develop a conference strategy that enables them to:
The rest of this post will provide a three-step event strategy and action plan used by some of today's top dealmakers.
There are literally thousands of trade shows each year in the US alone and a number of valid reasons why dealmakers may choose to attend them, including:
However, the most important factor when choosing which conferences to attend is whether any existing or new opportunities will be there. Unfortunately, spending weeks manually scrubbing a single conference list searching for a few relevant attendees simply isn't efficient, especially when facing tightening budgets and resources.
By leveraging the latest conference intelligence technology, modern firms can quickly identify which tradeshows the companies that currently exist in their CRM are planning to attend. These tools also make it possible to filter a conference list, such as HLTH or HIMSS, by various company data points like ownership type or employee count.
This allows you to see whether any additional, previously unknown companies that align with your firm's specific investment thesis or criteria will be there. Dealmakers can then attend the conferences with the highest concentration of highly relevant opportunities and skip the rest!
Conference Strategy Pro Tip: Firms can increase their ROI from conference attendance by focusing on smaller events. Once you identify companies of interest within your target sector, find out which conferences they'll be attending that aren't the biggest-name events. At events like these, you'll have a greater opportunity to get in front of the companies you're interested in, differentiate yourself, and foster better relationships.
Identifying the companies you want to meet at a trade show is only half the battle. How can you make sure you stand out from the crowd and get the facetime with them that you need to establish a meaningful connection and build M&A pipeline?
There are several data service providers on the market, each of which offers a specific type of company information, from network and relationship data to proxy revenue information for bootstrapped businesses. In addition to finding contact information for executive leaders who will be in attendance, savvy firms use these tools to research top targets and get answers to questions like:
Using this information to personalize outreach to founders and operators shows that you've done your homework and are highly interested in their business and knowledgeable about their space. This helps dealmakers successfully schedule meetings and fill their calendars before attending events. These details can also be used to spark exhibit hall conversations and accelerate in-person relationship building, giving your firm a significant leg up on the competition.
Conference Strategy Pro Tip: Top firms like LFM Capital use deal sourcing platforms like Sourcescrub to identify additional companies that match their investment criteria located in the cities where they plan to attend certain events. This allows them to make the most of conference travel by scheduling off-site meetings or happy hours with highly relevant opportunities while they're in town.
Post-conference follow-up is imperative to nurture the relationships you make at events and keep your firm top of mind. This is especially true in today's slower market, where transactions take longer to complete and firms must play the long game.
As Sean Cole of AKKR says, "Being prepared and nurturing existing relationships with our prospective companies ensures we maintain a robust pipeline. We've often cultivated relationships for years with the companies we invest in, so we continue to adopt that same workflow and mentality."
Here are a few sample reasons top firms can use to reach out and continue to build rapport with top targets post-event:
Having the right technology in place makes fostering relationships with top targets much easier. For example, some deal sourcing platforms can monitor target companies and automatically alert firms when outreach-worthy events like those listed above happen in real time. Top firms also use CRMs like Salesforce and Dynamo to keep track of all company contact details, key events, and relevant conversations. Having all this information in one place allows teams to deliver much more timely, engaging, and meaningful outreach over time.
In-person industry conferences are on the rise, and while attending them does require significant investment, they can also be incredibly profitable opportunities and expand your deal pipeline. If your firm wants to achieve a positive return on these investments, it is essential that attendees come prepared with a targeted, goal-oriented approach.
For more actionable tips and proven best practices to fuel your event strategy, download this free guide: Why Your Conference Strategy Is Dead on Arrival and How to Give It New Life.