As part of my series on fund marketing, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about conferences. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a conference these days. There are events at least weekly, if not more often, all vying for your conference dollars and even more precious time. To maximize your conference experience, consider the following:
DO – Be choosy about conferences. Ask to see attendee lists (current or past, with contact info redacted if the organizer is touchy about sharing). Ensure that the audience matches your target demographic. Sometimes the only family office you will see at a conference is in the title of the event. Also, be aware of how many conferences you attend in a year. It was always a due diligence red flag for me if I saw a manager at too many events during a year, both from the perspective of expense management and time away from investments.
DO – Approach conferences with a battle plan. You should work an event like Sherman marching through Georgia. Make sure you get the conference attendee list with your paid sponsorship or registration and schedule meetings BEFORE the event. Have a target list of people you’d like to see in addition to your scheduled meetings. Bring your pitch book and one pager (if applicable) and plenty of business cards. If you are planning a dinner or lunch or golf outing, have the invites out at least 3 weeks in advance for maximum attendance.
DON’T – Stalk people. While this may seem counter to targeting attendees, there is a difference between seeking people out or asking mutual contacts for introductions and tailing people through an event. Once upon a time, there was a conference that offered homing devices to all attendees. It was not unusual to see an investor darting through the exhibit hall with 10 asset managers hard on their heels. It’s like Wild Kingdom - No one wants to be the antelope at the watering hole. Don’t approach people in bathrooms or lie in wait for them outside of lunches or other conference activities.
DO – Practice your elevator speech in advance. You need to be able to clearly articulate your value proposition in a NON-SALESY way. Rehearse a 2-minute and a 5-minute version. Role play with your colleagues how to seamlessly move from talk about a lunch speaker/panel/weather/golf outing into a quick summary of what you do.
DO – Ask questions when talking to your prospects. No one wants to hear a monologue about you or your firm. When practicing your elevator pitch, think of some questions to ask attendees to make the conversation more interactive. If you’ve done your homework on the attendees in advance this should be easy. Search Google for news or their website for RFPs and other information prior to the event.
DON’T – Commandeer your speaker spot (panel or standalone) to talk about your fund. Seriously. People will pass notes or text each other about you in the audience if you do this. Others may walk out. You’ll be known as “that speaker.” If you are lucky enough to get a speaking slot, think about how you can educate the audience. What is happening in the markets? What makes a particular investment strategy interesting? What is the outlook for a strategy? Always educate, never sell. Exception to the rule? Meet the manager, speed dating type of pitch events.
DON’T – Sit behind your exhibit table if you have one. Stand up and move around in front of your exhibit so you can engage with people. If you sit, the only people that come up will be people that either know you or who want to have a serious conversation. You can miss more casual opportunities if you’re sitting down.
DO – Delegate effectively. If you aren’t a good public speaker and you have one in the firm, select him or her for speaking roles. If someone is better at marketing or capital raising, put them at cocktail parties or at the booth. There shouldn’t be a lot of ego involved in conferences – it’s a job function just like any other. Select the best person for roles to generate the most interest and effectively raise assets.
DO - Agree to follow ups during your conversations. The goal is to move the ball forward and have a plan (and buy in) to send follow-up emails including pitch books, monthly updates, commentary, white papers or other information. If you don't have a plan to continue forward momentum, you might as well not have gone to the conference at all.
Stay tuned in November for more unsolicited fund raising advice!