Sales Leader, Sales Conference: How to bring back more than an expense report

by Jenna Sindle

This article was contributed by Erica Pierson, former VP of Brand and Communications atEllucian, former VP of Corporate Marketing at Hobsons and current Managing Director atStrategic Communications Group. Read more about Erica here.

The sales conference lineup is big this year. The 2016 list includes Gartner, Forrester, SiriusDecisions and, of course, Dreamforce. Every single event promises to be full of innovative ideas, inspiring keynotes and unparalleled networking opportunities. If you are lucky, you have time to make it to one conference.

Before you commit, take a little time to consider what you hope to gain by participating.

Choose wisely

Taking 2-3 business days away from selling is an investment. Think carefully about what you hope to accomplish, and whether the event you are attending will really help you this year.  Executives attend conferences for a lot of reasons: getting re-energized, team building, recruiting new talent, networking with peers, staying up to date with technology and trends, and learning best practices.  

Understanding your objectives this year will help you determine whether to attend the same conference multiple years in a row, select a new conference every year, or make your choice based on specific content.

Plan your time

Once you have your registration receipt in hand, review the program materials carefully. Attending two to three sessions on topics that can, if implemented, directly impact your business, are worth more than a succession of keynotes and receptions.  If CRM adoption is your biggest leadership challenge this year, look for sessions that connect technology and process, help you improve forecasting, and track metrics. Skip the sessions on recruiting and coaching if those topics lie outside your business objectives.

Once you have mapped out your “must attend” sessions based on professional goals, use your personal preference to plan the rest.  Attending the golf outing or the awards dinner are perfectly valid ways to spend your time, as long as your business objectives are addressed.

Make real connections

Successful sales leaders know how to connect with customers, prospects and partners at an industry conference. Success is measured in the form of leads in the pipeline.  At a professional conference, the connections you make will probably never buy from you. Take the opportunity to connect with speakers and attendees who can advance your professional cause, not only as people who could augment your career or join your team, but people who have tested technologies you have not yet tried, or implemented processes that looked too onerous.

Just as you would at an industry conference, make sure you reconnect after the event and stay in touch. In the day to day crunch of work, it can be hard to connect with other sales leaders. This is your chance to establish and maintain ties.

Implement one thing

Conferences are full of success stories told by industry titans, competitors and technology vendors. When experienced in bulk, these successes can be as overwhelming as they are inspiring. For every big, bold accomplishment, think about one initiative that is truly viable for your company, your team and your current position. Take the idea home and present it to your team as a plan with a goal and a timeline.

The action inspired by the new concepts you learned at the conference will serve as your personal ROI for attending.

When you return home, of course you will submit your expense report and jump back in to customer calls and managing your team. But, if you planned and executed well, the investment you made to the conference will pay off in visible, measurable ways.