Attorney trade shows and conferences can be great venues for legal funders to build and strengthen customer relationships and drive law firm referrals (here in our ebook we spell out three other ways to grow your business). They can also be a huge waste of time and money.
Often, however, exhibitors take a “show up and hope for the best” approach, neglecting one of the most impactful strategies for a successful conference: pre-event planning and lead generation.
Before we moved our business solely to developing software, we were on a non-stop conference circuit, attending local, state, and national trade shows for plaintiff’s attorneys. We approached every show like a scientific experiment. The result: a tried-and-true conference strategy for maximizing lead generation.
By the end of this article, you’ll learn how to:
- Pick the right conference
- Develop a a conference game plan
- Maximize lead generation before the conference
With these tips and tactics, you’ll get more meetings and ultimately more business out of the conferences and events you’re attending.
Pick the right conference
In the world of personal injury law, there are countless conferences, trade shows, and CLE (Continuing Legal Education) events. A flawless conference plan won’t make a difference if you don’t go to the right ones.
Here are tips to follow before signing up for any conference:
1. know who’s attending, and make sure they fit your ideal customer profile
You might be targeting small- to mid-sized firms, in which case, expensive national conferences aren’t for you. Or maybe you’d like to build your portfolio of motor vehicle accident cases, in which case, don’t attend a seminar for workers comp.
No matter what, know who your ideal customers are, and go where they go.
2. Local, state, or national?
Make sure the scope of the conference aligns with your growth objectives. Bigger isn’t always better, especially when it comes with a hefty price tag.
3. Check out the event schedule
Make sure there’s structured time for you to engage with attendees. Don’t just assume it will happen; not all conference hosts make this a priority.
4. Talk to other exhibitors to get insider information
Does the organizing host treat its sponsors well? Do the attendees make time to meet with exhibitors? You’ll be able to glean valuable information from your exhibiting colleagues.
5. Watch out for hidden costs!
The sticker price of your exhibitor booth is sometimes just the tip of the iceberg. You may have to pay extra for shipping and handling of booth materials, purchase entry into certain events, or even WiFi if you need an internet connection (depending on the venue, this can get pricy!).
Develop a Conference Game Plan
Lead generation doesn’t happen by accident. It’s critical that you develop a game plan for pre-conference outreach so that you stay organized and have a documented strategy to improve upon for next time.
Here’s what you should do when developing your game plan:
6. Set specific conference objectives
Your conference objectives should be simple mission statements with numerical targets to keep you laser-focused on your goals.
Conference Goal: Generate 1 qualified lead for every 10 attendees
You can also go into the conference with a “breakeven” number: the amount of new business you need to acquire to make the event pay for itself.
7. Lay out a pre-conference outreach strategy.
Drumming up interest and brand recognition prior to the conference will lead to more conversations at the actual event.
We saw the biggest lift in traffic when we had a three-pronged strategy in the week leading up to the event:
Email: Email three times over the course of five days leading up to the conference, with the last email landing on the first day of the conference. For best practices on email prospecting, Salesloft and Hubspot both have great content (more on that later).
Phone: Call the attorney’s office two days prior to the conference.
Direct mail: Send a direct mailing package with a personalized letter or invitation set for arrival at least five days before the conference.
8. GET THE LIST OF ATTENDEES, AND BEEF IT UP THROUGH OUTSOURCED LIST-BUILDING.
Almost every conference host will share a list of attendees and some basic contact information prior to the event. You can fill in any missing information like phone number or email (often absent from attendee lists) by outsourcing to a professional services provider. Upwork is a great place to find fast and inexpensive web-scrapers and list-builders.
Depending on your outreach strategy, you may want to also include things in your list like law firm website, link to attorney bio, twitter URL, practice type, or LinkedIn profile URL.
9. Develop a system to track leads.
Make sure you’re using a tool to track how and when you reach out to the leads in your list. You can track directly in your list (i.e. excel), or better yet, use a customer relationship management (CRM) system that’s already built for the job.
10. Plan to sponsor or host an event.
You have to spend money to make money. Consider sponsoring an event or hosting your own. A casual cocktail hour or dinner with your top clients and prospects can be worth the cost of a hundred business cards if you get to make meaningful connections.
Generate Leads Before the Conference
If you’re waiting until the conference to drum up new leads, you’re already behind.
Think of pre-conference outreach as demand-harvesting: there are attendees who want your service, and you’re helping them find you.
A well-oiled outreach plan increased our pre-conference lead generation eightfold, from 0.5% to 4.2%. This means we had 19 meetings on the books with potential new clients before even stepping on to the exhibitor floor.
Here are some tips for effective pre-conference outreach:
11. Automate email prospecting.
Automated email prospecting tools (we recommend Salesloft) allow you to send hundreds of personalized messages with the click of a button. A dynamic tagging system means you can mention name, law firm, practice type, or literally any other data point to a group of prospects just by writing one email. You’ll also get access to cool analytics like open, click-through, and reply rate, helping you organize, track, and manage your prospecting efforts.
Since thousands of people will see your emails, choose your words carefully. For instance, including the name of the conference in the subject line increased open rates for us nearly two-fold, from 26% to 48%.
12. Make quick and targeted cold-calls.
Don’t sell; offer something of value. Keep the call short and sweet, and use it as an opportunity to build goodwill so that the prospect views you as a helpful and trusted resource.
Also, don’t be afraid of rejection: in thousands of calls, we found personal injury law firms have a 8 – 12% gatekeeper pass-through rate.
13. Bypass the inbox for the real thing: direct mail.
Despite its old-school cache, direct mail is a great way to bypass the clutter of an email inbox and go straight to your prospect’s desk.
For efficiency’s sake, use automated direct mailing services like Letterstream. They’re only marginally more expensive than buying and shipping materials yourself; not only will they make your letters look professional, they’ll save you a boatload of time.
14. Don’t forget your existing clients.
You’re missing out on your easiest new business if you don’t reach out to your existing customers beforehand and ask them 1) if they know anyone else attending, and 2) if they can make introductions while you’re there. It’s important you also continue nurturing those relationships since there are plenty of other companies trying to win their business too.
15. Segment your outreach if you’re crunched for time.
Time or budgetary constraints can get in the way of executing a comprehensive pre-conference outreach plan. If reality sets in, segment your list based on your ideal customer profile to get the biggest bang for your buck.
You may, for instance, want to send direct mail only to name-partners, or only call firms who specialize in personal injury law.
Hint: you can have your outsourced list-builder (see tip #X scrape practice type from the law firm’s website
A well thought-out and fully executed pre-conference plan is certain to pay dividends at the actual event. You’ll show up with a rolodex of leads and meetings already on the books, and you’ll leave those with a “show up and hope for the best” approach in the dust.
Now that you’ve set yourself up for success, it’s time to take advantage of all that hard work!