Any firm serious about picking up deal flow attends conferences. Last month we held our second annual M&A Symposium, and a quick look at ACG's calendar of chapter events shows no fewer than nine gatherings in June.

And that's just a slice of the event landscape. In addition to M&A and private equity conferences, many middle-market pros also spend time at events focused squarely on sectors like healthcare, manufacturing and technology, where they get a chance to rub shoulders with sector-specific intermediaries and companies who may be looking for a buyer. Throw in smaller events that you may plan yourself, and the calendar fills up quickly.

Let's assume your firm decided to sponsor or attend a networking event. If you're sponsoring, you've probably designated a person or two to handle the logistical details, and there's a list of people from your firm slated to attend. You'll attempt to set up meetings before the conference, you'll agonize over giveaways and the presentation of the booth, and you'll gauge the success of your efforts by metrics like the number of business cards in your fish bowl, visits to your booth, and ultimately how many follow-up meetings come out of those conversations. If you're lucky, all of that effort will lead to your next transaction.

But if you believe the old adage that luck is where preparation meets opportunity, it's worth pausing for a moment to take inventory of what you're doing-or not doing-to leverage your presence at events. Below are a few tips on how to maximize your conference participation, whether you're a sponsor or simply an attendee.

Recommendation #1: Don't send a junior to do a senior-level job. Too often I've seen companies delegate event participation to junior marketers and associates. While these folks do an admirable job of working the event, they simply aren't as likely to engage the important contacts you're ultimately trying to reach. Conversely, sending one or two senior people gives your firm a broader pool of experience and contacts to draw upon within a conversation, plus it communicates that those who work with your firm will get senior-level attention.

Recommendation #2: Tailor your marketing to the event itself. At a basic level, this means your pre-conference postcard has a specific call to action: "See us at Booth #23 and win an iPad." At a more sophisticated level, this means tying your firm's expertise to the title of the event, or to one of the panel discussion topics. If, for example, speed of execution is a recurring theme, consider replacing the 'standard' marketing collateral at the booth with actual case studies of deals that your firm streamlined. Distributing that case study within an e-newsletter or as an educational web seminar may also be worthwhile.

Recommendation #3: Establish a relationship, even a basic one, prior to the conference. Introducing yourself to target leads prior to the event will warm them up, even if there's no verbal or email conversation. If you've written a blog about the conference, sent an e-newsletter, or invited them to read one of your white papers on a topic relevant to the event, you have a foundation upon which to build.

Recommendation #4: If you're sitting on a panel, conduct some research ahead of the conference that you can present to the audience. We're seeing a growing number of our clients do this, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. Whether it's a custom survey that gives you C-suite executive insights or a quantitative study that tells you the average growth in technology budgets, giving attendees some meat to chew on goes a long way.

As someone who's run events in the past and now helps sell them, I can tell you only a few firms are truly leveraging their presence. SourceMedia not only produces events but has an entire team of people dedicated to creating these types of programs. If you want to maximize your initial rate of return on your event, we can help.

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