Rainmaking can be a fraught endeavor. As a consultant, how do you build your pipeline, thus ensuring a steady stream of business—and billings? While the quality of your work is your best marketing tool, networking and being seen as a part of your clients’ professional ecosystem is a great way to build awareness and credibility with the people who make the decisions to hire consultants.
Go Where Your Target Clients Go
One idea? Go where your target clients go. Nearly every executive attends a couple of industry events every year. And when they go, they go to learn and network. It’s a golden opportunity for consultants to make new contacts and talk with potential customers about the work they are doing. And it is far more effective—and fun—than sitting in your office looking at LinkedIn profiles.
Keep Up-to-Date With What is Happening in Your Target Industries
Industry events are also an opportunity to keep up-to-date with what is happening in your target industries. By attending panel discussions, executive interviews, and presentations, you can suss out the state of affairs of a company from how they answer questions (“What set of challenges is your business facing these days?”) or how they present the future of the industry (“more data driven and we’re evaluating how to turn data into growth-driving tools”). The you can use their words to build a communications strategy with your team back home and, in the meantime, strike up a useful conversation in person.
Get an Education, Build Your Network and Potential Opportunities
Think of industry events as a way to engage with new people to build your network and potential opportunities—and get an education, to boot. They’re there. They’re accessible. They, too, expect to network and meet people who can help them.
Try to get the attendee and presenter lists in advance of the event—or as soon as you arrive at the conference—and strategically attend critical breakout sessions delivered by the people you would like to meet.
With those lists do your homework and learn as much as you can about those who spark your interest. With these insights, develop some talking points for those you would like to approach.
Scan the lists for people you may already have met. Get up to speed with their current activities and interests. Then reach out in advance to let them know you’ll both be at the event and try to schedule time with them.
Keep it casual. This is the time to do name gathering and relationship building, not to pitch yourself or your organization.
Follow up after the event. Ask those who pique your interest questions that hit on issues they’re focused on—perhaps based on their presentation or panel discussion.
One More Tip...
Still another approach is to unleash the big dogs in your organization at an event. In other words, leverage your own CXOs. If you have a CXO—or more—attending a conference or trade show and you know that a company you’re interested in will also have top-level executives there, see if you can broker a meeting or a meal. Getting an invitation from someone high up in your organization will capture a CXO’s attention.
If you are going to use this approach, reach out way in advance—at least four to six weeks before the event. You want to get to them before their calendar is full. Second, be sure you brief your CXO ahead of time on the key issues the customer is focused on so your executive can engage in a well-informed conversation.
For example, Steve Betts, Health Care Service Corporation’s CIO has said,
“I am developing a strategy to embrace the rapid changes in the health care industry and am leveraging new technology trends to drive operational excellence and innovation across the Company’s business segments. In addition, I am implementing a new IT Operating Model and comprehensive roadmap to fuel HCSC’s future direction and growth.”
If you are a consultant specializing in technology implementation for healthcare organizations, you now have talking points for your CXO.
“What new technology trends are piquing your interest?” “I hear you’re implementing a new IT operating model. Are you looking at cloud solutions and if so, which ones?” Research can yield insights that are a bonanza for event conversations between peers.
Industry events can be a motherlode of potential for new business—but only if you plan ahead, do your research, and attend the event strategically.