We’re well into conference season and some conferences can be quite overwhelming — Exhibit halls packed with hundreds of vendors all vying to talk to dealers and hundreds of speaking sessions to choose from. Conferences can also be a significant expense for a dealership, especially if multiple employees are sent. However, if planned well, conferences can prove to be extremely valuable and money well spent in keeping dealership staff up-to-date on cutting edge technology and new sales & marketing techniques.
Most conferences offer up a little bit of everything, so knowing how to get the most out of each conference is the key to getting the best bang for your buck. In that spirit, I’d like to offer up some tips:
- Do your Homework – Most conferences offer mobile apps and online interactive class schedules which you can use to organize schedules. Or, at the very least, the conference will offer an agenda which can be reviewed so you can map out sessions of particular interest or of need for the dealership. Don’t wait until you get to the conference or you’ll find yourself staring at the agenda every hour between sessions, trying desperately to identify where you want to go next. With a little advance planning, your day can go smoothly and will be more productive.
- Divide and Conquer –If you send multiple people it is wise to ensure that the attendees cover as much ground as possible. All too often, attendees from the same stores tend to stick together and attend the same sessions. However, you tend to get more bang for your buck if your staff has an organized schedule and attends different concurrent sessions in order to bring back as much knowledge as possible.
- Come Prepared – Wearing appropriate clothes isn’t about impressing other attendees. Many first-time conference goers tend to overdress for the occasion. In fact, most conference attendees dress in business casual attire, with some choosing to wear polo or button down shirts with their dealership logo. Comfortable shoes are a must as attendees will do a lot of walking to and from sessions and within the exhibit hall. In addition to dress, a preferred method to take notes is important – whether a laptop, tablet, or simply pen and paper… and be prepared to take a lot of them. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed by all of the information, and just as easy to forget it.
- Visit Your Vendors – One of the most invaluable and most overlooked practices is to simply visit all of the vendors in the exhibit hall that you already use. Often, your vendors do demos and announce new features or products that you may not be aware of. It’s not always easy for that sales rep who is juggling a bunch of accounts to reach out to everyone personally right away. Conferences are frequently where product launches happen. Simply visiting your vendors and asking them if there is anything new that you should know can put you ahead of the game.
- Visit the Other Vendors – I know that many attendees walk down the exhibit hall rows feeling surrounded by sharks. Trust me. They don’t bite. Those vendors that you aren’t familiar with could very well have new technology that can help your dealership be more productive or sell more cars. Getting to know the resources that are available to your dealership through vendors and any new technology, simply means that you’ll know your options when a solution is needed.
- Relax and Unwind – At the end of each day you may be presented with cocktail networking receptions and/or parties thrown by vendors. If you’re a social type and attend these, make sure to mingle and meet your fellow peers. Some of the best connections and friendships are made at conferences. And, having someone to bounce ideas off of throughout the year is invaluable. As for vendor parties, if you’re a dealer or dealership employee, you’re likely a shoo-in for a ticket — with one caveat – you need to find out early in the conference what parties are happening, who is throwing them and which you’d like to attend. Many parties have space limitations so if you wait until the day of the party to visit the vendor’s booth for a pass, you may find that they don’t have any left. Get the information and visit them early for your best chance at a pass.
When the conference ends you will very likely be somewhat brain dead! I am sure you will have a bunch of notes, a lot of new knowledge and action items to implement. Don’t be tempted to put them aside and get back to what you’ve been doing. If you do, you may find the next conference rolling around as you wonder what the ROI is as you still have a bunch of notes and action items that you have not yet done anything with from the last one.
Make a commitment to use the knowledge you’ve gained, share it with those at your dealership that couldn’t attend and make changes at your dealership based on what you learned. Only with positive change made through definitive action can a return on investment from a conference truly be realized. To your success!