So, background screeners, you’ve decided to bite the bullet and invest in that island booth at this year’s Annual SHRM Conference in Las Vegas. There’s gold in them hills and you’re determined to find it.

I like the enthusiasm and optimism, but let’s make sure that you make the most of the conference and that you have reasonable expectations for what you can accomplish. The last thing you want to do is dedicate a sizable portion of your marketing budget and be disappointed in the results. Trust me, I’ve been there again and again, but I always returned. Here’s how I made it work.

Set Reasonable Success Criteria

Hint, if you are looking for an immediate return of investment, this conference is not for you. That’s the flawed logic I applied for years in determining whether we should continue exhibiting at SHRM. It was only when I accepted that I needed to measure success differently, that I truly began to realize the value.

Success will look different for everyone, but here are a few things that worked for me (we’ll tackle leads and sales in a bit).

  • Partner Meetings- For most of the years we exhibited, our partners in the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) space had a large presence at the conference. One of my goals was to meet with our existing partners and try to cultivate new relationships with those that we wanted to partner with. We’d simply set a goal for how many meetings we wanted and schedule them well in advance of the conference. This can still work but note that many ATS’ have scaled back recently or cut out SHRM altogether.
  • Media Engagement- What better time to find all relevant HR media than at the largest HR conference in the world? We would reach out to key members of media as early as a couple months before the conference to get on their calendars. This is a great strategy, but remember the media is as busy at the conference as you are, so they’re going to be protective of their time. Make sure you give them good reasons to connect with you while they are there. We usually used that time to release our annual background screening trends survey.
  • Key Client Relations- We had our account management team identify who among our largest clients would be attending the conference and we put together a strategy to get together for a cup of coffee, lunch, dinner, drinks, etc.

Be Different

As of this writing, I’ve been able to identify 36 background screening companies that will be exhibiting at this year’s conference. And if you read my post from last month regarding brand differentiation, the concept should be no different at SHRM.

Hint, if you are pitching the fastest, most accurate and most compliant background checks, you might want to read my post again and shift gears. You need to do something that people will remember so they know who you are when you follow up with them after the conference (more on that in a moment).

One of my favorite SHRM exhibitors is iCIMS. They literally roll out the red carpet at these events. They bring their mascot and give away great swag. They’ve delivered memorable care packages to the attendee’s hotel rooms at night- my favorite was the one that had custom-made slippers in the form of their mascot with a good night letter. Think that left a lasting impression? Now, I know that was not an inexpensive effort, but you can find economical ways to make it work for you.

ROI Based on Net New Revenue Will Disappoint

Here’s where everyone needs to be honest with each other and frankly over the years, many of my competitors in the screening space and I were- if our decision to exhibit at future SHRM conferences was based on the revenue we drove from this conference, we would never exhibit.

Yes, there are nearly 15,000 attendees, but here’s what you need to consider.

  1. Only a small fraction of attendees touch their organization’s background screening program
  2. That number gets even smaller when you factor in whether the organization meets your sweet spot in terms of employee or hiring count
  3. And some attendees avoid the expo hall like the plague

So, here are some recommendations.

  1. Look for quality leads over quantity. We had people at the booth whose job it was to filter traffic. We’d asked a couple gatekeeper questions to determine whether they were someone we wanted to talk to. The questions were usually: 1.) Do you have any responsibility or oversight of your company’s background screening program? 2.) How many employees do you have? If they didn’t meet our criteria, we gave them the free pen or t-shirt or whatever we were giving away that day.
  2. Now that the right traffic has filtered through, find out the important details that will help you pitch them properly when you get back. And for goodness sakes, make sure to get their contact information!!!!
  3. Expand your time horizon on ROI. At some point you have to convert, right? So maybe that lead didn’t convert within 90 or 120 days or even within a year. Sometimes, it takes a couple years. You never know when the people you meet will be ready to buy, but if you know you met them at the conference, that counts.

Develop a Communication Strategy Before the Conference

By this time, hopefully you’ve sent an email to your clients and prospects, written a blog and used social media to promote your participation at the show. If you haven’t, you might want to make that happen NOW!

You should also have a strategy in place to communicate with the people that have stopped by your booth (especially the quality leads) during and after the conference. I liked to pre-program a short, automated message thanking the quality leads for stopping by. We’d then upload the list of quality leads in the morning and early evening and send them that message the day we met with them. We also had a message ready to go for when everyone returned.

But above all else, it is imperative that your sales team is following up with those leads immediately. I remember once reading that 80% of exhibitors don’t follow up with their tradeshow leads at all, let alone on a timely basis.

Hopefully these tips have been helpful. And now that you’ve got these tools, it’s time to go out and sell.

Don’t worry, before you’ve had a chance to gauge this year’s success, you’ll be signing up for next year’s conference and putting down a deposit:) Happy selling!