Whether you’re new to sales, or a seasoned sales professional, one thing that we all look forward to is sales conferences, trade shows, and events. These types of events were often at large halls filled with other sales professionals looking to make their mark, network, and grow their business by making in-person connections.
Fast forward to the global pandemic hitting, and now ALL sales events and conferences have gone virtual, and sales reps are left to figure out how to translate the in-person repertoire they know and love to the online realm.
At first glance, one would think that because of the landscape change to virtual events and conferences, there’s no longer the opportunity to connect and network with potential customers since our physical booths, where that historically happened, are gone. Well, think again!
We sat down (virtually, of course) with Courtney Christie and Gillan Wyatt, Sales Development Reps (SDRs) at Vidyard, to discuss the industry changes and learn about their journey from networking at in-person conferences to the switch to virtual events. Both Courtney and Gillian have been trailblazing virtual networking at sales events by using video as much as possible, and boy, have they seen results!
Want to learn about virtual networking at events? We made a video version of this blog so you can do precisely that!
Take 4 minutes and join Vidyard’s Social Media Manager Charlie Rogers as he discusses pro tips for making the most of virtual networking at events.
- 1.The Shift to Virtual Events and Conferences
- 2.The Best Virtual Event Platforms for Networking
- 3.Best Practices and Tips for Virtual Networking at Sales Events
- 3.1Tip 1: Be a Part of the Event
- 3.2Tip 2: Commit Yourself 100%
- 3.3Tip 3: Use Video As Much as Possible
- 3.4Tip 4: Communicate with Your Teammates
- 4.Using Video to Follow-Up with a New Lead
- 5.Parting Advice from Our Virtual Networking Experts
The Shift to Virtual Events and Conferences
As conferences and networking events move over to the virtual world, attendees have had to quickly adapt and get on board. In the past, sales teams would have a booth set up at events and have the chance to interact with the passing crowd, getting to know the people who came to their booth. Now virtual events and conferences are mainly focused on the keynote and series speakers and breakout or training opportunities. Some virtual event platforms let attendees communicate in chats, but each platform varies.
“The biggest difference that people are struggling with (switching to virtual networking events), especially for booth exhibitors, is that missing factor of being able to pull people from the crowd and interact with them that way, or start organic conversations.”
This change in dynamic and form for conferences has had implications for event attendees who are there to prospect. Whether in-person or virtual, prospecting is hard. A whopping 40% of sales reps say that prospecting is the most challenging part of the sales process. But fear not, because we’ve found through experience that many virtual event platforms have thought of this and have built in some great avenues for sales reps to communicate with potential prospects.
The Best Virtual Event Platforms for Networking
Every virtual event platform has its pros and cons, and of course, each event will be different, so we’ve rounded up some of our favorites and included tips on how best to navigate them.
Great for: Community building
Cvent is a virtual event platform that has been helping conferences and events transition from in-person events to building awesome engagement online. They’ve implemented community chat and threads to encourage connection and have live Q&A chats during live video sessions as well. A great feature they have is that when someone comes to your virtual booth, they’re prompted to fill out their email address and what they were looking to see. So when you follow-up, there’s more context for you to personalize and tailor your response.
Great for: Encouraging engagement
Whova is another virtual event platform that has community threads and chats. They go a step further in encouraging engagement by allowing attendees to start community threads as well. So, if you have a particular interest you’re hoping to connect with others about, create a community thread with a topic title and start networking! Whova also allows posting of videos in community threads, which is a great way to cut through the noise and get your message across quickly.
If data or tracking is your thing, scoreboards have been set up in the platform to track your engagement in the community threads.
If you’re thinking of hosting your own event, Whova even has a handy step-by-step guide on how to host one.
“If you’re a competitive person like me, I like that Whova has scoreboards to track your engagement at the event. Each time I’m there, I try to be number one on the scoreboard, which means putting myself out there. It’s a really great way to drive and encourage people to use the platform.”
Great for: Meeting people
Accelevents is another one of our favorites as they aim to create virtual event experiences that will rival the impact of traditional events. One of its unique features is that it creates randomized video chats that last five minutes and pairs you up with other people at the conference you may not have met otherwise. It’s a helpful way to encourage attendees to make connections and meet a lot of people in a “speed-networking” type of environment.
Great for: Event matchmaking
Brella takes the “speed-networking” approach one step further, with an AI-powered matchmaking algorithm. The algorithm is used to find the best matches for you based on mutual interests and the goals you want to achieve while at the event. Once you’re matched, it sets you up on one-on-one video calls with your matches.
Best Practices and Tips for Virtual Networking at Sales Events
Virtual networking opportunities at industry events vary from platform to platform, so don’t be afraid to get creative and take advantage of these opportunities when you can. When sales reps first start in the virtual realm, they often go at networking the same way they would have in the past—the sales team would book off time in their calendars for the events and then wait for people to come to their booth, similar to how it used to happen in person.
Virtual networking platforms still have “booths” where people can come to get in touch with you, but guarding the booth and making sure that you don’t miss any opportunity to chat with someone is no longer the go-to plan.
Learning how to build bridges and connect with people across the platform is how you’ll get the most out of your time at the virtual sales event or conference. With the help of Courtney and Gillian, we’ve rounded up these tips to help you succeed.
Tip 1: Be a Part of the Event
Prioritize the traffic in your booth a little less, or designate a person to check in with the booth on a schedule, but for the most part, just actually be part of the event.
Go to speeches and panels because that’s where most of the engagement is happening. People are commenting in the side chats and asking questions. Engage in the community chats and take that opportunity to pop in and share your solution or strategy if people are asking questions. This is your opportunity to network in an organic way. Really take a look at what people are talking about, and if you genuinely feel you have a solution that could help them or a shared experience, then let them know.
If you see someone commenting in the community threads during a panel that you really connect with, reach out to them and start a conversation just as you would in person. Or, if you want to stay present in the event, take note of their name and reach out to them after the panel through the platform or LinkedIn after the event.
Tip 2: Commit Yourself 100%
At this point, we’ve all had our fair share of zoom calls, but don’t treat a virtual sales event like a zoom call, where you can have your mic or video turned off. Commit yourself to engage with the activities or panels going on. Have your video turned on when you can and talk to people in the community threads to make as many connections as possible. Your time is valuable, so treat it as such.
Tip 3: Use Video As Much as Possible
When attending a virtual event, you’ll be prompted to set up a bio. The bio is where you can write where you’re from, what you do, your interests, etc. But you often only get 300 characters, and that’s not much room to write everything you want people to know about you. Consider recording a quick selfie-style introduction video and posting the video in your bio because then you can explain more in a short time.
Video doesn’t just work for your bio. Another useful way to use video is in the community threads channels. Record and share a quick video reply to capture people’s attention and stand out in the sea of text-based threads.
Remember to embrace your authentic self. Take what you know about being in those in-person rooms and meetings and apply it. Bring your personality and what you have to the table. You don’t have to lose that to be good at virtual networking through video. You just have to use it within this new virtual environment.
“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth more characters than a text box. By putting a video in my bio, I’m really able to engage with prospects in a quality way. They get to know me similarly to how they’re getting to know the keynote speakers. Through video, they can connect with me in a similar fashion, which helps Vidyard stand out.”
Tip 4: Communicate with Your Teammates
Make sure to stay in contact with your coworkers and have a game plan going into the virtual event. If there are multiple panels or speaker series going on at once, each sign up for one. If you see a community thread chat going on that your coworker might know more about, tag them in and get the ball rolling.
Since we’re no longer doing these events in person, it’s harder to know where your teammates are in the virtual event. Use video chat or have a side chat going on so you can keep tabs on each other.
“Lately, we use a lot more video communication with my team to make sure that we’re giving the same information to prospects or qualifying leads similarly. I would say now that there’s almost more communication between us since going virtual.”
Using Video to Follow-Up with a New Lead
If you’re doing cold outreach, then email is always a smart way to start. It shows you’ve taken the initiative to find the prospect’s contact information, and using email lets you keep track of everything in one place.
To make sure your email stands out from the crowd, record a personalized video to introduce yourself. Subject lines with the word “video” in them are 5x more likely to get opened and 8x more likely to get a response.
“I always tell people that it shouldn’t be about your video’s production quality because video prospecting is more casual than a professional production. We’re all working from home, we’re all adjusting, so it should be about that video’s content.”
If you’re wanting to connect with someone from a virtual networking event, it’s good to see what contact information the person has listed in their bio. Often attendees will showcase their LinkedIn account, so you know they’re looking to make connections and open to networking.
“If you’re going to connect with prospects through LinkedIn, it’s a great idea to have video content on your LinkedIn profile already. So if they’re interested in you and what you’re offering, they can quickly get a grasp of your content and what you have to offer with one click.”
A solid practice to get into is to make and post a video on LinkedIn every time you go to a virtual conference. Record a quick video letting people know that you’ll be at the event, let them know what that conference is about and why you’re looking to connect with people or what you have to offer. Then if people do come to your page, you’ve already opened the door to network and connect with them.
If you see someone at a virtual conference that you would like to connect with, be thorough and reach out both through the platform itself and through LinkedIn.
“I think it’s well worth it to send a message both through the virtual event platform AND LinkedIn. Not everyone is checking their messages while at the event. It’s also important to share your LinkedIn URL both in your bio and in community chats on the platform, so that people can reach out and invite you to join their network as well.”
Parting Advice from Our Virtual Networking Experts
Courtney: I think just getting in the mentality that you’ll be in a virtual event is key. I personally love the rush of conferences. By the end of a virtual event, if I’m not exhausted like I would be at an in-person event, I feel like I haven’t done a good enough job. I go with the mentality of wanting to make an impression. I want you to know my face as well as my name. So that’s where I’ve been finding the Vidyard video tool really handy. Any time you’ve gone to make a connection request, make a video introducing yourself instead of defaulting to a text-based message. When you’re filming the video, treat it as if you’re making that first impression at an in-person event and trying to call someone over to your booth. Ultimately, you want to reach out, say your name and give them a frame of reference, because you’re trying to understand what people are hoping to get out of the event and connect in a more organic way. Anytime during the event where there’s a portion to talk in text, where someone can watch your response instead of read about it, you should make a video.
Gillian: Be sure to put a video in your bio when attending a virtual event or conference. It’s the first point of contact you have with people at these events, and if you’re looking to connect with people at a virtual event, then you should also send them a personal video. It only takes you thirty seconds to introduce yourself and say where you’re working, but it makes a lasting impression on them. If you’re attending a virtual conference on a platform with community threads, remember that they’re at a live event to watch people, they’re not there to read a webinar. No one’s going to read a huge ten sentence paragraph about what you think about something, but they will definitely be pulled to watch a video. It makes you stand out, and it will definitely do the networking for you. A lot of people will reach out and be like, “Hey, I really loved what you were saying,” or “ I want to learn more.” where they might not have read the paragraph in the thread and made that connection.