Most conference badges now come equipped with QR codes that allow attendees with smartphones to scan your badge and capture your contact information. This often happens when you have a discussion with someone at a booth or in exchange for a giveaway. Other people may ask to scan you if you just look their way as they try to fill their ‘scan quota.’
Technology has changed marketing dramatically over the last twenty years and now it’s even changing the way we interact in person. But in this particular instance, the change isn’t for the better. Scanning people’s badges is a terrible way to approach a conference. Don’t get me wrong: in many ways this technology is a great innovation. I certainly don’t miss sifting through heaps of business cards manually entering all that information into my contact list. But people who abuse this technology are missing a very real opportunity.
Conferences used to be an opportunity for much-needed face time to network and establish real connections. But now it’s not uncommon to see people racing around scanning badges, trying to grow their email lists as quickly as possible, which is really all you can hope for when you’re not even talking to people.
Anyone who has had success with conferences will tell you that success is all about what happens in the follow-up stage. It’s like the NFL draft in that while it’s popular to rate it at the time, you really need to see how it plays out before that rating is meaningful. If success is all about the follow-up, that makes the quality of the follow-up very important since conference attendees will likely get barraged by many people at the same time when they get home.
What you need to rise above the rest is context. However, after three days of standing on your feet, meeting people, and attending parties, you won’t remember the details of the people you met. Their faces and cards will all blur together. This is why my team and I always write down as many notes as possible on the back of a card as soon as we meet with someone. From what we talked about, to people we know in common, to some mention of a need, it all helps make the follow-up more meaningful and personalized. I also try to remember something personal that person might have mentioned, as this helps them remember who I am and increases the chance of success. Would you rather follow-up with an e-mail titled “Follow-up from Conferece.com” like a hundred other people or “Thanks for Meeting, Dave Smith’s Friend”?
Like teenagers with thousands of Facebook friends they don’t even know, people who walk away from conferences with hundreds of new contacts might fool themselves into thinking they’ve had a productive outing, but they’ve done very little to add real value to their businesses or their careers. They are counting on quantity and not quality and didn’t really invest the time to make real connections.
People who think just getting a scan is a win likely won’t do anything meaningful with the information they collect. Most will just dump it into an email newsletter list and then be forced to send a very general follow-up, which won’t get a result. This happened to me recently at a conference when I was scanned by a vendor that I had no interest in because they were giving away great mini soccer balls that my sons would love. Maybe someone on that list could turn into an important contact, but it’s doubtful without any meaningful face-to-face interaction or context in which to remember individuals.
If you really want to maximize your time at a conference, you may have to put the brakes on technology. Pick out a few people and have meaningful conversations with them. Make notes about where they work, what they do, and what you talked about with them. Then follow up with them personally – don’t just dump them into some email or sales force automation list.
Technology is a wonderful tool, but only if it’s in service of something human. So the next time you’re at a conference, forgo the QR code and have a conversation.
Photo via NucleairNederland on Flickr.