Overnight Discovery of a Hybrid Sales Model for Physical Conferences

It would have been my 18th ASCRS, which I guess would have made me fully “legal” to attend and cause a stir, as I normally do. 

This time there was nothing extravagant to wear and no one to meet. 

I was in Vietnam, under a major lockdown. Although technically I could have made it to the United States, there was no way for me to get back to my family due to government restrictions on entry to Vietnam. 

Instead, we had a team of two on the ground ‒ Rob Anderson, our media director, who I last saw in March of 2020 when we went our separate ways as the pandemic kicked off. After a worldwide media tour together that saw us hit India, Morocco, Switzerland, Germany, Hungary and The Netherlands, he went to America to be with his family, and I went back to Vietnam. Meanwhile, Brooke Herron, our editor, had just gone back to the U.S. from Vietnam, lured by the new vaccinated life America promised. 

The two of them therefore exhibited for Media MICE at ASCRS and helped cover the meeting for us. That’s a fascinating story in itself, as having both lived full lives overseas in unique ways, they were a delight to the average conference-going American who marveled at their tales from the East. There’s nothing like having legit people on your team! 

Overnight Discovery of a Hybrid Sales Model for Physical Conferences
Colleagues Rob Anderson, media director, and Brooke Herron, editor, hold down our Media MICE fort at ASCRS.

I digress. 

At first, I thought I’d just get some more rest and leave the show up to these talented individuals. 

Instead, insomnia kicked in, as it just seemed too unnatural to be sleeping during a major conference. 

I don’t know about you, but I typically experience what I call the “conference high.” It typically starts the evening before a major conference when I’m engaged in final emails on who I’ll be meeting, and lasts until a day or two after a show, when massive creative brainstorming kicks in, the result of having just been through a massively social learning experience. Throughout the duration of a conference, with human nature as it is, people tend to want to get along. The word “Yes” — or its cousin, in the form of a nod — is thrown around so often, that one’s whole existence can feel validated for several conference days. Given that my typical conference intake was somewhere between 12 and 24 on a typical year, I was a full-on junkie prior to the pandemic. 

That also came with its fair share of lows. My staff knows that pre-pandemic, I had a tendency to go into a “hole” post-show, and sometimes that could last up to a week or two. Imagine being a staff member abandoned by your manager for a week or two during actual work. How do you get stuff done efficiently? Not my finest hours. I had some considerable issues back then I’ve since addressed in therapy, so I’ve crawled out of my holes — hopefully for good — and on this particular ASCRS occasion I was locked and loaded and ready to go during and post-show. 

Overnight Discovery of a Hybrid Sales Model for Physical Conferences
They call me the Terminator when I go into almost no-sleep sales mode surrounding conferences, and it was no different during ASCRS thanks to LinkedIn.

And yet I had nowhere to go. Except LinkedIn.

Wait, what? Linkedin! LinkedIn would be my ASCRSalvation!

Quickly, I dimmed my office lights. I turned on some Singapore clubbing music on Spotify. And I went to town on LinkedIn. 

Already, that weekend, I had planned to post regular content updates on LinkedIn surrounding ASCRS. That was a no-brainer. 

But I had just crossed 4,000 contacts — definitely some kind of milestone — and I decided to scan each one of them to determine if they were likely to be at ASCRS, and in what capacity. 

Rob and Brooke’s schedule was about half-full so far with appointments. But there were a number of exhibitors and friends that were exhibiting that they weren’t yet due to meet.

Overnight Discovery of a Hybrid Sales Model for Physical Conferences
Woe is me — I missed out on the Las Vegas sock market.

I went to work. 

“Dear [Friend], are you attending ASCRS?”

Typically, that simple line by email would get a significant amount of response pre-show, to set up meetings. In our industry it’s important to see and be seen around conferences. It’s indicative that one is traveling, plugged in, and the more conferences one attends (at least pre-pandemic), well, my business is proof that it works. 

And indeed, many meetings were set up that way for Rob and Brooke during this ASCRS by email. 

But to use LinkedIn so extensively (going through 4,000 contacts in the middle of the night is no small matter). It requires a certain amount of obsessiveness and neuroticism, both of which I have at least to a sufficient degree, and so the junkie was back scratching his arms, waiting to get his meeting fix, even if vicariously. 

Over Spotify came a drop. Wait no, it wasn’t Spotify. It was LinkedIn, and those oh-so-glorious sounds of messages coming in. 

Yes, you’re at ASCRS! Did I make it? Well now, I’m still stuck in Vietnam Lockdown 5.0, but my colleagues Rob and Brooke are there. Would you like to meet them? Of course you would! Warm handoff complete. 

In the end, Rob and Brooke’s schedule was overflowing — completely maxed out during the meeting, and requiring zoom calls to happen for those that they just couldn’t quite make it to meet. 

I didn’t stop there though. I made a little treasure map for them. Booth Number, exhibitor name, note. They could literally start out meeting the exhibitor on the top of the list, and work their way to the bottom, and walk in the most efficient manner to meet all these exhibitors from one end of the exhibit hall to the other. 

Of course sometimes they had a meeting pre-scheduled, but as soon as it was over before their next meeting, they could look at my sheet — which I called the “Flexi Schedule,” for impromptu meetings — identify where they were on the show floor by booth number, and walk to the closest booths on our leads list for quick meetings. 

Overnight Discovery of a Hybrid Sales Model for Physical Conferences
Friend Jim Mazzo urged my colleague Rob Anderson to WhatsApp me pics, which included Jim’s demonstrated style.

We weren’t yet prepared with bluetooth headsets, but I surmised that had they been wearing them and WhatsApp called me, I could even give them overhead directions on how to get to the next booth by looking at the exhibit floor map in Vietnam. 

Sure, they could look at the map too, but I’ve found on countless occasions that I’m so busy on the show floor running between meetings, taking notes and bumping into people, that getting a map out and identifying how to get to a booth in a huge exhibit hall still can be a challenge. 

Something like a conference “Siri,” or me in this case, was incredibly helpful (and probably a touch annoying), as verified by my colleagues on the ground. 

Could I have virtually sat in on those meetings via Rob or Brooke’s tablet? Sure. I mean years ago, my colleague Ruchi traveled the globe with me in the form of a Double Robot, in which she drove her countenance next to me in conference venues from her home base in Chandigarh, India. It was a form of robotic telepresence. Yet, while it came across as shocking and awesome to attendees, Ruchi didn’t manage to have very quality conversations. It was just too new and delegates wanted to know about the technology, not the substance of why we were there. Similarly, I think beaming myself in from Vietnam, even on a tablet, would have been distracting and eaten up precious time for substantive discussion. 

The team also was doing a fine job on their own. But in the future teams could, in fact, beam in from remote locations for conference meetings via tablets, and essentially one person holding what would amount to a zoom carried directly to a booth. Alternatively, you could imagine in the not-so-distant future, clicking on a tablet to visit with a human booth representative, virtually on zoom. 

So, m’eye friends, while the debate rages on between the optimal show environment nowadays (physical, virtual or hybrid), I have to say that there’s yet another consideration here: Do you now send a physical, virtual or hybrid team to shows? 

I’d argue in favor of the hybrid method, with a physical team on the ground and a virtual one backing them up, provided they’re willing to stay up in a different time zone in some cases. And I get it, not everyone will. I’m still a conference junkie, and I miss you a lot m’eye friends!

Overnight Discovery of a Hybrid Sales Model for Physical Conferences
One benefit of virtual conference attendance: drinking quality scotch.
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