April 2018 was my second year attending the RSA conference in San Francisco. The conference is an annual gathering of leading information security companies and professionals from around the world. Since I specialize in recruiting top talent for cybersecurity technology leaders, RSA is a MUST on my calendar each spring.
The conference tends to remind me of a carnival for adults:
- There are popcorn machines at every corner
- Each vendor booth competes to be the flashiest and most eye-catching
- Free SH*T everywhere: t-shirts and other swag, artists drawing caricatures of people, you name it.
- All the way down to the cheap attempts to draw visitors to their booths by having attractive women dressed up in pigtails and short skirts (THAT is a whole separate blog topic…)
I remember that first year thinking “where the hell am I?” Yet once the glitter and shine faded away, I was able to make a better assessment of the experience in its entirety. This year I wasn’t as distracted by the masses of people, food, amusements and literal flashing lights. I was a smarter, less distracted and way more successful attendee.
I’d like to share some of my observations and experiences–in the event you will be attending the RSA conference, or any large conference in the future, and help you get the most out of it.
Create a game plan- ahead of time
As the saying goes, “fail to plan, plan to fail”. That phrase couldn’t be more true with the RSA show! RSA had over 50,000 people visitors last year. With that many people, there is bound to be mayhem-so it’s always best to go into these situations with the top three things you want to accomplish. As a recruiter, my primary goal is to go show “the face behind the phone” and meet new and existing clients. Since I recruit sales and marketing technology people, conferences are a great place for me because they are all there.
This year my #1 goal was to meet my existing clients. I wanted to take full advantage of everyone being in one place at the same time and told all my hiring managers I would be there, and luckily, I was able to meet most of them! There is really something special about finally making that personal connection, looking someone in the eyes and hearing what they had to say about their personal life or their business. I truly believe that this makes your business connections and relationships stronger.
Hit your top 25 accounts
I made a call list before the show and cold-called each person, with the goal of setting up meetings at the show. I have found that setting up a specific meeting time gets a bit difficult to do since the hiring manager’s #1 goal is creating their OWN new business, and I never want to disrespect that. So most pre-set meetings are tentative, and we leave lots of open time in case we need to make last minute time changes. If the meetings aren’t previously set, you feel more confident going up to the booth and just asking for the hiring manager because you stalked them the month leading up the show, so you know that they will recognize your name.
Don’t sell-just introduce/educate
In today’s world we are constantly being sold via advertisements-online, offline and everywhere in between…and it’s annoying. I’m in sales, and love what I do, and I STILL think that it’s annoying. Therefore, I try to remember that my clients feel that way too. There is a softer approach to selling that is just as successful.
Read people’s body and facial expressions
When I cold-call a grumpy or annoyed person, and they tell me to f**k off over the phone, it doesn’t hurt anymore. I hang up think, “poor guy/girl is having a bad day”, or I don’t think anything at all, and move on.
Getting rejected like that in person, however, is a whole other story…
This year at RSA my colleague and I approached a booth and started up a conversation with their VP of Sales. My colleague started introducing us and telling him about what we do. Barely one minute into the conversation the VP says “Listen, thanks guys, but we have no needs at this time.” That should have been our first sign. We ignored it and proceeded to ask questions around how/when we could help build his team, etc. There were a couple more verbal clues like “our upper management was changed a week ago”, “I’m really not sure about what’s going to happen in the future”, and “I wish that I did”. These clues were followed by body language screaming “GET THE F*** AWAY FROM ME!!!”-hands crossed across the chest, abrupt sentences, and eyes darting around the room. Then, he snapped. He clapped his hands and said, “LISTEN! I don’t have anything right now, and I can’t talk to you anymore” Tails between our legs, we hurriedly left the booth.
This taught me some very valuable lessons:
- People don’t want to be sold
- Pick up on verbal and body signals
- A warm friendly introduction is more appreciated
- People are more receptive if they don’t feel pressured.
Attending industry conferences, and specifically the RSA show, are incredible ways to bring on new business and sustain existing, BUT they must be done the right way-so all involved parties get the most out of the experience.