Tips for Having Productive Conversations at Education Conferences

Market Insight
Turn brief encounters with prospects into meaningful conversations.
By: 
Kelsea Kierstead

Getting people to your booth at education conferences and trade shows is only half the battle. When prospects drop by, how can you turn the brief encounter into a productive conversation?

During a CB&A Expert Series webinar last month, Matt Gambino, founder of PROPEL Skills Development, gave business-to-education (B2E) marketers some advice on this very topic.

“Every booth interaction I have should be a mini discovery meeting,” Gambino said. Yet, when visitors to your booth say, “Tell me about your company,” education conference exhibitors typically launch into their standard pitch full of familiar industry buzzwords: “We’re the leading provider of…,” “our products help engage students…,” “we’re a best-of-breed solution…”

This approach is likely to produce glazed eyes and barely stifled yawns, Gambino said, because educators have heard it all before—and it misses a key opportunity to forge a meaningful connection.

 

A better approach

Rather than give a stock response about what your company does, Gambino suggests a four-step approach to engage prospects at education conferences more effectively.

 

Think of the acronym “CASH”:

Challenge—Lead with the challenge your product or service aims to solve. For instance, if your company provides a K-12 computer science curriculum that makes it easy to embed coding projects into any subject, with no special knowledge required, you might say: “Here’s the situation. We find there’s a real shortage of qualified computer science teachers in K-12 education, and so schools are missing a key opportunity to engage kids in coding at a young age.”

Affects—Explain why this is a problem, who it affects and what significance this has.

Solve—Explain how your company solves the problem, such as: “We enable teachers who have little or no experience in teaching coding to help students learn coding skills and embed coding projects into any subject area.”

How—Flip the conversation back to the prospect by asking them how they’re addressing this challenge for themselves: “How are you dealing with the need to get more students interested in STEM and coding at your district?”

Gambino explained the thinking behind this strategy like this:

“How might an educator respond to that? They really can’t object to it, because I haven’t deluged them with specifics about my company that they can just say they’re not interested in. [It gives them less of an opening to just walk away.] The very worst thing they can do is say, ‘We’ve got that problem taken care of, thanks.’ Well, that’s not a customer for me anyway. Most likely, when I end my CASH script by saying, ‘How do you guys do it,’ typically they’ll say, ‘We’re in that same situation.’”

 

Taking it from there

Once you’ve made the initial connection and established that the prospect has a similar need, you can further qualify the prospect with a brief discovery session.

“Discovery is a give and take around learning and sharing information, so we can decide whether there should be next steps,” Gambino said. “Business cards are good, but they’re not vital. To me, what’s vital are meaningful discovery meetings that are going to lead to an advancement of the opportunity.”

In the discovery phase, you’re trying to learn more about the specific challenges a prospect faces, what capabilities they need to overcome those challenges, and whether it makes sense to continue the conversation. If it does, then you can enter the bargaining phase, in which you seek to learn who else needs to be part of the decision-making process—and you try to secure a follow-up meeting.

“I’m able to articulate the value of my solution with the CASH script,” Gambino summarized. “If I do that well, that will lead to a productive mini discovery meeting. Right after that meeting, I can bargain for access to the other people who are involved in the decision, and time permitting, I can even show them what they would get as a preview.”

For more insights from Gambino on how to drive sales using education conferences, you can access the full webinar here.

 

About the author

Kelsea Kierstead is an Account Manager at CB&A - C. Blohm & Associates, Inc.

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