Mar 24 2012

Healthcare Associations Use Delegate Building to Boost International Meeting Attendance

No matter where you are in the world, the need to maximize delegate attendance is critical.  The problem is finding methods that can be employed effectively across various regions to ensure maximum results.  This article features the delegate acquisition strategy being used by such organizations as the World Heart Federation and the European League Against Rheumatism for their global congresses.

Targeting Ideal Delegate Composition

Delegate registration revenue typically represents between 30-50% of overall international conference revenues and the presence of a rich, diversified, and qualified base of delegates is critical to the entire success of these events.  The key to effective delegate acquisition is to focus a strategy that targets key stakeholdersand business multiplers in select regions where the need for the content to be presented at the conference is greatest:  corporations, academic institutions, government ministries or agencies, and regional association multipliers.  Concentration on group sales among these can be rewarding.

Each target audience will require its own unique, locally relevant value proposition that can directly impact critical business or institutional outcomes.  This is important to appreciate as many delegates coming to such events are approved to attend and so a clear, tangible set of objectives will be desired.

Process for Turning Prospects into Paid Delegates

Effective International Delegate Acquisition requires a holistic approach to guarantees the process doesn’t simply sell prospects what you have without customization.  So it should not be confused with simple cold calling.  It is a process that requires time for the campaign to work as we outline here.

Stage 1 – Delegate Research by Market

A vital initial step is to conduct a review of the key issues relative to the topics planned to be presented at a conference so as to determine where important connections exist that would suggest where, why and how a conference can be important to delegates from that market.  For instance, understanding the latest trends in a targeted region regarding non-communicable disease and how government, private industry, and others are responding is essential data to uncover for use in the next stage.

Stage 2 – Defining Event USPs from the Delegate Point of View

Taking the data collected in the previous step, conference organizers must craft “unique selling points” designed from the delegates frame of reference.  Too often organizations “broadcast generic benefits” to every prospect.  This can lead to missed opportunities and cause prospects to treat the event with little regard, because they don’t see any links to their immediate needs.  Ultimately,  ensuring a conference promotion can align with the key motivations and buying triggers of prospects and those who make the buying decision must be addressed early.

Stage 3 – Prospect Database Building

Beyond an association’s existing member, customer, or prospect database, it is possible to extend the range and scope of prospecting of new contacts through targeted searches among the desired target audience.  For instance,  within a given target market for a medical meeting an association could locate key organizations and institutions like hospitals, ministries of health, medical journals, pharmaceutical firms, etc  and build a list of key opinion leaders and decision makers (e.g. medical directors of hospitals).  Contact information would be fed into the database for activation.

Also, one should not lose sight of the value of sourcing competing events & conferences and build a list of prospects from past corporate sponsors, partners, regional multipliers, media,  journals, etc.  These organizations can offer good prospecting for your own event.

Stage 4 – Registration Fee Strategy

A powerful and convenient selling point with prospects under delegate building is that you aren’t just selling them a conference but you are offering them an exclusive one-stop-shop service to register, book their accommodations, coordinate their obtaining a visa, and arranging any incidental program registration related to your event (if any).  This is like a concierge service to make the whole experience seamless.

Stage 5 – Direct Sales Campaign

Using a combination of email and telemarketing, promotional copy and scripts are composed based on the previous prospect research.  Contact strategy is designed to capture the prospect’s interest through a combination of a clear and simple presentation of USPs as well as questions designed to engage the prospect while making direct personal connection.  At the prospects requests, you could have on hand printed flyers or the ability to send letters of invitation in instances where requests are made.

However, It has been seen that a direct sales campaign is most effective when operated on a local level with a local strategy. For a lot of countries, the marketing pieces are designed in local languages followed by phone calls or even personal visits to key companies or institutions (e.g. hospitals) that generally are responsible for decision making and sending group of delegates to the conference. The personal connection armed with customized sales materials connecting the value of the event to their business is powerful.

For some target organizations and institutions, it is also worth having two way communication – talking to their local office and their regional or HQ office that might be able to influence the budgets for such activities, which also requires a thorough understanding of these organizations in the local market and what their limitations could be.

Stage 6 – Follow up

On occasion, there may be a need among some targeted prospect segments where pickup isn’t strong to offer special schemes to meet attendance goals.  Also any announcements from the conference HQ with updates on programs or special services or discounts should be built into follow up contact.

Stage 7 -Negotiating & Packaging the Deal

In emerging markets especially, it isn’t customary for decision makers to ask for group discounts.  So you will need to be ready to make such offers if you run into hesitance the the issue could be cost.  This is true especially with government or hospitals.

Another potential barrier is one that often affects pharmaceutical, medical device or biotech firms who many want to sponsor delegates to attend but are barred from doing so according to their country’s laws (e.g. India).  In such cases, you can serve as a go between where you can collect the sponsors funds and then contact the targeted delegate prospects offering a “hosted” invitation as the event organizer.  These firms also prefer the agency approach for handling their own group’s logistics rather than deal with it themselves.  Not having such a service can be a barrier. 

Powerful Results!

In our own experience, in just the last 12 months, MCI’s delegate acquisition centers in Dubai (UAE), Delhi (India), and Beijing (China) have generated over $600,000 in new delegate revenue for association client events.

Consider deploying a Delegate Acquisition Strategy and reduce the barriers to attendance today from your international meetings.





About the author

Peter Turner

As MCI's Senior Advisor, Global Development Strategy, I help associations build and execute global growth strategies. Over the past 30 years I have served three associations (ASAE, MPI and IEEE Computer Society) as a leader of business, product and partnership development.

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