With the new year comes new beginnings and new happenings within the automotive industry. Industry leaders are constantly looking for the next tool and the next technique that will take their organization to the next level, be it a dealership or a vendor. Attending automotive conferences like NADA and Digital Dealer are excellent ways for auto experts to further their education.

Not every automotive conference is a productive conference, however.

Conferences are what you make of them. If you came to socialize and party, then that is what you’ll find. But if you view conferences for what they really are, and take the time to educate yourself and build your clientele, then conferences can not only be productive but profitable. My team and I make a point to go to conferences whenever we are able to, but before we arrive we must form a plan.

Here are five tips to ensure that you have a successful automotive conference:
  1. Plan accordingly.
    Know your mode of action going into the conference. Agree with your team on a specific time for meeting up. Know when you are planning on getting to the conference, what seminars you plan on attending, and what you want to accomplish during the event. If you don’t have a direction, then you are chalking things up to chance. How many people do you want to talk to before you head home? How many deals do you expect to close as a result of this conference? Are there specific individuals you want to speak to at this event? Meet with your team BEFORE you head to the venue so everyone is on the same page, and knows what they should be doing.
  2. Pack accordingly.
    The worse feeling is getting to a conference and realizing that you forgot the equipment at home. While some items can easily be replaced (chargers, clothing, etc.) others cannot. As a speaker at many automotive conferences, I have to have my notes, as well as a backup copy. My team has to bring the necessary video equipment if they are filming. We have to have the necessary items for our booths and tables. These things are non-negotiable, they cannot be replaced. We cannot afford to drop the ball on them. Don’t wait until the night before the conference to pack. Have everything packed in advance, and double-check for any last-minute things that you may have missed. It is always better to over-pack than to under-pack!
  3. Form new connections. Conferences for many are the only time that they will get to meet others within the automotive industry. Big conferences like NADA and Digital Dealer attract industry leaders from around the world. New people could lead to new clients and new hires. For my company who acts as a vendor to dealers, I can’t waste time socializing. I attend conferences for business, and I have met more than a few new customers at conferences. Meet as many people as you can!
  4. Meet current clients. Automotive conferences are also a great place to put a name to the face of your current clients. There is something personal about being able to shake the hand of the individual that you’ve spoken to on the phone so many times. Talk to your current clients, introduce the rest of your team, grab dinner with them after the event. Many of my clients are spread out across the country, so it is nice to get to see them in person once or twice a year.
  5. Take notes. Whether it is on a new company that you could potentially work with, a new product or tool that you heard about, or a lead that you need to follow up with when you get back to the office, take notes! Conferences tend to be long events and, contrary to popular belief, hard work. If you don’t take notes then you are going to forget. Write it down. Type it into your notes on your phone. Grab some business cards. Whatever you do, don’t return to your office empty-handed.If you have a set frame of action, then you can make the most out of these conferences. Have fun, enjoy your trip, but make sure you have a purpose for going.Know why you came, and stick to the plan while you’re there.