It’s conference time, and you’re ready to go. Time to cruise around booths and pack your pipeline with hot new leads. But what do you bring? A box of branded tchotchkes and a single rehearsed-to-death pitch? Sure, everyone likes a hoodie or a nice notebook, but they won’t turn prospects into genuine leads. You need an actual strategy.

If you plan in advance and have genuine insight into what your prospects want and need, your efforts on the ground will be much more fruitful. Here’s how to do it.

Go online before going in person

You’re already engaging your buyers online, right? If you follow what they follow, new events and conferences are sure to pop up. Many events will have their own Facebook pages with an available list of attendees, so if you see ones your prospects are attending, you know where to go.

Next, do some digging. Sift through the complete list of attendees and the companies they work for, and see if any of your major accounts are going to be present. In the days leading up to the conference, do some social listening to see if you can glean some insight into each individual’s major pain points and current business needs.

Use inside insight to develop a plan

Sift through mutual connections on social media, and dive into your real-life network for contacts that either know your target buyers or have worked at the companies you plan to sell to. Having this window into a prospect’s needs, pain points, and buying processes will help you know what facets of your solution to emphasize (or deemphasize) most when you eventually engage a potential buyer on the floor.

If you’ve found someone not too far removed from the organizations you plan to sell into, you can even work with them to get insight into who the major decision-makers are and how to get a head start on the purchasing hurdles you’ll have to face along the way.

This is especially useful when preparing for conferences as all interactions will be person-to-person, and speaking directly to an individual’s needs is the most effective way to make use of that time. If you know you’ll be meeting with someone who has major buying power, understanding their biggest concerns in advance can help you craft the perfect message that cuts through the rest of the conference noise—and noisy it’ll be.

For busy events with stacked itineraries, time is of the essence. Everyone is rushing to get to the next booth or seminar and sifting through a flurry of handshakes and hard sells along the way. Having the right insight ahead of time can help you make the most of the precious few seconds you have to connect with your prospect and leave a lasting impression.

Speak directly to their needs

Reach out ahead of time to schedule a meeting during the conference. It doesn’t have to be long—the shorter the better—but doing so can ensure you get the critical face time you need while also respecting your buyers’ time by not bombarding them with an out-of-the-blue pitch.

For approaching prospects that you haven’t connected with prior to the event, proceed with a light touch. Focus on the quality of your interactions over quantity. Chances are, your buyers will have been inundated all conference long with cookie -cutter scripts that tell more about a product than they do about what the product can actually do for them, so give your buyer something of value to stand out.

Today’s buyers—especially millennials—prefer to do their own research first, then approach sellers later when they’re ready to buy. Position yourself as a true solution provider when dealing with this demographic in person. Ask questions to learn about their major business concerns and lay out how your product can clearly address them. Before your conversation ends, make sure to leave behind some materials to aid their post-conference research.

Once you’re back at the office, the usual follow-up best practices apply. Thank everyone you met or talked with for their time and make yourself available for any questions they may have. If you’ve come across an interesting article tied to something you talked about, send it along.

Prospecting at a conference isn’t a whole lot different than prospecting anywhere else. But if you come in unprepared, you could end up wasting your and your prospects’ time and leaving leads on the table.

Executive Insights

While part of the excitement of attending an industry event is the spontaneity of meeting new potential clients, doing some prep work in advance can help you make the most of your time on-site. Use social media event pages to learn more about attendees’ businesses and whether or not your solution would be a good fit for them. Reach out to leads that look the most promising, and set up some time to talk at the conference. Avoid the hard sell in these forums. Your interactions will be face-to-face, so take the time to ask genuine questions about your buyers and learn a little more about their pain points. Exchange emails and social media profiles and follow up to stay in contact after the event has ended.