Sales lead gen without tradeshows during COVID-19

Many businesses used to rely on tradeshows and conferences to generate leads and fill their pipeline.

Right now, and for the foreseeable future, tradeshows are dead.

So, now what?

If you relied on tradeshows and conferences, how can you keep selling without your core lead generator?

It’s time to adapt to the crisis.

Here are 6 ideas on what you can do to get the ball rolling and adjust to this new reality:

1. Work with the organizers of tradeshows to build virtual events

You’re not the only one hurting because your favorite conferences were canceled. The organizers of these events are also hurting.

The result? These people are in creative mode, looking for ways to continue their efforts virtually.

So, reach out to them, and find out what their plans are to generate value for their community.

They might be doing:

  • Virtual conferences
  • Online meetups
  • Webinars

Once you know what their plans are, find ways to integrate yourself into these new events by offering value.

To start, pick the events that generate the most high-quality leads for your business. Then, offer real value to the organizers of those events.

Here are two ways you can offer value and get value in return:

Become a sponsor

Many of these organizations are hurting because they’re not getting the sponsorships they planned on. Their regular sponsors may not be as willing to invest in an online event.

Here’s the opportunity for you:

If you know this conference generates high-quality leads for your business, why not become a sponsor?

You’ll likely get a fantastic deal, becoming one of the main sponsors of the event for a much lower price. That gives you the leverage to dictate some of the agenda, own more of the sessions, or even send dedicated emails to their entire list.

In the end, you get a bargain, you help your favorite conference, and you get valuable leads in return.

Offer to help run the event

What if the conferences and tradeshows you know and love don’t have any real plans for this year?

Offer value by giving them ideas on how to continue their events online.


Maybe these people aren’t super tech-savvy, and they’re just not sure how to go about running an online event. In that case, tell them about other virtual conferences that are doing well now, and off to jump in and help them run their own virtual event.

Once again, you’ll be offering value and getting value in return.

But what if the organizers aren’t going for it?

2. Run your own virtual event

Maybe the organizers of your favorite event aren’t in a position to run a virtual event. If so, no sweat: just do it on your own.

Create an un-conference that leans on the event that was supposed to take place. It’s easy to promote this type of event because you already have an audience who was excited about an event that is now canceled.

On a smaller scale, you may decide to run:

  • A mini un-conference that leans on the original name
  • An unofficial virtual meetup
  • A series of webinars
  • Video interviews

Any of these will appeal to the original audience of the conference and will gain hot leads for your business.

To start, make a list of the people that were supposed to speak at the event. Then, reach out to them and let them know what you’re planning and ask for their support.

Once you’ve made a solid plan, promote it to the same audience that was planning to attend the original event.

Your message could go something like this:

“We love this conference, and we’ve attended every year for the past 5 years. Since it’s not happening this year due to the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve decided to run a one-day online event with the original speakers.”

Use the original event hashtags to reach their audience, and promote your event as being inspired by the conference that has been canceled. It’s for the same audience, but it’s something different.

Pro-tip: Even if the conference organizers agree to work with you, you can still use these tactics to create your own webinar or video series that leans on the big event, furthering your reach and generating more leads for your brand.

3. Use social media to connect with fans of this conference

Start by looking for hashtags and conversations that are related to the event that has been canceled.

You’ll find posts from people who are heartbroken that they won’t be able to attend the event, that bought tickets or flights that they won’t use, or that are disappointed to miss out on the information that was going to be presented.

Collect the names of these people you find on social media, and reach out to them individually. Whether you’re running your own event or organizing something alongside the original conference, let these people know.

You can also use social media to source ideas for your own related content. For example, why not ask some of these people about the main things they learned at last year’s event? Then, you can write a blog post detailing the best points of last year’s conference.

Social media is a powerful tool, and with hard work and a little luck, you even start a new trend. Create your own hashtag about the event being canceled, and use that to push valuable, related content to a hungry audience.

4. Leverage the contacts you made at previous events

If you’ve been to this conference in years past, you’ve already collected valuable contacts.

You probably have lists of emails, business cards, and names of the people you met at past conferences. Use these old email lists to amplify your efforts.

For example, if you’re planning a virtual event or webinar series, why not reach out and let them know?

Or, use their insights to create relevant content. For example, why not send out a survey to these people? Ask them what they’re doing this year instead of going to the canceled event, or what trends they’re seeing in the industry.

Then, you could create an industry report based on the comments from attendees of this event.

5. Double down on intelligent LinkedIn outreach

LinkedIn has 774+ million users and saw a huge lift during the pandemic as much of the business world shifted more to online. With that came a suit of new tools that enable sales people to prospect effectively on LinkedIn.

ReachHub is a new tool that allows salespeople to source new leads directly from Linkedin. Search for the people you'd like to reach, click on the ReachHub Chrome extension and add them to an email campaign—ReachHub will do the rest.

In just 1-click → ReachHub will look at the profile, find their personal and/work email from their database, and automatically enroll them in the drip email campaign of your choice.

6. Start experimenting with and learning new channels for lead generation

How many different lead generation channels have you tried?

You’ve probably tried lots of different channels, but found that nothing was as useful as the tradeshows and conferences.

Well, times have changed. Now, investing in different lead generation channels isn’t optional: it’s necessary for the survival of your business.

Redirecting to new lead gen channels isn’t something that happens overnight. You’ll need to be dedicated and patient to develop these channels over time.

But the effort is worth it: Doing this will help you be more stable and less reliant on one lead source channel.

Here are some ideas to start with:

  • Look for social media groups that you should be a part of on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Slack
  • Start doing more LinkedIn outreach
  • Try outbound sales campaigns
  • Build your content marketing strategies and use SEO to get more organic traffic

This could also be the time to start spending money on ads. Prices are going down, giving you the opportunity to advertise in places you never could before. Along with new ad opportunities, you could also try retargeting to people who showed interest in the canceled event, or who attended last year.

Gather ideas and make a plan to develop these new lead generation tactics.

Generate new sales leads in spite of canceled events

While we’re all disappointed that our favorite events have been canceled, there’s no reason your lead generation should suffer this year.

Even if you did depend on tradeshows and conferences to fill your pipeline, there are plenty of ways to continue finding new leads and developing a solid pipeline.

Remember, many of your favorite events are now planning virtual events, and you could get in on the ground floor to be a part of those. You can also run mini-events around the event that was canceled or develop relevant content for the event’s audience through your blog or social media.

By exploring and developing new lead generation channels, you’ll build a solid foundation for your pipeline now and into the future.

That way, once we’re out of this downturn, you won’t just go back to the way things were: You’ll have a stronger, more stable lead gen base and be even better prepared for future sales.


Learn how to generate leads, boost brand awareness, and build high-value partnerships with my FREE book Startup Marketing With Virtual Summits.

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