Many shoppers have posted or PMed asking about what to expect at a shopper conference. Some have expressed concerns that they will be alone, or lonely or too shy to engage other shoppers or schedulers. Fear not! Shoppers are a very welcoming bunch and there will even be shoppers devoted to seeking out and engaging others. This is our chance to talk openly (while respecting our ICAs, of course) about what we do, tradecraft, and how to make more money. If all else fails, I will have my screen name, as well as my “real” name on my badge, so just introduce yourself.
Networking with Mystery Shopping Company (MSC) owners and schedulers, as well as with fellow shoppers, is one of the most productive things you can do at these conferences. Each conference has been a bit different, based on feedback from shoppers at earlier conferences, but there are a few constants. The places where you will be able to do the most productive networking are: near the registration table the first morning before first conference sessions; at the sponsors’ display tables between sessions and/or before or after the day’s sessions; in the hallways outside of sessions; in the meeting rooms between sessions; in the conference hotel bar in the evening; at lunch in the hotel.
I always try to arrive at the conference site in the afternoon before the first day. Once I have checked in and gotten oriented to my room and to the hotel amenities I may seek out old friends that I know will be in attendance. In New Orleans, registration will not start until 7:00 AM on the 29th. Since I will be there on the 28th, I will plan to have a plain badge that just says “Walesmaven” for that day. Please remember though….I am not an event planner and do not represent the IMSC. Like you, I’m there to learn and to share.
The sponsors will be in the main conference room, around the perimeter, between presentations. Most sponsors will be offering nice door prizes, so be sure to plan to have a business card, to place “in the hat” for drawings. This is the only place where I use a business card that identifies me as a “customer satisfaction consultant.” Buying blank business card templates and printing a few cards for this occasion will be well worth your time. But, you can also enter drawings by putting your name on a slip of paper. If this is like prior conferences, you will have to be present at the drawing in order to win. Past door prizes have included smart phones, GPS, free admission to a future conference, and smaller gifts. Sponsors also bring swag as freebies for everyone. Swag bags, pens, highlighters, chip clips, and similar handy items are likely give-aways.
The New Orleans conference will open with registration and a free continental breakfast at 7:00 AM, July 29. If you mention to the registrars or to the MSC reps that you are especially interested in meeting folks from your home area, or a particular MSC or shoppers who do video or casinos, etc., they may well be able to steer you towards some new contacts. Not everyone will want to do what I do, but I will mention this: I add my screen name to my conference badge. This has been my best method for “finding” shoppers who may share my interests!
Not all MSCs attending will be sponsors with tables. Use your name tag reading skills to sleuth out MSC folks to chat up between sessions. Don’t forget to ask them what it takes to become a “preferred shopper” with their company or what you need to do to get routes of their shops. This is also a good time to ask if they have plans to expand into your area or how they handle requests from traveling shoppers who may be passing through areas served by the company. If I have a special “agenda” item to bring up, I often start by saying, “Have you thought at all about possibly doing [a,b,c]?” I have gotten some surprising, amazingly unguarded, replies with explanations that I probably would never have heard if I had led with. “Why don’t you do [a,b,c]? “
When seeking out shoppers that you have “met” on forums, don’t be afraid to ask if someone is on your favorite forums and what name they use there. If you get a blank look, be sure to recommend your favorite forum and explain why you like it so much. Most shoppers have never heard of the forums! You could, of course, also plug the MS Magazine for those who have not read it before. [Be positive: inter-forum rivalries, politics and feuds have no place here; think of this as like a big holiday dinner where you love family but know better than to broach a few choice topics. End of sermon. ]
The New Orleans Conference will have a few long sessions on major topics like route shopping, taxes, and sessions of MSC-specific training. But most sessions will last 30 minutes, with a 20 minute break during which attendees can either engage the speaker in a Q&A session or go out into the halls to network, or cruise the sponsor tables to network. Smaller sessions, known as “break out sessions” may be limited to the first day; this is still in flux. Those are specialized sessions that may run concurrently, so you will need to bring your copy of the final conference schedule and plan carefully to make the best use of your time.
A new feature at this conference will be the 9:45 AM start on the second day. Apparently, shoppers have overwhelmingly voted to sleep-in after an evening of networking. Continental breakfast will again be offered. For those with early flights, the official sessions will end at 4:00 PM. Like many, I plan to spend that night at the conference hotel, doing even more networking. Remember; the video training sessions, sponsored by VSN, will be on the next day. Plus, many shoppers prefer to fly out in the morning, so there will be plenty of interesting folks with whom to network that evening.