Some context: a little more than a month after the end of the WebSummit 2018 conference, I would like to share our experience at the conference and what we did to make it a success. Why? In 2019 there will be be more than 100,000 conferences worldwide focusing on topics ranging from biotech to arts and everything in between. In this blog post you will find tactics that will enable you get the most of out them.
If you are a business to business company, then chances are you are relying on conferences to generate new opportunities and/or meet potential investors. So in this post, I’ll draw from hubsell’s own experience at this year’s WebSummit conference and share a few tried and tested strategies on how to get the most out of conferences.
Before we deep-dive into the specifics, here’s a high-level introduction to what I will be writing about.
Why should you be attending conferences?
- generate new sales opportunities
- connect with potential investors
- find key channel partners
How to set-up meetings beforehand?
- determine your target segments
- source prospects and gather contact information
- reach out to prospects across multiple channels
- setting up meetings
Reasons to attend conferences
Conferences (e.g. WebSummit) can be valuable for the growth of your company, but it’s important to understand what you want to accomplish before you decide to buy a ticket.
Here are the most common reasons why companies (not investors) might want to attend these events:
- generate sales opportunities
- connect with potential investors
- find key channel partners
Below I’ll be examining each of these reasons one by one.
Generate sales opportunities
Most companies’ top priority is to get more deals and, especially for B2B companies, conferences are a great source of new opportunities. The atmosphere is conducive to generating opportunities because everyone is in a business/networking mindset, ready to partner up, get new customers or learn about new solutions.
Often times, however, conferences (like WebSummit) are not ROI positive for companies because the focus is on making connections in person during the event (which is still a viable strategy, albeit far less effective then what is suggested in this blog post). The issue is that everyone is vying for the time of their relevant prospects, so the attention span of the decision makers is very short.
The real value in conferences is in the attendees list, which enables you to plan ahead and prospect beforehand. The weeks leading up to the conference, attendees are looking forward to the event and getting in the mood to connect with people. A well-worded message with a meeting request will often result in a positive reply. The advantage of pre-conference is that you’re not competing for prospects’ attention as they are still in their day to day work rhythm.
Connecting with investors
Another reason to attend conferences is to network with investors which can provide you with two benefits:
2. potential customers
The first reason is quite self-explanatory since a lot of companies sooner or later require investment in order to sustain and expedite growth. It is advisable to meet investors at a conference even if you are not currently looking for an investment. The bigger the round you are raising for, the longer it will take to get the term sheet. Get in touch with investors and then keep them updated about you and your company so that not only you but investors can also contact you back when the timing is right for them.
The second benefit which investors are often happy to provide you with is introductions to their portfolio of companies as potential customers. If in fact your solution is of high quality and deserves the attention you seek then this tactic works well because investors can spread the word about your product and open up doors for new deals. Some investors might even want some of their portfolio companies to use your product to see if it’s really worth the investment or not.
Connecting with channel partners
Find channel partners
The third reason for why you would attend conferences is to establish relationships with potential partners in different markets that can act as implementers, resellers, integrators and other forms of multipliers to your growth.
So now that we have covered the why with 3 key reasons highlighting the value of attending conferences, namely new sale opportunities, new investor relations and meeting new channel partners. Let’s cover the how which is a bit more time consuming than the why part.
How to set-up meetings in conferences
The work you do before the conference makes a huge difference in achieving the 3 objectives highlighted in the previous section. Based on our own experience here is a step by step approach that has worked for us and our customers every time we’re setting up meetings with potential customers, investors and partners. So next time you and your team are planning to attend a conference with the objective to generate sales opportunities, meet investors or connect with partners, follow the steps below.
1. identify target markets
2. gather contacts
3. reach out and follow up
4. set up meetings
Step 1: identify targets
The first step is to decide the type of people you want to reach out to, which relates to your buyer persona, so it should not be too hard to figure out. Some points to keep in mind about are size of the company, number of employees, industry, B2B or B2C, etc. With that information, you can start segmenting your target market and organize different customized messages for each.
Once you find groups of ideal companies, the next step is to find the right stakeholders in them that make the decisions. As an example, in our case, we were targeting firstly investors that had a portfolio of companies that are a fit for our product, and C level decision makers in B2B companies that had an internal sales team.
Step 2: gather contacts
Next up on the list is to gather those contacts through different channels allowing you to complete the information on the prospects. To achieve this you can access the list of attendees and their details through a search function provided by the organizer after you’ve bought the tickets. Another option is to visit LinkedIn and look for companies attending the same event and gather data on them.
For WebSummit we mainly used the app to search for prospects and people we wanted to reach out to. Once we came up with a list, we delivered it to our highly trained team to enrich and validate those contacts, so we could have more details and variables on them.
Step 3: reach out and follow up
This is where we showcase our ability to ‘walk the walk’. To aid in our process of reaching potential future customers, we used our own software hubsell campaigns to increase the deliverability and automation of our outreach.
At this stage, most sales departments would use the list of contacts from the conference and send out an email with some static placeholders and generic messaging. However, we wanted to take things further. Not only did we use our software’s if-this-then-that technology to highly customize the email message content with the enriched data on contacts, but we also asked for a quick favor from the recipient while offering something in return.
Our objective was to make the message specific for WebSummit and for the recipients so that they would feel like the content was unique. We also asked for their feedback on our new software which made them feel like their opinion was important (which actually was). Finally, we made sure that we would thank them for their time by paying for a meal or drinks and/or by offering a discount if they joined the first wave of the product launch.
Another avenue relied on reaching out to the same prospects through LinkedIn, which is very powerful in conjunction with cold emails. Our GDPR adherent strategy when doing LinkedIn outreach consisted of first sending connection requests and waiting a couple of days. If they accepted we would send a follow-up message with the main proposition customized for WebSummit. If not, we’d retrieve the request after a few more days, and depending on the companies’ country GDPR laws we’d send them a cold email or not.
Step 4: set up meetings
Finally, after analyzing the metrics and responding to positive replies, we scheduled meetings all along the WS week, in every free slot we had available. This was not hubsell’s first visit to Lisbon and WS, so we knew that a lot of our opportunities would come from this automated outreach through our software.
The next section entails the simple yet easy to miss process of actually meeting prospects and analyzing the potential of a future partnership. A lot of these steps might already be in your own sales funnel, but follow along because there might be some golden nuggets that you can learn from.
Reaching your objective
First off, there are two main places where you meet with potential customers: You can ask them to come by your booth or you can meet in a specific area of the arena where you can sit down.
Our preferable method was to meet at a specific location, but sometimes the prospect was not ready to commit that much, so our plan B was to invite them to pass by our booth. Even though that option seems safer, it happened that sometimes the invited just did not show up, because they were too busy or they did not have enough time during conference.
During the follow-up after the WebSummit, a lot of prospects that were not able to meet us during the conference resumed their conversation and we in turn were able to demo our product to them. That just goes to show that if you have a good product in which the market is interested, the conditions don’t really matter.
However, I’d still encourage you to stick to specific location and time-based meetings in a relaxed environment, which is also a way to qualify a prospect since it requires more investment from their part.
Reaching your objective
Before the meeting, make sure that you do additional research on the company, investor, channel partner with whom you have successfully set up an appointment. If you are prepared well for the meeting you will be able to navigate the conversation better and objectively determine what the best steps are for after the meeting (because remember the meeting alone is not the end, it is only a means to an end). There is still a lot of work to be done after you come back to the office.
Another good reason to prepare for the meeting is that even if it falls through, you still have a very good chance to follow up based on your understanding of your intended contacts and book a remote meeting.
So there you have it. Some good reasons to attend conferences and some tried and tested tactics that work.
Summary of lessons learned at WebSummit 2018
Here are the main takeaways from this blog post:
1. Find key reasons to attend business conferences – common reasons are to find and close customers, to network with investors (for future rounds of investments or to access their portfolio of companies) and/or to establish partnerships.
2. The right way to do conference pre-work
- define target markets, segment companies based on industries
- identify stakeholders, make list and enrich the data
- send emails and/or LinkedIn requests/messages
- schedule on-site meetings with positive replies
- listen to prospects and demonstrate product
- close deals after assessing company fit
We made a lot of connections with potential prospects and investors, and also had a lot of fun doing that, from crazy after work dinners and drinks to ongoing comical inside jokes that lasted for days.
The main takeaway I have for you is that if you’re not using conferences to grow your current user base then I invite you to rethink that because it can really open a lot of doors for you. If you already are using conferences to grow your customer base, then be sure to implement the strategies shared in this post to maximize your opportunity generation whether it’s sales, investment or partners.