Conferences and their value is usually difficult to quantify. As a startup you often question: what will I get out of it? Will my start-up get any value out of it? What's the ROI? Should I do it?
Well, this year at SaaStock in Dublin, I exhibited for the first time ever! Don’t get me wrong, I have attended several conferences as an individual. But exhibiting is a totally different game! Not only does it require financial and time investment, it needs a lot of planning and organizational effort.
So having experienced SaaStr among other conferences as an attendee, I took my observations and set out to exhibit. One of our main motivations as Userpilot, was to turn our digital presence into a face to face one. Another goal was to get enterprise customers since they do require a high touch point sales cycle.
So as a super excited and motivated first time exhibitor, I flew out on Saturday from Munich to Dublin to prepare in advance. I checked out the location, the connections via public transportation, distance to all the places we were supposed to be at. Hell, I had everything down!
What was our goal?
Monday arrived and SaaStock workshops kicked off with a promise of days full of networking among fellow founders and learning from different experiences within the SaaS industry.
As Userpilot we pre-defined some goals we wanted to reach through exhibiting there.
Our goal was to get LOTS OF EXPOSURE and at least 5 enterprise customers which we sensed already was a bit unrealistic. But well, we decided to aim high, anyway. However, calculations right after showed that we got at least 30 sales qualified leads and about 30 marketing qualified leads and only 1 enterprise deal. Not bad - right?
And the added value of this conference was something a bit more difficult to quantify.
It is difficult to really quantify feedback conversations or general conversations too. We met people who were potential customers but never subscribed. What was valuable within these conversations?
Insights about what our perceived value was for customers using Userpilot and what the expected value was. We were able to delve deeper into really specific sticky information with potential customers that would otherwise be near impossible to get with huge opportunity costs. But it wasn't just these conversations that made us wiser about our market and product.
We were also able to talk to eight prospective high quality leads. The value of this touch-point in concrete terms can only be measured once and if we get conversion. However, talking to them helped us understand their needs directly. Something we would not have gotten online as effectively.
How did we prepare?
One of the biggest reasons why I would for sure recommend SaaStock to anyone in the start-up world is the organization of it. And the credit for this goes to the team organizing it!
Our partner from SaaStock: Oscar was the most helpful there. He was always around checking up on us, solving any issues instantaneously, always dropping by with genuine concern on how we were doing.
We were exhibiting so did not attend many events except the few speakers I personally wanted to meet.
If you’re planning to fund raise in Europe, Saastock is your conference. They gave us more than 200 stage-agnostic VC’s list with to reach out. I have not seen this happening in other SaaS conferences.
All of these events were organized in a way that they presented a coherent and balanced event which is so rare for any event of this size.
When we arrived on the first day of exhibiting: our stall was ready with our poster on it. We had a screen with our video playing in a loop on it. Our brand colours were represented on our whole stall. So if you are aiming to get exposure for the brand: you have to pay attention to these little details to optimise your exposure.
How did we prepare to get exposure
The mere exposure effect is naturally something you aim to get out of conferences with a lot of attendees: corporate and private. So we decided to make the most of it. We got ourselves bright pink blazers to get attention.
We also had Polaroid cameras as giveaways through a lucky draw of business cards that we asked people to put in a bowl at our counter. Our pink blazers did catch the eye of a lot of people so we do hope we left a mark as a brand. Tell me if you remember us with our pink blazers and pink shoes!
We got a feeling though that Team Functionally kind of beat us at the attention seeking game! THEY BROUGHT A LLAMA!!!! Okay okay it was a stuffed Llama. But man it stole the show. I bet it was the most photographed "person" there.
One of our biggest learnings was that people come for learning, and "browsing" - not buying. So, don’t expect a lot of direct sales. Usually, either "sales" or "C-level people" attend these conferences.
Conversations were not limited to just potential customers or prospects. We were able to observe and talk to other SaaS companies on how they were selling and marketing. So, access to information through these conversations was one of the biggest values.
Building real relationships
Another key takeaway for us was that if you are looking for influencer relations, SaaStock is a good starting point. The industry is full of experts and influencers. To really get to know the good ones, you have to develop a personal relationship with them.
Suffice it to say, SaaStock boasted a number of well known attendees including Aaron Krall, Nathan Latka, Geogiana Laudi, April Dunford, Eric Su, and Ed Fry.
What was surprising was that all of them were willing and happy to help out with whatever issues you had. The advice we got was valuable and something we cannot put a number on. What's more is that I was able to get eight people for my next podcast: Teach Me Product Management.
But the real value really lay in getting to know the people and connect with them on a personal level. We often forget how effective non-digital communication can be. SaaStock was a great reminder of that!
What could we have done better?
Another way we could have driven traffic was by offering coffee and maybe having a little cafe around our stall. This would also mean getting access to information and having access to conversations and insights. But this would also entail having a bigger booth. Meaning more financial investment to cater to the high cost of getting a lead.
I feel ProfitWell got the most out of the event, they had continuous traffic to their stalls and stage. They had amazing speaker line up and topics, as well as the free coffee thought worked. Most importantly, they also took a storm with main-stage speaker sessions too.
Swit team also did a great job in collecting leads, they came early morning at every booth for a lucky draw for expensive devices like laptopp, mobile, and other cool stuff at the end of the show (engagement yay!). See what their founder wrote on LinkedIn:
We went into the conference with a team of three. However, it can be used really as a team building experience too. So the more people you have from your team, the more exposure you get since each person can go network with different people. And it’s FUN to be with your team!!!
SO, should you really exhibit?
In general, we learned that SaaStock is what you make of it! If you use the app effectively and pre-reach out to relevant people and set up meetings, it will help you reach your goals.
It is also always best to go there with one focused goal in mind and then use all available channels in those days to reach those goals. So if getting investment is your goal: then pre-schedule your meetings. If branding is your aim, then use gimmicks that align with your brand identity.
With respect to ROI, we did get 30 SQL and 30 MQLs. We did get one enterprise prospect. So, I am pretty happy with that.
If you want to network, make sure you take more of your team-mates with you to exploit all the opportunities. Fewer people networking means fewer contacts.
Keep in mind that while preparation will take a lot of time, measuring the return on investment is difficult and complex to effectively do. Simply because you never know when a contact you made or a concept you learned, will have an impact on your business in some way or another.
So if you are a start-up exploring the SaaS market, get into one of the SaaStock conferences and learn, network and build! Would we do it again? Yes, and next time we would be more targeted with our goals.