The Secret to Getting ROI From Your Conference Sponsorship

Collin Stewart, Co-founder & CEO

April 11, 2017

I started writing this post the week we returned from SaaStr – the leading SaaS event held in San Francisco each year. My plan was to detail the unique things our team did at the conference and, then, discuss how those experiences weren’t quite enough to justify renewing our booth the following year.

 

Boy was I wrong.

We’ve been a SaaStr sponsor, and fan, since its inaugural year. When Jason and Gretchen initially approached us, we were a relatively young (aka poor and inexperienced) company and were just excited to be a part of what they were building. The learning and connections we gleaned from the conference were invaluable and we always looked at our attendance as a marketing/brand awareness activity.

 

Our first booth at SaaStr 2015

We hadn’t quite figured out the “are we Carburetor or Predictable Revenue” question yet.

Until this year, that is.

Growing our company has brought more financial responsibility and – most importantly – imposed more strict financial controls on the business. When we tried to justify the conference investment to our CFO, she very tactfully told us: “not good enough.” In hindsight, simply creating awareness was obviously not a good enough reason to go, but with so many other things going on the question never bubbled up to the top of our priority list.

After conferring with our sales team, we decided to set a goal of closing $50K within 60 days of the conference. We knew it was ambitious…but achievable. Now, a mere 56 days later, we are sitting at $200K closed, with plenty of upside and still more coming down the pipeline.

So, what changed this year?

First, a bit of history: our focus for SaaStr 2016 was strictly on the quantity of leads generated (badge scans). We set a goal of 300 scans and delivered. We hired a fortune teller to give readings at our booth, Aaron did a book signing and we gave away copies of Jason and Aaron’s new book From Impossible to Inevitable. We also strategically positioned ourselves next to an entrance to the main stage area. The result was a constant stream of foot traffic, great conversations and one of the busiest booths I’ve ever worked. Sounds great, right? Well, take a look at the results:

327 badge scans

~60 business cards with next steps in various pockets

0 closed deals within 60 days of the event

That’s right, 0 closed deals.

 

Our SaaStr booth circa 2016, notice the doors on the right?  Those led straight into the main conference area.

We spent some time thinking about what we could have done differently and came up with three hypotheses:

1.  Our booth should have been in a different location

2.  We needed a better follow up process for the prospects we met

3.  We needed to improve how we handled the conversations

Coming into this year’s show, our leading hypothesis was that we focused too much on the quantity of leads and not enough on the quality of leads in the past. So, this year we did the opposite. We picked a location for our booth near companies that we suspected our prospects would also want to check out (thanks Lighter Capital!). We only brought swag for customers that we knew would be at the show, which decreased our overall traffic but kept our team free to chat to people that wanted to have a real conversation.

Finally, we turned our AWAF (Are We A Fit) call template into a checklist, printed it out on a piece of cardboard and taught our team (not everyone that came was from sales) how to run through it. And, what have been our results so far?

67 total badge scans

32 AWAF cards executed at the show + next steps booked

> $200K closed in the 56 days following

We’re not going to beat our leads target from last year and I couldn’t care less. Having nearly hit our target of $50k at the event and closing $200K within 8 weeks has far exceeded our expectations. Needless to say, we’re pretty happy with the results.

Our SaaStr booth for 2017, notice the postcard sized paper in everyone’s hands?  Those are our AWAF cards.

The lynchpin for the success, again, was the focus on quality conversations vs. quantity of lead scans. There were definitely other factors that contributed to our success, but the AWAF cards certainly played the biggest role.

At almost every conference I’ve been to, I’ve been guilty of jumping into demos too early. Maybe it’s the buzz of the exhibition that makes me forget everything I know about having a good sales conversation, but for some reason I’m always tempted to jump right into a demo or talk about the results we can produce. The cards were great reminders that we all (CEOs included) need to follow the process.

And here’s the kicker: our prospects really got into the AWAF cards and, in some cases, actually filled them out for us. It was magical. Customers were looking at our checklist and saying, “yeah, I’m a good fit” or quickly came to the conclusion that we couldn’t help and moved along. It was a great exercise in prioritization. We were able to spend more time having deep conversations instead of simply vomiting features, benefits and demos at anyone that walked by.

The end result was a happier team, a strong cohort of highly qualified prospects and a better experience for those that came by our booth. I’ll take that any day (or any conference…)

Our next post will focus on some of the specific tactics we used to build out our AWAF cards and some numbers (leads, demos, & closed deals) from other sponsors in attendance. Stay tuned!