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The Secret to Getting ROI From Your Conference Sponsorship

Collin Stewart, CEO
01 August 2017
This is part two in a series (check out part one here) that details our experience generating significant ROI from the SaaStr conference we attended at the beginning of this year.
Before we delve into a detailed examination of our AWAF (Are We A Fit?) program at this year’s SaaStr conference, it’s instructive to start with a quick review of the things we changed after attending SaaStr 2016:

  • Simply put, we didn’t generate as much business as quickly as we thought from the 2016 event. Naturally, we wanted to change that.
  • So, we decided to get a booth in a lower volume location (less foot traffic), we focused on quality conversations and held fewer demos, and established a clear next step with everyone we spoke with at our booth (scheduled follow up calls etc.).
  • Finally, we decided to make our AWAF cards, not us, the star of the show.

A Time to Reflect

When we reflected on the time we spent vs. the value we created at previous conferences, it was clear the short and intense conversations (the ones that got right to the point) generated the most value. Unfortunately, we also realized that we spent most of our time hosting one-sided demos where we’d show off our product to anyone we could flag down.

Not the best use of our time, to be sure.

Immediately demoing your product is a tough habit to break. After all, that’s what gets people excited and moves prospects down the funnel, right? It’s made even tougher at conferences because that’s what’s going on all around you. A demo just feels right.

But that isn’t the process we follow for our inbound leads, so why should attending a conference change that? The short answer is, it shouldn’t.

A booth is actually another source for inbound leads, but we weren’t treating them that way. So, we decided that everyone that visited the booth would move through the same sales process as if they had come to us via our website.

The Power of the AWAF

The first step in our inbound process is the AWAF (are we a fit) call: a detailed discussion where we try to understand the prospect’s situation, what they’re looking for, and how we might be able to help them. Over time, we’ve learned what types of customers are most successful with us, and have designed our questions to elicit certain signals early in the conversation to let us know if we can actually help them.

The challenge we faced at the conference was we weren’t bringing our entire sales team. In fact, most people coming had never handled an inbound lead using our current process. We had to get everyone up to speed – quick.

In order to simplify the process and make sure every prospect received a similar level of service, we turned to our friend, the four quadrant grid. Our qualification criteria broke down into four distinct categories: Team, Results, Customers, and Targeting. This made it really easy for our non-sales team members to have really in-depth conversations with prospects without forgetting to cover anything.

  • Team – this section helps us understand where they’re at as a company (size, composition etc.) and gives us an indication of what their goals might be;
  • Results – this section focuses on the results of their outbound program to date, and their feelings about their success, or lack thereof (satisfied, unsatisfied, etc.);
  • Customers – this section focuses mostly on qualification questions. We’ve found that many companies want to jump into scaling an outbound team before they have product market fit. As a result, they aren’t successful. When we encounter these types of prospects, we have a few “founder-led prospecting” resources that we can send that might be useful. And, if our inbound reps don’t feel like we can help, they’re encouraged to be candid, explain why, and then try to find a way to still be helpful (make other suggestions/recommendations etc.).
  • Targeting – in this section, we learn two very important things. First, where the prospect located, and if they’re targeting US-based companies (our sweet spot). The second gives us a sense of the maturity of the product and company, which helps us understand the types of problems they might be looking for help with.

So, when a prospect approached our booth, we generally kept our non-closers at the frontlines of the booth, and our closers (Account Executives) near the back. Those of us on the frontlines would handle the first conversation using an AWAF card. Then, when we had customers that were both qualified and interested, we’d introduce them to the Account Executive on our team that specialized in their vertical.

Using this method, our closers could spend most of their time talking with qualified prospects, and we could handle the bulk of people that just came by to have a look.

The method, needless to say, worked. We finished the event with:

  • 32 AWAF cards filled out at the show with next steps booked
  • > $200K closed in the 60 days following the conference

Designing the process

When we sat down to design how we wanted to run our qualification process at SaaStr, we started at the beginning – with our sales qualification criteria. We grouped them into the four aforementioned quadrants (NOTE: some questions could have landed in one or the other, but we wanted to keep it simple, so not all of them were perfect fits).

You may have noticed that most of the questions listed are closed-ended. This was intentional.  We built the AWAF card to help us quickly understand if a prospect was a good fit or not, and to also train our team to know when they should ask more open-ended questions (based on which boxes the prospects checked off).

Open-ended questions are amazing ways of gaining a deep understanding of a prospect’s situation, but asking them can take a lot of time. We decided to optimize the card for speed.

That said, we went through a few design alterations before settling on the card we used. Here’s a quick look at the different steps our card went through:

  • We started here
  • Our card grew to this less, but still ugly, version
  • This guy on Fiverr did it for us for $30
  • Finally, ended up looking like this
So…how did it go at the conference? What was it like on the floor?

It took between 2-15 minutes to fill out a scorecard, depending on how interested / qualified the prospect was. We started every conversation off with a friendly hello and answered the usual “how’s your conference going?” and “what do you do?” questions. When a prospect started asking buying questions, we had a stack of these cards and pens available and started filling out the sections, as necessary.

When a card was complete, we’d mention that it seems like there’s a good fit and ask them if they wanted to learn more (talk to an AE). If they said yes, we’d walk them back and introduce them. Just to be safe, we took pictures of every complete card when we finished, and emailed it to the AE we passed the prospect to.

What would I change for next time?

  • Our system for collecting cards could have been improved, and we didn’t take pictures of all of the cards
  • Some of the questions need to be tightened up
  • Some branding on the card might not be a bad idea (can’t hurt to remind prospects of who we are, right?)

Would I recommend this approach to another company?

If your goal is to book appointments with prospects attending a tradeshow, then, yes, this is a great approach. However, if you’re booking smaller one-off sales at an event, it might not be the right method.

We found that it helped us make sure every team member was having high-quality conversations with everyone that came by the booth. It made it really simple to ramp everyone on our team up and made sure we were all running the same playbook.

At the end of the day, it helped us develop deeper connections with our prospects, which is really the most important piece.