When you have limited resources it is difficult to know where to put your money. Do you really need that software? Do you really need to advertise there? Do you need an assistant? All relevant questions. A question that comes up regularly is, should I go to this conference or trade show?
There are various questions that you should ask yourself when considering a trade show or event. Larger organizations often need to have a presence at industry events in order to promote their brand and maintain their market position. As an unknown software startup, is it necessary that you go? Here are some things to consider when making this decision:
- What is the ROI: By keeping the costs down it is more likely that fewer conversations can lead to a new paying customer. Unlike larger organizations startups do not need to worry about their brand…because the reality is they don’t have one. If there is an opportunity to keep costs low by crashing at a friend’s, using air miles, or getting a discounted ticket then it might be worth considering. Don’t forget that the goal is to get customers, not party for a few days.
- Will your target customer be there? Don’t waste your time and money on another startup event unless your target customer will be there. There are so many startup events that you could go to a new one every week. Focus on niche events that will attract your target customer. If you sell to lawyers….go to legal events, if you sell to doctors….go to medical conferences, if you sell to marketers….go to marketing conferences.
- Will there be networking events? It is always possible to meet customers at the speaker sessions, but the reality is that business is done after hours. If everyone leaves the conference hall and goes back to their hotel at 5pm then it is not the best event. Look out for events with organized parties, or sponsored parties. This is where you will meet the right people.
- Do you have better things to do? As a founder it is important to network, especially when raising capital. But we aren’t talking about raising capital, we are talking increasing sales. Conferences and networking are fun (for most sales people), so you need to weigh whether your participation will have an impact on the success of your business. Versus making calls, following up with prospects, or on boarding customers.
If the event makes sense then it is important that you get the most out of your trade show. Here are some tips for making sure that you get the most out of your event.
- Take cards: I know, I know, we live in a digital age and you don’t really need cards. I would agree with that statement at a small networking event. At a larger conference or trade show you will likely have many conversation, very few of which will end up being your target customer. So you are not going to want to waste time type everyone’s name into your LinkedIn app.
- Have a goal: Is there someone you want to meet? A speaker you have been waiting to hear? A party that you are looking forward to? Always have a goal or two in mind so that you can accomplish that and increase the likelihood of a return on investment.
- Have fewer high quality conversations: Nobody likes that guy that wonders around giving out cards. Often times a good conversation with someone will lead to a good connection or referral. Spending the time to understand who someone is and how you could both benefit will create more value than many shallow conversations.
- Don’t get a booth: Setting up a booth will definitely get you some traffic as attendees walk towards the speaker areas. What they won’t do is deliver targeted customers. The only time I go to booths is to enter a draw, visit a friend or scope out the competition. There is always a better way to get an attendee list.
- Don’t pitch at the booths: There is nothing more annoying than working a booth and having someone try and pitch you on a product or service. Companies do not pay thousands of dollars to be solicited. You have a better chance of making a quality connection listening to the keynote speaker, so save your energy.
Conference attendees spend very little time visiting booths, and if they do they are often overwhelmed by the number of companies presenting. If a great opportunity presents itself to network at a highly targeted event or trade show then it is worth going. Otherwise, save your money and invest in building your brand and customer base online so that the next time you attend an event you already have a following and brand recognition.
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