A VP of Sales Blueprint to $100K in Sales Pipeline Sponsoring SaaS Conferences

I dedicate this post to my small but fierce team, thank you Adam & Alexandra.
I dedicate this post to my small but fierce team, thank you Adam & Alexandra.

If you sponsor SaaS conferences, you know it’s expensive. Sponsored booths start at $15K and run into the hundreds of thousands for “megastructure death star booths” only the enterprise of enterprises can afford. Plus travel, lodging, food and swag costs add up. A well engineered operational  blueprint edges your competition, provides your team with operational efficiency in a chaotic environment and optimizes lead generation. Here is how my team maximized ROI on our sponsorship spend and created $100,000 in post conference demo pipeline to work in our predictable revenue system.

In the last 2 years I’ve sponsored several enterprise SaaS conferences, (Hubspot’s Inbound, Salesforce Dreamforce & Marketo’s User Conference). Through success and failure sponsoring different conferences, I’ve arrived at this blueprint which was implemented by my team at Hubspot’s Inbound 2016 show. From a results standpoint, it was our most successful show from a lead generation and converted sales stand point. Let’s review some key results from the conference and then dive into the plan.

Inbound Conference 2016 Key Results 

  • Demo’s Booked: 41 on the calendar over the next 21 days
  • Demo Pipeline: $97,908 (41 demos @ $2,388 min ACV)
  • Other Leads: 10 (likely to schedule a demo, but couldn’t on the spot)
  • Other Leads Pipeline: $23,880 (10 leads @ $2,388 ACV)
  • Total Conference Pipeline : $121,788
  • Market Awareness:  Over 10,000 attendees interacting & seeing our brand
  • Team Building: hitting our goals, succeeding as a team, team dinners etc

Understanding Conference Attendee Psychology 

Understanding conference attendee psychology drives the quality of your visual assets, booth traffic and ultimately the number of sales opportunities you’ll capture. I became a “self proclaimed” expert in conference attendee psychology between the years of 2012 and 2014. I built a $5,000,000 flash sales site from scratch with zero retail, wholesale or ecommerce experience. I attended the top product wholesale trade-shows, searching for high demand products to offer our 500,000 subscribers. This was really valuable experience, I learned the perspective of the attendee walking show floors with hundreds of vendors fighting for my attention. As I shifted my career over to software and started sponsoring conferences, I observed the same attendee psychology seemed to apply. 

To keep it simple; attendees don’t want to make eye contact or talk with you if they don’t have to. They don’t want to be forced into a conversation, they want to identify interest in your product or service from a safe distance. Scanning your demo video, signage and persuasive copy like a cyborg. They quickly compute a minimum viable interest level within 5 seconds. Most important to the attendee is they determine interest prior to locking eyes with one of your eager team members. I call this phenomenon, “5 or Die.” If you’ve created impactful visuals, attendees who fit your target buyer profile will drop their guard, walk up and say, “tell me what you guys do.” Now it’s about qualifying, getting the demo conversion and moving on to the next. Kind of like speed dating 😉 

Ok, so if your new to sponsoring SaaS conferences, or never considered how the psychology of the attendee should drive booth operations. We’ve set the tone and laid some ground work. Now let’s move onto the 3 phases of creating $100,000 in sales pipeline sponsoring a SaaS conference. 

PHASE 1: Pre-Conference Operational Checklist

Conference Promo: your not the only sponsor, competitive and non-competitive sponsors are courting the same attendees. In the next 3 months, attendee’s can only adopt a few solutions, be one of them. Your conference special should be “an offer they can’t refuse.” Put a strict deadline on the the promo, don’t make it any less than 15 days, but no longer than 60 either (unless you have a really long sales cycle). 95% of buyers can’t buy on site, more important is a qualifying trigger making the attendee eligible for your promo. In SaaS, the best qualifying trigger is to schedule a demo. If the attendee schedules a demo and buys within the deadline, they get the conference special.

Conference Promo Landing Page: your promo needs a landing page clearly explaining the promo. Link the CTA buttons on the landing page to your checkout page. This page provides urgency and can process the transaction when it’s time to buy. I’d suggest using Leadpages to build this page. One bonus note, when we show this page, we tell prospects we built this page in 20 minutes using Leadpages and they love it. If you can incorporate your product into the sales process, do it. Check out our conference promo landing page HERE.

Video Assets: Now it’s time to create your video with the “5 or die” theory in mind. Your video will pre-qualify prospects in their own mind if done well. You need strong visual product functions with persuasive copy that speaks to your target buyer profile. When writing video headline copy, consider who are you are selling to and how you solve their pain. Your video’s goal is to captivate the right people as they approach your booth, not to do a whole demo. You’re team is on standby with laptops for mini-demos. I suggest a 60 second video playing at double speed for a 30 second clip. Here is how we call out our target audience with copy and video.

Code Free Drag & Drop Landing Pages Marketing Teams Build & Test in Minutes.”

Pitch Script: Your video and copy have done their magic, attendee’s will make eye contact and say “tell me what you guys do?” The mistake many sponsors make, is giving a 30-60 second pitch that doesn’t include asking questions leading to your solution. It’s okay to start with a quick high level explanation. For example, at the Leadpages booth, we say “Leadpages is a code free drag & drag landing page builder for marketing teams” Then we go right into qualifying questions that help educate while leading to our solution. This makes the interaction much more efficient as you’re explaining what you do by asking the attendee questions vs. a long explanation and then asking questions. Remember the best sales people don’t talk a lot, they ask questions, shut up, listen and pivot responses.

Qualifying Discovery Questions Script: You’re quick n’ dirty high level pitch has the attendee engaged. High volume traffic comes in waves, you need to be efficient as possible in qualifying leads.  You do this with very direct questions, the answers to which help educate the prospect and qualify or de-qualify them along the way (within 30-60 seconds). You know the primary buyer attributes of your product, this drives your line of questioning.  Some of your questions should also serve as “de-qualifiers.” For example, if your product doesn’t integrate with a specific CRM or automation tool, when you ask the question “what CRM are you using?” That question serves a dual purpose. Scripts are especially important if you’ve brought staff from multiple departments, they all interact with the market differently. Which means they will naturally speak to attendees differently and likely not have experience in qualification. Sales is used to controlling and qualify a conversation in 1-1 fashion, other departments aren’t.

Marketers for example interact with the market in a one to many fashion via digital content and campaigns. Support is used to solving functionality issues and defusing situations. If you don’t coach everyone on how to qualify a lead, you’ll miss a ton of opportunities. Your qualifying questions need to be scripted, the script gets team members confident with the questions. Once they are comfortable, they’ll add their own individuality to the talk track. Another vital piece to this script is the primary differences between your product and your competitors. Competitive questions will happen on minimally 50%-75% of your interactions, as your likely trying to replace their current solution. Knowing your products competitive advantages or disadvantages will make or break attendees interest level while preventing  the scheduling of unqualified demos.

“Ask for the Demo” Script: via your discovery questions, you’ll easily identify if the attendee is a good fit for your product. They also likely divulged key nuggets of pain they have which your solution solves. Now it’s time to encourage a demo and get your team closer towards your lead generation goal. Remember, what qualifies attendees for your conference promo is scheduling the demo. So you make the ask and it sounds something like this. “It sounds like you have a need for Leadpages, do you have interest in scheduling a demo? This qualifies you for our conference promo which is……….” Most attendees say yes, but don’t realize you mean schedule the demo right then. This part can be awkward if you let it be, but you simply pull out your smart phone, where you have the mobile version of the demo sign up form ready to go. Once you tell them the demo can be next week or the week after, everything smooths over. One key note here, the team member should fill out the demo registration form, controlling the close of the demo scheduled conversion. Plus the attendee is carrying a ton of crap during conferences, cater to their needs.

Demo Submission form: You’ll need each team member to have access to your account executive’s demo schedule links. These will show all available times AE’s have for demo’s and once you click through the date and find a time, you simply input the name, email and phone number of the prospect and Violla! Make sure you have your confirmation email set up so the attendee gets it right away and also have your demo reminders set up for the day prior and day off the demo. We use calendly for our demo scheduling tool. It has a nice UX and the mobile version looks great.

CRM Flow: your leads that have booked demo’s need to flow into your CRM, we use Salesforce. Set up your demo capture form to auto route leads into a campaign in your CRM. These leads shouldn’t receive opportunity status yet, you still need to earn that status for each lead. Also let’s not bloat your opportunity pipeline with these leads yet . Next build a dashboard to review your trade show leads and how they are progressing. Or if you set the lead source to the trade show name, you can also just pull all opportunities related to that lead source. If you have flawless visibility into your show leads; you’ll have a higher close rate and generate more revenue. As a VP or sales manager; you want to control the urgency of this pipeline, after all, your responsible for ROI back on the thousands of dollars you just spent to be a sponsor.

Follow up Email Sequence: you have all your assets completed to draw in an attendee, pitch them, qualify them, schedule their demo and track them in your CRM. Here is the next hurdle you will deal with, even the most engaged leads run the risk of going cold between demo scheduled and the actual demo date. Also, they have met a lot of people at the conference. You need a nice non invasive drip sequence to stay top of mind. You can have these pre-written as templates and then it’s just plug and play when you get back to HQ. You can also track engagement with this content through your outbound email system, we use salesloft. Here is what I suggest for a follow up cadence.

  • Email #1: 2-3 business days after the conference ends. This email is quick trip down memory lane. Review what was discussed at your booth, what date and time their demo is scheduled for and they scheduled to qualify for the conference promo. Also include a picture of your team working the booth to make a visual connection.
  • Email #2: 2-3 business days after email #1, provide a case study or some relevant piece of content as some light reading. From here on out, they will get their demo reminder notifications. If there is a few weeks period until their demo, you may want to add 1-2 more emails in here but don’t over do it.

Pre-Conference Outbound Email Campaign: If you have any way of reaching the attendees 2-3 days before the show, send an email that peaks their interest in stopping by your booth, but don’t make it all about you. Make the beginning of your email about the prospect, inquire if they have the pain that your product solves. If you are entering your second year or more of sponsoring this show; ensure you do a campaign for any leads that didn’t close the prior year. Ask them to swing by and get some branded swag, learn about new product updates and catch up. Don’t mention your show special; sell them at the booth, keep it light, then you can work it in person.  If you are attending a user conference as Inbound is; you can also use datanyze or your past outbound email history to email all hubspot users and let them know you’ll be at the show and provide some insight into product updates etc. You can even try to set up appointments with these targets. We scheduled 2-3 appointments before the show even started it’s called setting the tone baby!

Swag: attendees love swag, be creative, stand out and have fun with it. Be conscious of the environment, don’t over order, but do consider upcoming shows you have and order appropriately. It breaks my heart when shows wind down and you see left over swag that could fill a bottomless landfill.  I have 3 theory’s on swag.

  • Swag Theory 1: the walking billboard theory, give swag away people want to wear while they are at the show. Examples would be branded plastic wayfarer’s, branded knitted stocking caps, headbands or whatever else is trending in pop culture.
  • Swag Theory 2: VIP reserve, really cool swag for key opportunities only for attendees who schedule a demo or if they show up for the demo, mail it to them later on. I’m talking bad ass hoodies, umbrellas, higher quality beanies or t-shirts etc. 
  • Swag Theory 3: functional swag, stuff people will actually use every day, mints, breath-spray, chapstick, notepads, if you do pens make them higher quality pens. People like functional and they’ll see your logo frequently, top of mind, top of funnel.

Set Measurable Goals: if it’s your first year; set an attainable yet firm goal for your team on demo’s booked. If it’s your second year (+) you better be improving your process from year #1, definitely raise expectations on goals by 20%-50%. This year we set a goal of 40 qualified demos scheduled, it was slightly lofty, but we hustled and hit 41 demos. I was so proud of the team and it’s so fun to achieve things together. Clear goals will set the tone, keep the team competitive and drive the best result possible. You can also set a closed business / net new customer adds goal. Keep in mind some demo’s set won’t show and some won’t be as qualified as you thought. If you can close 20%-30% of your show leads within 90 days. That’s acceptable. 

Phase II: Showtime

The Good News: you’ve done the heavy lifting. You’re video loop speaks to attendees from afar, drawing them in to your engineered web of excellence. Your mini pitch and qualifying questions are efficient, the team understands competitive advantages and disadvantages. Your show promo script and demo scheduling forms are ready, plus you have a drip sequence in place to keep leads warm after they leave the bosom of your booth. Strong preparation will always pay off, now it’s showtime. 

Systems Check: find your booth, get laptops connected to wifi, make sure your AV units are working, your video loop works, pass a test lead through your demo scheduler form and ensure you get the proper notifications. I also suggesting starting a slack room specifically for the conference, put all your digital assets in here for easy access to all team members. (promo landing page, demo forms, video link etc).

Floor Plan: understand where your booth is located vs. your competitors, I also encourage introducing yourself to your competitors, friends close enemy’s closer. See if they’re doing anything operationally that will put you at a disadvantage, react accordingly. Identify the quickest routes through the conference hall, where food is located, restrooms etc. I also like to walk the whole sponsor hall and identify any trends, potential partners you can bring back to business development and or any softwares you want to learn more about. Check out what swag sponsors have out there, any good ideas you can steal for future shows etc. Introduce yourself to your neighboring sponsors, ask them how they are set up operationally. See if they thought of something you didn’t, optimize immediately.

Team Schedule: This is a long week; the inbound show for example is basically 8am – 8pm everyday. I suggest the following scheduling considerations (1) Stagger mornings: the first hour of the morning is always crickets. Have a different team member take morning shift every morning and stagger people in. But never sacrifice lead opportunities. (2) Lunch: if possible give folks 30 minutes to an hour of lunch time. They can catch up on emails, stretch, eat and recalibrate. (3)Workout: I believe in keeping a disciplined fitness routine when traveling. Provide a rotating hour for working out during downtimes. (4) High Volume Traffic: everyone needs to know the likely high volume times where it’s all hands on deck.

Friendly Competition: set up friendly competition on the number of qualified demo’s booked. Us sales people take a lot of pride in being on top, it raises all around performance.  Every time you book a demo and their aren’t prospects around, definitely gloat to your team mates 😉

Charming Neutral Traffic: I don’t believe in being overly aggressive in initializing conversations. Your video, branding and display should be enough to at least draw a long look. However, I do believe engaging with what I call “neutral traffic.” These are folks showing a minimal interest level via eye contact and body language. For neutral zoners, I suggest starting off with a an ice breaker over a hard pitch. Be observant, maybe they have a cool necklace or phone case. Be genuine, complimentary or simply ask them what the most actionable takeaway at the show has been thus far?

Scheduling Demo’s: via your qualifying script, you can now easily identify solid prospects. Time to pitch your show promo and get the demo scheduled. Your team members have your calendly links pulled up on mobile. A few important notes here. (1) Don’t schedule any demos for the first 2-3 days of the following week, your show rate will be less than 25% – learned this one the hard way. (2) Cater to the prospects schedule, not yours. (3) You maybe talking to international prospects, have a timezone converter on hand. (4) Once a date and time is identified, fill out the form for the attendee, when the fields are complete, show the attendee to verify accuracy. (5) Ensure they get the demo schedule confirmation email right away. (6) Summarize by scheduling the demo they qualify for the show promo and you look forward to talking to them.

Recap Daily Results: review your results through the day and always recap the days final tally. How are you trending against your goal, what do you project for tomorrow? Also discuss any market or conversation trends you saw, you are guaranteed to find common traits and trends to capitalize on. Your having hundreds of conversations, that’s important data, don’t keep it a secret, share and optimize in real time. 

Look for Optimization: maybe your sponsoring neighbors are doing something you didn’t think about, ask them about it, if they aren’t your competitors they’ll share it with you. Neighboring booths have an unspoken bond of brother and sisterhood. Implement optimizations on the fly every day. 

Engage Other Sponsors: talk to other sponsors, especially if your counterpart title is at the show. I spent about 30 minutes talking with Jared Fuller, VP of sales at Panda Doc. He had some really great insights into channel partnerships. I’ve never built a channel partnership before. Being that Panda Doc is a point solution and Leadpages is a point solution as well, I feel I have some actionable takeaways to discover that could open up a new revenue channel. It was also cool to talk to someone who writes all of the outbound cold email email copy for his team. Keep your mind open, ask questions, you aren’t the best at everything.

Celebrate Nightly: your team is working their ass off, on their feet for 12 hours, being persuasive, listening intensely, thinking creatively, having fun, getting rejected frequently if they’re doing their job. Show your team you appreciate them, take them out for yummy num-numz and tasty libations. But never sacrifice the results of the show for your own agenda, have fun, but don’t cross the line, if you look and feel like shit, nobody wants to schedule a demo with you and you’re failing your team too, not cool, man, not cool.


Phase 3: Post Conference 

Back at HQ: the team is back at home base, share fun memories of the week, talk about everyones deliverables. Ensure your show pipeline dashboards are set up and you have everything you need. Share your newly learned market insights and results with the right stakeholders in your organization. 

Demo Show Rate: demo’s scheduled at the conference will have up to a 30% lower shower rate than your routine demo’s. You’ve done what you can to keep leads warm until their demo with your follow up sequence. For folks that don’t show, you need to get them rescheduled or de-qualify them.

Demo, Qualify, Close: from here on out, the opportunities go through your normal sales process. The big difference being that most of these poppy’s will need to close before the promo deadline. I found that the first batch of low hanging fruit closes within 60 days, from there they kind of trickle in slowly. Review results with your team daily, provide urgency to get the ROI on these oppty’s.

Continue to Measure Against Your Goals: you hit your demo scheduled goal during the show, now you need to hit your converted sales goals. I suggest minimally set a goal of 25%-30% opportunity conversion in annual contract value within 90 days.

I hope you enjoyed this blueprint and it helps you crush your next trade show. A really special thank you to my team, you guys are really amazing people and very talented. Without you, I’m just a punk 😉 I’ll do a follow up post around at the 60 day mark and let you know where we stand on our converted opportunity goal.

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