This past week, I manned my first ever booth at a conference to promote our startup. Although I have been to plenty of conferences before, this was the first time I was on the other side of the table. I learned a lot from attending this event, and over the next several weeks I will write about things that I did that worked really well along with some lessons learned, but to start off, here are three things that a startup can gain from having a booth at a conference.
1. Warm Leads
The best thing for any startup is to close a sale. However, this is a little unrealistic to do at a booth at a conference. Have you ever purchased anything at a conference? People attend them to connect with peers they haven’t seen in a while, to hear people talk in sessions about current projects and to look for future trends and opportunities in their industry. Very few people go to conferences to buy.
This is disheartening for a bootstrapped startup to hear because having a booth at a conference is very expensive. As you evaluate whether to attend a conference, I’m sure you will have a conversation along these lines:
“Ok, so the total cost of the exhibition booth, marketing materials and travel is going to be $2,000, and since we sell our product for $200 dollars all we need to get is 10 customers. If you think we can get 10 customers, let’s do this!”
Unless you are selling the prototype of the iPhone 5, you will never get 10 customers. However, you will get leads in many different flavors: hot, warm, lukewarm and cold. After moving from a technical project management role to a marketing role here at Rackspace, I have learned about the importance of nurturing different types of leads in different ways. Make sure that you end each day by categorizing your leads so you don’t forget what kind each are.
Whether a hot or cold lead, having connected with someone in person will make it easier to have a conversation with him or her about your product in the near future. While you might not get 10 customers on the exhibition floor, you will get plenty of leads to nurture into customers down the line.
2. Industry Insight
You might be starting up a business in an industry that you feel needs to be disrupted, however, this industry could be foreign to you. Conferences are a great way to get insight into an industry, which can help you modify your pitch and value proposition. This was the case for me.
Being at this conference gave me a wealth of information about the people and roles within an industry that I have limited experience with. Additionally, I got to find out some of the nuts and bolts of how things work and how to better position my service. I found out information that will help in overcoming some perceived challenges, along with unearthing some issues with my service that I had not originally considered. Whether you are talking to people at your booth, visiting with other vendors, attending conference sessions or just overhearing conversation in the lunch line, being in the same physical space as your target audience will give you more context to an industry you may be unfamiliar with.
3. Validation And Feature Requests
You have been working on your software for months or years, and have been developing features that you think your users need. If you are lucky, you may have some active beta users who give you frequent feedback on what they like and dislike about your product. Regardless, there have been limited eyeballs on your product. Demoing your software at a conference completely changes this.
If your software is compelling for your audience, you will begin getting questions asking whether your product has certain features. While it will certainly not have everything that is requested, you can validate if the core functionality of your software meets the majority of requests. Furthermore, you will get feature requests from people with real problems from inside the industry; this tangible feedback is really important in further defining what issues your product and service can solve.
Starting Up (Is Hard to Do) is a weekly series published every Friday on the Rackspace Blog from a guy who is in the trenches of starting up a business while working a day job. Check out Garrett’s previous post that talked about the perils of positive feedback.