Conferences are like bad stand-up comedy acts. You are all excited when they announce the show and you go there with high expectations. In the end, you leave wondering if those two jokes that worked for you were worth the bomb you spent to go there.
Crossing 1500 miles to attend a conference is an even bigger risk. The RoI expectations are even higher. That’s why we always hesitate to go to conferences.
But, here’s the wisdom from our experience – Conferences work if you go after enterprises. You get to meet decision makers who are otherwise hard to catch hold of.
So, this year when the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition (IRCE) was announced, we knew we had to go.
PipeCandy generates leads for companies that sell to retail & e-commerce companies, using predictive modeling techniques. Or in a nutshell, Predictive lead generation. Logistics/fulfilment companies, e-commerce tech companies, and merchants are our customers. We knew there were going to be at least a thousand of them gathering there. That’s about 10% of our entire market in the US. It doesn’t get bigger than that.
When sales is an interruption
The audience and scale lined up very well. And of course, Chicago at this time of the year is a good reason too 😛
But, there was one problem.
Our prospects would be there to sell to their prospects (e-commerce companies). Anytime we catch a prospect for a conversation, we are preventing them from doing what they came there for – sell to their prospects. We will be an interruption.
There we stand, interrupting a ‘face-to-face’ opportunity for our prospects to sell to their prospects. As if cold emails and cold calls weren’t enough!
We have to pitch our product, right?
Risk was all over the place in a huge font size staring right at us.
How do we get them to love us without being seen as an interruption? How do we make them drop their selling and start buying from us instead? These questions led us to an idea – the hack that got us over 120 meetings in two and a half days.
The secret sauce
I was a bit unsure about spilling the beans on what worked for us. I mean, aren’t we supposed to milk the idea before copycats emerge? But then, several of our prospects already told that they are going to steal our idea anyway. Besides, good ideas never run out of steam. They grow better and better.
Here’s what we did
We rummaged through the internet for every detail we could get on the conference exhibitors and participants.
We started late – about a week before the conference.
In the hindsight, that proved to be a mistake. We could identify about 580 prospects but could effectively touch only 150 of them.
We went through each of their websites and understood what they were selling and how data could help them sell better.
For example, an e-commerce fulfilment company would like to know which e-commerce company ships what kind of SKUs and what their monthly shipping volume would be – the kind of data no one except PipeCandy provides.
A team of four took turns over weekends and midnights to write very customized pitches to about 120 of these prospects. We could’ve done more, had we started earlier.
Then, we looped in our design team to think of a good way to present these pitches. The obvious idea was to print leaflets and hand them over to our prospects. Mostly because leaflets are easy to design and everyone understood them. But, there was a problem. Everyone gives multi-fold leaflets at a conference. We had to stand out. Also, there is paper fatigue that we need to fight. Besides, brochures are long overdone.
And then it dawned on us – Greeting Cards! What could be more personal and warm than a greeting card? Our design team elevated the thought by manually assembling logos of each one of those 120 prospects. Then, they made a very minimal & yet classy greeting card, which opens with a ‘Hello Logo’.
It wasn’t about us
We made a conscious choice to not talk about us for as long as we can avoid. When the card is opened, it talks to our prospects about them. We talked about how they could sell better if they have the right data about their prospects. The data they currently lack. We painted a picture of how they could sell better with the right prospect data. As they closed the card, the back flap had a short pitch about what PipeCandy does. Again, the pitch wasn’t about our glory but what it meant for the sales reps on the ground.
Did it work?
Well, what do you think?
Of course, it did!
But, how well did it work?
Every stopover at a booth or a handshake along the hallway in a conference is, let’s admit it, very awkward. When our prospects ask “So, are you an e-commerce company?” (hoping to sell to us) we had to do say “No! In fact, we are here to sell to you”. Awkwardness escalated to a whole new level.
The greeting card helped us deflect this awkward moment and replace it with an ‘aww’ moment.
We’d simply say, “No, we aren’t an e-commerce company. We are a data science company. But instead of us talking about it, we made a card for you. You should take a look at this”. Then the ‘aww’ starts, every single time. So, from being an interruption, we became this cutesy team that thought about them.
Here are a few things we heard after giving out our cards
- “This is how you do account-based marketing!” – One gentleman to his team
- “How did you know we were going to be here?” – Several of them
- “This is a very nice touch!” – All of them
- “So, how much did it cost you and how did you go about this?” – A prospect after a couple of minutes of beating about the bush
- “We’re definitely going to use this idea!” – Many of them
- “I’m quite disappointed you didn’t print me one” (in a light tone, obviously) – an unidentified prospect who was sharing his booth with one of our prospects
- “I’ll make sure it reaches the right person for the effort you’ve put!” – Those who weren’t the right people. (This is the moment where leaflets go to the graveyard whereas our greeting cards safely travel from hands to hands until it reaches the right person. They did and we’ve started getting replies!)
Why did it work?
Each card talked to the recipient. It talked about how they could sell better with the data that PipeCandy would provide about their prospects. We highlighted only the data that would be relevant to the prospect.
In most cases, as our prospect read through the card, they’d nod a couple of times and they were at their listening best. We could then top the experience with pointed questions or pitches that sealed the deal (or at least the next meeting) for us.
What’s been your post-conference experience? Follow-ups, reminders, gentle reminders, kind reminders, and more reminders? Yes, that can’t be avoided.
But, we have started receiving a handful of inbound inquiries asking to schedule a conversation. Yes, a prospect asking if we can continue selling.
If you like how we went about hacking a conference, spread the word on your Facebook and Twitter feeds. Of course, tell your friends about PipeCandy. We can do with some customers and new hires! 🙂