Big industry events are an excellent opportunity for smaller companies, especially services companies, to get their name heard. However, these big investments for small companies shall not be taken lightly. In our experience, it is money well spent if you ensure your reason to make the investment aligns with your business goals, your event goals are measurable and clear, and you are willing to take the time to not just attend but prepare and follow up afterwards. AWS re:Invent is definitely a good example of an industry event where a lot can be achieved with the right mindset and investment.
The founding team of Vixul was at the forefront of the AWS ecosystem for many years before we decided to start Vixul. We learned a lot of lessons in that journey and one of them was how to organize our efforts around attending AWS re:Invent to get the most out of it. Our strategy changed from year to year, depending on our needs and goals. We learned each year and also got better over the years.
Following are the 10-steps we consistently found very helpful in our journey.
1. Start with the why - pick one or two
Any planning activity should start with the why. You need to be clear about the reasons you are attending. Some of the common reasons may be: to find new customers, build new contacts with AWS personnel, re-establish contact with your past customers, strengthen relationships with existing customers, meet with AWS product teams to give or receive briefings, etc. Pick your reasons. Do not pick too many as it will defocus you. Picking the top 2-3 is enough. Pick based on what your business needs the most. Scribe down this ‘why’ and keep reminding yourself and your team about it.
2. Set some goals
For the reasons you have picked, define what success looks like. For example, if you picked your reason as to get new leads, set a target to say find we will come back with 20 new customer contacts. If the reason to go is to build relations with AWS personnel, set a target to meet say 10 new people. In addition to creating the goal, ensure that you define how you will track this goal on a day to day basis to know whether you are succeeding or failing. These goals should also take into account the investment you will be undertaking, paying for all of the travel, lodging, passes, and food. Ensure you have high ROI.
3. Make a list of your stakeholders that may be attending and confirm who is attending
Typically, at a conference like re:Invent, you want to meet partners, and customers. Partners here can include AWS personnel but also other consulting and SaaS partners that you have already done business or are interested in learning more about. Customers here can include past customers or those you may be in conversations with already or want to start a conversation. We recommend culling this list of individuals that you would like to meet using the goals you set for yourself - asking if this meeting will help you or not in getting to your goals. Once you have a list, build some templates and get to emails/LinkedIn to find out which of these people on your list are actually trending. We recommend creating a mini-CRM here to track all communications and their status.
4. Schedule time with your current customers and any potential customers first
As you hear back from people that they are attending, start scheduling meetings. It is wise to not schedule meetings that overlap with keynotes (these get canceled 80% of the time). You may have to leave the meeting spot as TBD for now, unless you have a booth. We will not get into the discussion about the booth in this blog, that is a long and situational decision. Happy to chat more and share our framework if you want to discuss this.
Try to schedule meetings with some gaps in between to allow yourself or people to walk to the meeting spot. It is critical to get everyone's cell phone numbers or you will not be able to find them.
5. Make a final list of who is attending from your team
Based on the goals and the meetings that goal set, finalize who should be attending from your team. Note that most conferences allow passes to be transferred, so do not hesitate to change the list of attendees based on any new information or goals you may have added. You should err towards buying a couple of extra passes if your budget can support it as well. We frequently had customers asking if we had any extra that they could use from us. You can also give passes to key customers/prospects on the fence to get that meeting time with them. If the passes have run out, in our experience it is possible to find extra passes as many people who bought a pass but cannot make it may be selling on sites like eBay, Craigslist, etc. Do your best to maximize your investment and take the group of folks who will provide the highest ROI.
6. Assign roles
Different members of your team can have different roles to play. Some may walk the floor looking for just good conversations, hoping to find some potential contacts. Others may need to be in structured meetings. The key is to have a plan for everyone and also set goals for everyone. Daily goals work best, as you will see below.
Create a tentative plan and schedule for everyone. Any meetings they need to be on should be on their calendar. Just like external, make sure you have handy the cell numbers of all of the team members who are attending and request them to keep phones handy. A pro tip: if you have internal team members attending, buy them local sim cards and have them ready to put in their phones as soon as they land. It really simplifies collaborative coordination. Also, as old-fashioned as it may be, everyone should carry business cards, even if the business cards are generic corporate business cards. Also make sure to include website/LinkedIn QR codes on the business card.
7. Prepare the elevator pitch and prepare each team member
Your team needs to be prepared so that they are not fumbling. Develop some scenarios and have them all prepare the elevator pitches. They need to have strong, consistent answers to questions like ‘what do you guys do?’ ‘what is your role at the job?’ ‘what kind of customers do you work with?’ ‘what is the best way to engage you?’ ‘what is a typical project for you?’. There are about a dozen or so questions that you must have at the ready, and answers not just written but practically memorized so no opportunity is missed.
8. Prepare a take away you can sell
A typical hallway conversation at re:Invent or similar conferences ends with either a ‘see you around’ or at best an exchange of contact information. You should give your team a next step. And, it has to be a simple next step. For example, at Flux7, we started creating demos and have them ready to present in our hospitality suite setup in the same hotel as the conference. If the customer showed interest, we would immediately offer them a demo. It can also be an invite to a conference talk one your teammates is giving, an invite to a dinner event, etc. Be creative, but do not miss this step to engage once more before you leave the conference venue.
9. Order Swag
Simple advertising still works. Giving each of your team members some of your swag to wear/use at a conference can be very valuable. I still recall in 2018 TurBot team all wore bright yellow T-shirts and ate lunch together at the venetian cafe. That is how I know Turbot and still remember them. I have mentioned them in at least a dozen conversations. This simple step can make you look a little more organized and amplifies your voice.
10. Setup a daily meeting time with your team
You have goals assigned to everyone. A quick 15 minute daily standup, at the start of the day, can be very effective at ensuring everyone is progressing and working in the same direction. It also allows you to adjust the plans, if needed, to help with the goals.
Lastly, just have fun. Conferences are also a great opportunity to spend time with your own teammates. You will need travel, passes, hotel rooms, and rides for everyone on your team, so spend some time preparing the logistics.