Event planning dos and don’ts: What we learned from SaaStr Annual
February 27, 2019
Event planning is no joke. We just attended our first major conference earlier this month, SaaStr Annual in San Jose. Such an amazing show!
We’re grateful to declare it a success, but we definitely learned some valuable lessons along the way.
We cover them in 3 areas:
- Pre-event planning
- During the show
- Post-event follow-up
1) Event planning, pre-show
Obviously the lion’s share of the work takes place at this stage, so organization and pacing yourself is key!
If you’re planning as a team, create a shared Google doc or leverage a project management tool to keep track of key deadlines & deliverables.
We used a simple Google doc and worked backwards on important timelines.
Note when your branded swag needed to be delivered, booth graphics deadlines, forms that needed to be filled out, etc.
Also keep in mind who you’d like to attend, costs of airfare and lodging, etc. For big events, accommodations fill up rapidly so it’s best to act quickly.
We ran outbound marketing drips to the sponsors who were attending. Depending on some sponsorship packages, you might even get a pre-conference list of attending companies.
This was a very manual process in our case, as SaaStr did not provide any lists at the Gold sponsorship level (no knock against them — they’re amazing).
Our marketing team took to their sponsors page, added the accounts into Salesforce, and prospected via LinkedIn & other tools to find key contacts.
If you do get a list, set your SDR team to work adding contacts and reaching out to set up appointments at the show.
We’re in the process of hiring our first SDR, so this task fell to marketing.
It consumed a decent chunk of time but drummed up a couple appointments before the show began. Plus, a few more prospects mentioned our emails when they swung by, proving positive impact!
Another important do: Swag
You’re missing a key event planning ingredient if you forget about or skimp on your branded swag. Don’t overly rely on stress balls and pens.
With a little creativity, you can bring unique items that drive more traffic and generate buzz for your booth.
We ran a team brainstorm and decided to bring a mix of promotional products, ranging in price, for various purposes.
On the high-end, we brought 100 of these sleek water bottles, the lids of which double as bluetooth speakers.
We also brought 400 t-shirts and 50 pairs of socks (don’t hate — event goers love socks for whatever reason).
A side note on saving tons of time on t-shirts
We used Printfection’s own Event Packing feature for SaaStr Annual.
When you select this feature in our platform, our fulfillment center neatly “burrito-rolls” your shirts and labels them with little rubber bands for size and gender.
Here’s how they arrived at the conference:
Once at the show, you simply pull them out of the box and place them neatly on display.
This saved us at least 3-4 hours of time and a boatload of stress.
For our lower-priced items, we brought 150 branded lip balms and 400 “tech enchiladas.” These organizers keep your cords neatly wrapped and tidy.
Lastly, we brought a massive 4’ by 6’ Plinko board which we used to drive more attendees to our booth and keep them engaged in a fun way.
Some don’ts: (things that didn’t go so well)
Given we underwent a partial rebrand right before the show, we were unable to update our solution sheets.
Attendees frequently asked us for such information, and t’was a shame we couldn’t supply them with anything. Next time!
We also would have loved to start the drip a good 6 weeks ahead of the show, before the true deluge began. We executed about 4 weeks prior.
Response rates were OK, but we likely got lost in the fray of everyone else’s pre-event emails.
2) During the event: what worked and what flopped
Let’s start with the failure here: the tech enchiladas. Attendees had no idea what they were, and we struggled to give them away.
That’s not to say they couldn’t work for smaller gatherings or other use cases; we just felt they lacked the oomph factor for a large trade show.
The lip balm, on the other hand? Gone by the end of the second day.
Makes sense — when you converse copiously at an event, your lips are bound to get chapped.
While hardly a unique item, lip balm is highly useful and portable, so it makes a great mass-giveaway item.
The Plinko board – both winner and loser
Our biggest event planning blunder of the whole show was also quite successful.
The Plinko board dominated the side of our booth and engaged many an attendee.
But there’s one important reason why we stuck it on the side: we had to.
The vast face of the board entirely dominated our 10’ by 10’ space.
When we placed the behemoth front and center, it eclipsed virtually all our branding behind it and made the booth feel cut off and unapproachable.
So don’t forget to consider your space in all dimensions when considering a larger booth traffic generating item!
We have Plinko boards available in smaller sizes and would highly recommend them.
Clear swag winners
Our water bottles, whiskey stones, wireless charging pads, and socks were all in high-demand, and we blew through nearly all of them.
Several attendees came to the booth specifically inquiring about the bottles they had seen floating around – and that’s exactly what you want from your event swag!
We saved the bottles for key prospects and customers, wherever possible, and offered the wireless charging pads and whiskey stones as midrange gifts.
Attendees could also receive them as their prize for playing Plinko.
A note on your booth staff
Carefully choose which employees you send to a show. You want your colleagues to spread out, smile, and be approachable.
It’s great if they get along, but if your team wastes time chatting with one another in a closed-off circle, you’re guaranteed to lose out on leads.
Make sure you have enough staff at the booth, and encourage them to practice your company elevator pitch.
SaaStr Annual attracts as many as 8,000-10,000 attendees, and even with 5 of us at the main booth, we had a line forming in a few instances.
3) Post-show event planning
Obviously you want to capitalize on all that hard work. Don’t rest on your laurels!
Immediately following the show, we exported all our leads into a spreadsheet, grouped by hot, warm, and cold.
Many of the leads had comments which we had entered when scanning them.
We prioritized the ones with good comments such as ‘wants a demo’ or ‘looking to buy swag for next event,’ and our sales team took those for immediate, tailored follow-up.
Our marketing team combed through the warms and colds, moving ones that were marked incorrectly to hot for sales follow-up.
Then, we put the rest into automated outbound email sequences we developed appearing to come from our sales team.
We leveraged a sequence for warms which pushed for a demo/call more aggressively, and one for colds which took a more educational, longer-term approach.
We were able to drum up another 15-20 calls in two weeks from this strategy.
We’re running a Giveaway campaign to all the warms as well to encourage them to hop on the phone with us.
Event planning summary
In the end, event planning requires a ton of work before, during, and after the trade show, but just remember these do’s and don’ts:
- Conduct outreach prior to the event to set appointments. If you’re fortunate enough to acquire an attendee list beforehand, use it. If not, leverage the sponsor page if they fit your target demographic
- Bring a variety of swag items geared for different audiences / goals. High-end goods for meetings with key accounts, midrange for warm leads, and low-end for cold leads and/or driving general traffic
- Consider bringing a large traffic-boosting engagement item, like our Plinko board (but note the cons below)
- Ensure you bring the right team players who will engage prospects. Make sure everyone practices your elevator pitch as well
- Bring cheap swag no one understands. Make sure it’s useful.
- Let your team chat within a closed-off circle
- Understaff your booth. It’s tempting to cut costs, but you should really have folks from multiple departments like Marketing, Sales, Ops, and Customer Success at your show
- Forget to consider the dimensions of your booth when pondering larger items to bring, like piñatas, spin-the-wheel games, or Plinko boards
- Delay on immediate, thoughtful follow-up on all leads. This can take more time than expected, so plan this ahead of the event
We wish you the most success with planning your next trade show — and if you want help making a splash with your swag, please contact us!
What event planning tips would you recommend? What event planning successes or mistakes have you experienced?
Please share in the comments!