Got 100 Customers? Believe It Or Not, It’s Time for Your First User Conference

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 5.30.26 PMLet me tell you, when I was figuring out this SaaS stuff, the last thing I wanted to do was a User Conference.  I mean, I got the whole Dreamforce thing.  Salesforce is a complex product, with (sometimes) long deployment cycles, professional services, dedicated admins, and all that.  But — hey — I was building something that was super easy to use, deploy, and implement.  Why spend 2 days talking about nothing?

Or so it seemed.

And I was 100%, completely, wrong.

Let’s talk about the 3-4 key reasons to have a user conference — force ranked:

  • Community.  By bringing your customers together, you’ll build on the attitudinal (vs. mere behavioral) loyalty you’ve worked so hard to create (More on the difference here).   Put your customers and your employees together, and not only will they share best practices and all that (see below, lower on the list) — but putting everyone in a room will reinforce how they made the right decision betting their careers on you.  Put them up on stage, and man — you’ve made a hero of them.
  • A face-to-face meeting builds 100x the relationship of a phone call.  I know you can close five and six figure deals on the phone.  Congrats on your well-oiled machine.  But you can’t build a relationship on the phone, not really.  Meet in person though — and you have 1-2 years on loyalty, provided you deliver on the product side.
  • A thank you — and a chance to have fun together.  I know the last thing as a founder that you want to do is breathe hotel air and get on the back of a coach ticket flight one more time than you have to.  But don’t forget, your customers often aren’t travelling nearly so much.  They may even really look forward to it.  This is especially important if your buyer is a mid-level manager, and not a VP.  How often does the Procurement Manager or HR Director get to go talk, speak, meet, dine, and fete at an event and in a community they are a part of?
  • Training, Best Practices, and all that.  Look, all this stuff sort of matters.  You can have a day, an hour, a session or 10 on best practices.  On how to use your product integrated in X, Y, Z.  That’s great.  But really, your CSM team and a few webinars could really do that.  So it’s not really the reason to have the user conference.  But you might as well.  It’s half the nominal reason to have one.

>> And I know it sounds expensive.  But it doesn’t have to be — at least not the first year or two.  You can’t look schlocky.  But you can start off with a small event, 50-100 folks.  Around lunch at first, if you want.

>> And I know you may think your product isn’t that complex.  Maybe not — but still do it.  Maybe you don’t really need all the Point 4 stuff — training.  I get that.  But your most dedicated customers will still want to come.  Share learnings and hero stories.  And build that community, if nothing else.

It’s OK if your User Conference sounds incredibly boring to anyone outside of your customer base.  I won’t be attending PinterestSelfServiceAds Con ’14 myself.  That’s OK.

Remember when someone in an enterprise bets some of their political capital, their career, on bringing your app into their company — they care.  A lot.

Show ‘em the love back.  Your User Conference if nothing else can just be a big Thank You.

It will reward itself 10x over, over the coming years.

webcontracts

7 comments

  1. Agree 100%, Jason.

    In fact, you don’t even have to wait for that return in the coming years–you can have it right now. Tell your salesforce each rep can bring 1 prospect account to the conference. They need to work with the VP of Sales, and go down the list so they get the most bang from that 1 buck. If the best choice can’t go, drop down until as many sales reps as possible have someone coming.

    The exposure of those prospects to live customers has an amazing effect on your close rate and can accelerate sales cycles out of all proportion to the cost. Just make sure the rep knows they’re there to talk to your real customers, not the sales rep. Their job is to act as host, introduce them far and wide, make sure they hear all the right stories, and make sure they have a good time.

    I have seen this tactic work so well that the company actual started thinking about regional sales conferences largely so more prospects could have a chance to talk to more real customers.

  2. Jason, I feel a bit lost, all my customers are not even close. I think I should do a conference if I had more than 100 customers in a “1000-km radius”, what do you think?

  3. I would do it if you can get even 20 customers to come. You can start very small.

  4. Adding a great comment on this post from Quora from Mark Thomas:

    Mark Thomas

    100% agree. We’ve held our RealTech Conference the past 2 years, and not only does it do everything that Jason mentioned above, but it also helps with the following:

    1) User acquisition — In addition to being a thank you for existing users of your product, other people within the industry will find out about the conference, they’ll wonder who is hosting it, and they’ll start using your product. The first conference we did in 2013 had 350 attendees, and the second one we did earlier this year had 500 attendees. I can tell you that not all of those attendees were Reesio customers before attending. But many converted afterwards :)

    2) Overall PR and branding — Holding a conference, especially if you get top speakers to speak at it, will give you street cred and others will begin to think of you as a thought leader within the industry. In our case, real estate is definitely a “club” where a lot of the top players have been the top players for a long time, and it can be tough to break into that mold and be taken seriously by some of those top players. By inviting the VP’s and CEO’s of some of those companies to come and speak in front of 500 peers in their industry, it not only puts you on their radar, but it also makes you a serious player in their eyes. Also, just the fact that you’re able to organize a conference (and hopefully speak at it yourself) shows that you’re made of “executive material”, and it was a big reason why we had a potential acquirer approach us recently about buying us,

    3) SEO and Social Media — Google the phrase “real estate technology”. The #1 result that comes up in all search results is our conference site! From there, we can get people to sign up, use our product, etc. Also, before, during, and after the conference, Twitter was blowing up with mentions of #RealTech2014 and our company Twitter handle. Holding a conference does wonders for your SEO and social media play.

    4) Can land you speaking slots at other conferences – So this one I messed up a little bit, because we didn’t video record the conference, and thus my keynote presentation was never available online for others to see afterwards. But people heard about it, and I’ve been asked to speak at other conferences since then, which again, just continues to help brand you as a thought leader, etc.

    5) It’s cheap – the conference in 2013, we broke even on the conference. 2014 cost us some money, but it actually set the stage for potentially making 2015 a PROFITABLE conference, because now we have a lot of sponsors who want to sponsor next year’s event. We can charge a premium for those sponsorship spots because of how many attendees we had and what we’re projecting for next year.

    I would slightly disagree with Bill McDonald about needing printed materials – because our product promotes being paperless within real estate, our entire conference was paperless (except for name badges). So we a little bit had to eat our own dog food, and it didn’t hurt us at all. But that also might depend on what industry you’re in.

  5. Hi Jason, what if you don’t have enterprise customers?

  6. Elias

    Can you give some kind of benchmark for what it costs to set something like this up for a first small 20 user event? What’s the minimum – $1000? $5000? $10000?

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