A few months ago, we made the bold decision to become sponsors of SaaStr Europa, the second-biggest SaaS (software as a service) conference in Europe (after SaaStock). SaaStr Europa is a two-day event in Paris, and it took place last week with over 1,000 attendees and focused exclusively on SaaS. Though this was the first year of SaaStr Europa, the organizers have a known track record for organizing the biggest SaaS conference in the world, SaaStr Annual, which is held in the Bay Area in the US. They also write a famous blog about SaaS that we read ourselves and can recommend to anyone building their own SaaS project.
By becoming a sponsor, we got a booth at SaaStr Europa, where our team introduced a new version of Smartlook with event tracking and funnels, along with the Beta of our SDKs for native mobile app analytics. Lots of cool new things. And as this was our first sponsorship of a major European conference, we decided to sum up our key takeaways and tips for other startups that decide to visit or sponsor a major conference in Europe.
Is it a good investment to sponsor a conference or buy a booth?
A few years ago, we would have probably said no. But as we grow, we start to recognize the added value of having a booth at an event or conference in our industry vertical. The added value could be split into four segments:
- Keeping a pulse on your particular market — in our case, which products companies are using for website and mobile analytics, and how
- Branding — getting our name and ideas and voice out there
- Acquiring new customers — SaaS is one of our biggest customer groups
- Meeting existing customers — building relationships is key
So the answer is: It depends. If your main goal is branding, then it’s definitely useful to sponsor an event in your industry. If your goal is to do direct sales, then it’s best to buy a booth at one or two events and evaluate whether that style of customer acquisition works for you.
Tech events, especially SaaS ones, are also a good starting point for fundraising. There are a lot of VC investors on the spot, including principals and partners (decision makers in the fund) that you can approach. Though catching their interest among hundreds of other startups is not easy, it’s way more effective than cold emailing.
How do you get the most out of your booth?
Three things. First, increase the visibility of your booth by any means necessary. Rent an LCD display (sometimes it’s offered as an upgrade). Inquire if the organizer provides you with branded materials (table, tablecloth, turnkey booth, etc.). Are they black and white or color? Upgrade to color print if it’s not included by default. Bring two roll-ups instead of one. Have a contest. Showcase a success story of a customer using your product. If the customer is present at the event, even better.
Pick the right booth spot — one close to the flow of attendees. Choosing a booth is usually on a first-come, first-served basis, so be sure to respond quickly to emails from the event organizer. Ask when the booth selection starts, if unclear. We got a spot next to the main corridor where people were coming in and out of presentation halls. Thanks to this, we got way more traffic than other booths.
Differentiate yourself! We brought our own homemade Slivovica, a regional alcoholic beverage, and offered shots in the late afternoon, which brought us a lot of attention and sparked a blaze of networking at our booth. Thanks to our good spot and Slivovica, I think we might have been the most visited booth at the conference (with the cheapest sponsorship package).
Second, preparation is key. Prepare a demo of your product. It says a lot. Practice your product pitch with your entire team ahead of the conference. Highlight the key features that differentiate you from your major competitors (and for each major competitor separately). What we found is that the majority of attendees knew our competitors, so it’s super useful to prepare specific pitches or know the differentiators to each major product in your market.
Most conferences today have an app where you can directly message all attendees. Set up meetings with companies that might like your product ahead of time on the app. Once the person sets up a meeting with you, they are willing to pay much more attention and time to talk to you. Engage in networking to get new insights and meet people who are doing the same.
And lastly, bring your founders or senior people from your team. A lot of large companies don’t do this; they just send sales and marketing people because they do hundreds of events a year. In general, people are much more interested in speaking with a founder or product person than with marketing or sales guys.
That’s it! If you wanna know more about our SaaStr experience, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org