How to achieve positive ROI from a Conference (& be the best hustler in the room)

I sit on a high speed train, hugging the side of Lake Geneva Switzerland – as I make my way on back to the airport from The Festival of Media Global Conference where I spent the last few days.

It’s been a productive few days. Our company won the Hot Company of The Year award, but most importantly – I successfully connected with almost every influential person in the conference that was relevant to my business.

They know about our startup and I have their contact details with a clear action to follow up with them when I return home. I’m confident some business deals will come as a result of this. However this was not down to chance – I fully knew that I would meet every person I wanted to before I even arrived to the conference.

But last night I realized that not everyone receives, or expects these results for attending conferences.

Last night after the awards ceremony, I was speaking to one of the other startup founders who we were competing with for Hot Company of the Year award – let’s call him Joel. He told me:

‘Conferences are largely a waste of time anyway, the real business only gets done late at night at the bar when people are getting drunk. This gives you a chance to connect with people at a human level – and if you connect with someone – then this can result in business. The daytime part of the conference is largely a waste of time – and my other startup founder friends feel the same.’

I had to tell him straight: I couldn’t disagree more. I continued:

‘When I decide to go to a conference – I expect nothing less than a 10x return on the investment/cost of the conference (flights, tickets, expenses etc etc). Coming from a User Acquisition marketing background – I see conferences as a marketing channel, and like any marketing channel you have to see a positive ROI if you’re going to do it.’

Joel looked at me skeptically.

So I explained to him exactly what I do that pretty much guarantees that I meet every person at the conference who I wish to meet, resulting in follow up meetings when I return after the conferences – and inevitably to some real business. It’s all about the hustle.

Joel had never heard of such an approach, and although I initially thought everyone woul do what I do – last night it became clear that 99% of people do not.

Joel’s response was to offer me a job.

What I’m about to share with you – will put you into the top 1% of hustlers at the conference (I’ve asked high profile people how many reachouts do they usually get before a conference – and they answered 2 -3). This will put you in control of meeting every person you want to at any conference.

Note: The process I’m about it share with you isn’t rocket science, but does require some balls & hard work. If you’re too shy to reach out to people you don’t know, don’t like rejection, or consider conference as a bit of a jolly – I recommend you get someone in your team who does have balls/hustle to go to the conference with or instead of you for the sake of your business.

For example – I was at a conference a few months ago that I was told I was the subject of the conversation in the speakers room – someone had mentioned ‘this startup guy is trying to meet me’, an the other speakers confirmed that I had also contacted them. When I met the guy in question – he didn’t mind at all. He said he actually respected me more for it.

Ready? Ok let’s go…..

As a marketer – you should analyze all marketing expenses to see if it achieved a positive return on investment (ROI). You should see conferences as a marketing channel like any other. Unless you believe you can achieve a positive ROI (earn more money from business resulting from attending the conference than it cost you to attend). A positive ROI should be a minimum.

When deciding to go to a conference – I expect to earn a 10x return on investment. SO if it costs us $2,000 to attend a conference (very realistic if you’re travelling out of your continent), unless we believe we can earn a minimum of $20,000 from it, we won’t do it.

But what if you want to go to a conference to ‘learn’ or ‘get inspired’? My rule:

If you’re going to the conference ‘to learn stuff’ or ‘it’s where everyone else is going’, then by all means go – but you should pay for it out of your own pocket (note – this is for commercial based conferences, I see other value in tech conferences for developers, which I’m not speaking about here)

Your startup should only pay for you to go to a conference if you believe you will earn a 10x ROI from going to the conference.

But how do you know if you’ve achieved a 10x ROI?

Well you apply the same principles as you would with any marketing campaign – you track the results.

The way that conferences differ than most marketing channels is that the results are almost never instantaneous. Most of the connections and relationships you form at conferences can talk some time (up to 6 months) to come to fruition – and sometimes from unlikely sources.

Take my trip to Dublin Web Summit last year for example. All in, with flights and conference ticket it cost us about $750 (£500). It wasn’t obvious at the time what the direct result was, however 6 months later I look back, and we raised a total of $25,000 from people I met at the conference (it could have been 3 times this but we had to turn down a lot of money that was offered to us).

We’re also developing a key new product with another company I met at the same conference – which may result in revenue many many times the above.

In short: that’s not bad ROI.

So how do I achieve these results? I do the following process everytime:

1) I research well in advance of the conference of all the people who I most want to meet (potential clients, commercial partners etc etc)

How do I know who is attending the conference? Easy – you know in the following ways:

Speaker list: Typically most of the more influential people attending conferences will be speaking at the event. Most conferences publish the full speaker list on their website. Now you know

Delegate list: Some (not all) conferences will share the full delegate list with you. This is not typically standard, or published on the website. Email the organisers to request this (has worked for me – you don’t ask you don’t get), OR if they’re using Eventbrite etc – very commonly the list of attendees is listed on the registration page

Conference App/Social Network: Most conferences have it’s own app or social network these days. These usually have a list of attendees in the app somewhere – which allows you to search/connect/contact them

Twitter Hashtags: People attending conferences usually begin sending some tweets with the conference hashtag in the days prior, and during, the conference

2) After spending some time researching the attendees 

I make a shortlist of the people I want to meet. This is pretty self explanatory – simply depends on your business goals

3) I find the contact details of the people I want to meet.

To maximize the potenitial of them responding to me, and hence positive results, I want to find the following contact details (in order of priority)

A – Email address. I will share how I find out the emails addresses of anyone I want to (and you can too), in my next blog post. This gets me approx. 70% of contact details for people I want to connect with. If I cannot find their email address, then look for…..

B – Linkedin: I pay for a premium account – this allows me to contact people via sending ‘inmails’ (note these are good, but not as good as having the actual email address – hence why we try emails first)

C- Twitter: A third option. I’ve had limited success with this

4) You send them an email message in advance of the conference

(4 days in advance is the ‘perfect’ time) requesting a meetup.

These people will likely be influential and will have never heard from you as you’re a startup founder. However the great thing about conferences is that people go to these events to meet new people and see new ideas. And no matter how busy they normally are – when they’re a conference, they have to be there – and this inevitably means there’ll be time when they’re waiting around for stuff.

Most people are up for ‘giving back’ a little and will respect that you’ve been hungry enough to reach out.

The message you email them needs to do the following things:
A) Be non salesy (no one wants a pitch)
B) Be short (2 lines)
C) Peak their interest – like mentioned above, people want to see cool new stuff at conferences . You want intrigue them wnough so they see you as potentially cool new stuff

Here’s an example of a message I might send in advance:

Subject: [Insert Conference name]

Hi [insert name]

I’m [your role – to show you’re a biz owner, not a sales dude], we [very high overview o what you do]. We [benefit of what you do to the person you’re emailing].

We [something 3rd party validation that you guys could be the next big thing, and will peak the person’s intrigue]

Would you have [insert short time period, I like 10 mins], to meet at [insert conference name]. Know you’re super busy, so no problem if you don’t have time.

Howard xx (kisses optional 😉

Hi X

I’m a massive fan of Facebook and been a user from the start ☺, I’m co-founder of Future Ad Labs – a startup that has developed a very new type of ad format. We make websites incremental new revenue while also improving user experience for users.

We were awarded Hot Compny of the Year at The Festival of Media 2013, and have Global brands already signed up for our launch.

Would you have 10 mins in Montreux next week to get your feedback on our new product – hugely value your opinion, and we’d have a lot to learn from you.


5) When they respond (approx. 60% – 80% will)…..

you respond with a specific time and place to meet. Give them 3 options on times.

e.g. ‘That would be great, thanks. Would you be free to meet at 10am, 11am or 12pm on Tues morning by the Facebook stand? My number’s XXXXXX

6) Then you meet! I’ll cover how to get the most out of a short meeting in another post – but you need to be able to peak someone’s interest in 2 minutes, any time above that is a bonus.

7) Follow up  

This happens after the conference and is as important as the above steps. I’ll cover this in another post

So to summarize:

1) If you want to be in the top 1% of hustlers at a conference – it’s mostly dependant on the work ou do in advance of the conference
2) You need to know the people you want to meet
3) Your only goal of the first email is to peek their interest to get a 10 minute meeting
4) The only goal of the meeting is to peak their interest enough to get a longer meeting outside the conference and/or an intro to a relevant person in their team
5) Follow up after the conference

Does this all sound like a lot of hard work? Well it is! But if you want it bad (and I’m assuming you do) – this is what you need to do.

The good news is because it’s hard work – 99% of the other people at the conference won’t have done this. Allowing you & your company to reap the rewards ☺

I get a ‘thrill’ out of reaching out to and connecting with people that I have no right to be speaking to or meeting with. Try it, it’s fun.

If you do the above, not only will you experience a different level of results from your conferences with a strong ROI – but you’ll be in the top 1% of networkers in the room.

I’ll do follow ups to this post with examples how I find anyone’s email address, how to work the room on the day of the conference, and how to follow up effectively.

Your turn: How do you get the most out of your conference visits? Share them in the comments below:


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