How to make an industry event count
While startup-focused shindigs are usually a great deal more fun and offer access to investors, they are rarely the right place to find potential clients or size up the competition. So the sooner you start thinking about the suit-and-tie conferences everyone in your particular industry goes to, the better. We discussed industry events with two B2B startups: Hippographic Plus, who have been attending them for years; and Explicato – who chose the unusual tactic of launching their company on the Bulgarian market at an industry event.
In the beginning, you may be tempted to attend every event out there, but these are always tied to expenses and when it comes to industry-specific events, the bill can go into the thousands. “I have set an internal limit – one local and one international event per year,” says Yana Tsarova, Sales Manager at Hippographic Plus, a family-owned reseller of used printing equipment. “And when there is a big world conference in our field, which happens every two or four years, we just do that one.”
When selecting an event, consider the stage your business is in, and don’t try to rush until the timing is right. Even then, before jumping both feet in, focus on the events that will give you the most exposure and to the right audience.
We presented our approach after Gfk and before BILLA, referencing both presentations thus aligning ourselves with the big players.” George Yankov, CEO of Explicato
The key is to find a way to stand out. Getting a speaker spot in a global event may be a reach, but organisers of national and regional ones, especially in Eastern Europe, are often on the lookout for something new and fresh to liven the line-up of usual suspects – and this is where you come in!
At the same time you need to align to something which is already proven even if their thesis is opposite to yours. “We recently attended the biggest local annual retail conference ‘Retail in Detail’,” says George Yankov, CEO of loyalty solutions startup Explicato. “We participated with a topic in the main event agenda, moderated a technical panel presenting three hot IT projects from the region with other vendors and paid for a sponsorship package including placing our logo on all banners and advertising materials alongside well known brands. We presented our approach after Gfk and before BILLA, referencing both presentations thus aligning ourselves with the big players.”
Successful startups usually have a different approach to everyone else in the business so build on that – manage to make them think about what you said and you’ll be golden.
Even if you do not manage a spot on stage, there is still a chance to get noticed. If someone from your top priority list is presenting, listen carefully, think of a good question and do not be afraid to ask it. That way, you can strike up a conversation later thanking them for the reply, and building on that discussion.
Get your spy on
Industry events are as much about building and maintaining contacts as they are about recon. What is the competition up to, are they ahead of you, and is there an emerging trend you should know about? Take a recorder with you, or just your phone – it could help you make sense of the mess of information later.
Look at these events as a chance to update your market stats too. “Apart from the paper used, there is very little statistical data about the printing industry,” Tsarova says. “This is why I always try to get the maximum amount of information – not just what others produce, but how many machines they have, what is their capacity, every little detail is filed for later.” She has found that such expos are the best place to amass first-person statistics that would otherwise cost thousands to order. Her secret weapons – a rolling carry-on bag and a stack of post-its to gather as many brochures as possible and make additional notes on them.
I always try to get the maximum amount of information … every little detail is filed for later.”Yana Tsarova, Sales Manager at Hippographic Plus
One extra tip – brochures alone are never enough. “Whenever there is a stand of a company of particular interest, even if there is a line, wait until they pay personal attention to you, because it is in those talks that the really interesting specifics, the ones that are not on the brochures come out,” she says.
And speaking of brochures, make sure yours looks good enough to keep and show around. As Yankov advises, do not be afraid to try something different, you are, after all, a startup. His company did an elaborate infographic for their conference debut in Bulgaria and it was received quite positively. Going for an interesting visual, a pop-up pamphlet or something that demonstrates your unique capabilities will help you remain at the top of people’s minds.
Finally, as much as this is about networking, recon, and making yourself seen and heard, do not forget to have fun. “Once we attended an event because it took place in Istanbul and I really wanted to see the city,” Tsarova admits. “I already have my eye on this great conference in Hong Kong, but who knows, maybe next year…” And if every once in a while, you are tempted to do so too, at least now you know how to make the most of your presence.