Taking a stand - why Kiwis need to do more at international conferences

Rich Chetwynd

Read NBR Special Feature here - Meetings, Conferences & Events

We’ve all attended so many conferences it’s not funny. We go, we traipse about the venue, we listen to speakers and yes, we get to network somewhat, but generally we’re there to learn. Been there, done that, still got the t-shirt.

When a recent opportunity came up to change that conference experience, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to establish ThisData as a thought leader in the new emerging security space called CASB (cloud access security broker), and to do that I needed to go to the largest software as a service conference  – the SaaStr Annual – and be a vendor, not an attendee.

This is a big jump for most Kiwi start-ups. For most of us just being there is a buzz. You get to learn so much and meet some great people. But if you want to establish yourself as a thought leader you have to do the talking, not the listening, and that means taking a stand – literally.

At SaaStr, the real opportunity lies in networking with the 3500 SaaS founders, chief executives, venture capitalists and executives who are gathered in one place, which is why we chose to get a booth. Having our signage out there in the pre-event media, on the website for months in advance, and then a presence at the booth for three days, with your pitch ready to go and your team fired up to talk to everyone who passes by, means you’re turbo-charged from the minute the doors open.

Once you’ve made the leap there are three things that will happen:

1. You’ll get your pitch right
Talking about your product is the best way to refine your pitch. When you're standing at your booth for three days practising your pitch over and over again, you quickly begin to see what resonates with people, which in turn helps to validate your story and product. 

For us, in this emerging sector, less is more. As in, less of the complex technical details about how our product works and more about the problem it solves.

CASB is a new security area that’s all about managing your cloud-based data. If you want to know when someone in Uzbekistan is suddenly trying to access your accounts, CASB lets you know.

But we had to refine that even further.

“You know that email you get from Facebook or Google when you login to your account from a new device or location? Well, we provide that service to SaaS vendors that don‘t have the resource to build such a sophisticated security system in-house.”

That got their attention. How do we do it? We give you two lines of code to put in your app and you’re away.

That really got them thinking. Security is important to all these SaaS vendors and they all want to help the customer feel as safe as possible using their service. Adding a significant security layer with only two lines of code? Where do I sign?

Then you can tell them all about the benefits and how we build a user profile and watch for non-standard access attempts and all the rest.

2. It’s the lead generation
This is your No 1 goal – generating a list of qualified leads that you can follow up on once the event is over. So, once you’ve spoken to people and impressed them with your pitch, you have to capture their information because (this may seem obvious but it bears repeating) you want to sell them your product.

If you sponsor an event, get yourself a lead scanner. It’s a device that the conference organisers rent to vendors and, with, it you can scan attendees’ passes enabling you to easily collect their details to follow up with them after the conference. Hint: Make sure you always ask for permission to scan their pass. We collected more than 100 valuable sales leads and they are already turning into demos and phone calls. This is why you’ve shelled out all that money to get a booth in the first place so maximise your investment.

3: Thought leaders lead
Being a sponsor means we can establish ThisData as a thought leader, which is critical in an emerging product category. We educate people on potential security threats as we pitch so that, at the very least, they walk away having learned something about improving their company's security practices. We got to tell them what security looks like, what they can do to be more secure and why security is important to them as vendors, as customers and as service providers. You have to show them you’re leading your market and you have to put a stake in the ground and tell them they need you. That doesn’t come easily to many Kiwis but it’s kind of like speed dating – you’ve only got a few moments to get your message across so you’ve got to put aside your bashful ways, smile and embrace the American within.

Being a sponsor at the SaaStr Annual 2016 was a huge success for ThisData and we are already reaping the rewards of the connections we made. Sure, it’s more expensive than just turning up but, if you want to make the most of your time and spend, think seriously about swapping that attendee pass for a sponsor booth.

Rich Chetwynd is the Founder of ThisData and attended SaaStr in San Francisco earlier this month.

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2 Comments & Questions

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I assume this is a humour piece.

Conferences, in general, are a complete waste of time - and company money. This is especially true for public sector, but also most industries I can think of - including tech and start-ups in tech.

There are far more effective ways to learn, find customers, or find investors for your business than attend conferences.

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Measuring ROI on trade shows is hard but for the startups I've been involved with it has increased brand awareness, cemented our place in the market, generated leads and ultimately been a tipping point for the venture. I cant comment on the public sector but can appreciate that the go to market strategy will be different.

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