Abandoned conferences force startups to concentrate on scalable lead generation


Described by Sequoia The capital as the event of the black swan in 2020, the long-term economic consequences of the COVID 19 pandemic among start-ups, are still to be seen. One effect that will certainly disrupt the MO of many early-stage startups is the cancellation of events and conferences.

According to Forbes, more than 35.3 million people who wanted to attend an event have been forced to change their plans in the past few months. And while some might complain that they are forced to leave their Metallica t-shirts and the flags of the 2020 Summer Olympics in the closet, many startup founders are biting their nails at the prospect of lost leads and connections from events and conferences.

The silver lining: Forcing founders to distance themselves from conferences and events to develop a business development strategy may not be a bad thing in the long run.

In my experience, a lot of start-ups waste a lot of time and resources in the early stages of turning round events without clear goals, consuming a lot of the time of the founder, without increasing a lot of business value. At an early stage on the path of a start-up, every tactic used must achieve real ROI and ultimately open up new business opportunities.

So let’s look at why skipping events may not be the end of the world, and how startups can focus their time, energy, and resources on more scalable and consistent lead gene activities.

What is my beef at startup events and conferences?

It should be made clear early on that conferences and events that are approaching them properly can offer valuable ROI in terms of lead generation and business development.

The silver lining: Forcing founders to distance themselves from conferences and events to develop a business development strategy may not be a bad thing in the long run.

If you, as a speaker, take part in events, participate in panels or present projects about pitch competitions, you will receive the “Golden Ticket”, which gives you access to the speaker’s lounge, side events and dinners. This facilitates conversations with key investors, journalists, and potential partners and customers who are present on one level, rather than having to seek attention from the rest of the crowd on the conference floor.

Aside from increasing the likelihood of real business development opportunities, attending a conference usually includes a free pass, if not the cost of accommodation and travel.

On the other hand, in my experience, participation in startup events and conferences as a participant with a small number of participants only offers a very low noticeable ROI and can also add up at considerable costs. According to Forbes employee Sophia Matveeva, even a $ 10 event is expensive if it doesn’t provide ROI. “Because the opportunity cost of events is not just money, but also time.”

The value of attending events must be assessed in terms of time spent. If a meetup lasts three hours and includes an hour’s drive, and a large conference is a full-time commitment or even two days in another location, the conference’s opportunity cost should be carefully weighed against the time that could be invested in other leads generation activities.

Can we approach events / conferences in a data-driven manner?

If the founders don’t track and evaluate the ROI of events in the same way as with any other lead generation tactic, there’s a chance that a bag of useless business cards and a brand swag (and possibly a hangover) will be the only return Time and resources are invested in the event.

If the founders don’t track and evaluate the ROI of events in the same way as with any other lead generation tactic, there’s a chance that a bag of useless business cards and a brand swag (and possibly a hangover) will be the only return Time and resources are invested in the event.

So how can we evaluate the value of events as we would, for example, paid ads? First, founders should set metrics for each event, e.g.

1) Source of lead: Was this via speed networking or by contacting via an event app?
2) Customer acquisition costs (CAC): What was the total cost of this event? Yes, beers count.
3) The number of leads: count only warm leads. Business card confetti in speed networking doesn’t count.
3) The number of these leads was closed: How many paying customers did this event lead to?
4) Lifetime Value (LTV): How big were these tickets?
5) Sales cycle: How long did it take to complete the lead?

It is possible to evaluate the value of certain events using metrics, but it would take a long time. Founders would need to record data over the course of a year to highlight which events on the calendar offer the highest return opportunities for the next year. However, the reality is that this takes time and resources that many early stage companies simply don’t have. To test the effectiveness of events, you also need to try different tactics, including:

  • Pay for a stand
  • Become a sponsor
  • Increase in the number of representatives present
  • Pay for a ticket with increased access to side events, etc.

Testing this tactic makes sense for companies with larger tickets who can expect a return of over $ 50,000 from successful events. However, for startups, after a lot of time and resources, they are likely to highlight only one of the 10 conferences they attended and that offer real ROI. For any other lead generation activity, this would be considered a massive mistake.

Why are events not scalable?

In order to make lead generation scalable, the success rate of various tactics has to be monitored, the functioning activities doubled (scaled) and fewer resources placed behind the inactive activities.

This requires that the founders have control over the levers in the sense that they are able to add more, reduce or adjust the extent to which different activities are used.

This isn’t really the case with events for several reasons:

  1. Conference organizers control the content traces / side events / activities that take place during the events themselves. Unless they are organizers / sponsors, founders have few opportunities to influence the events they attend.
  2. Even if a founder highlights a particular event that brings in many leads, there are still a limited number of events that provide access to the right audiences and cover topics related to specific industries / niches in their geographic region.

Focus on more scalable lead gene activities

In my opinion, it makes more sense to focus on lead generation activities that give startups more control. There are many different ways for startups to experiment with different tactics within more established inbound and outbound techniques:

Generation of incoming leads:

  • Content Marketing: Monitoring webinar traction versus e-book, long versus short
  • Blogging: Try different content formats, keywords and topics
  • SEO: Change keywords, titles, topics and user intentions
  • Paid Ads: Testing different platforms, target users, content styles and topics

Outbound lead generation:

  • Direct email: Send email at different times, including different content formats
  • Targeted messaging on social media: targeting different positions in a company on different platforms
  • Cold call: Use different numbers of representatives for different target users

With the above techniques, there are fewer limits on how many different variations of these techniques startups can experiment with. They are also much more flexible in terms of scalability, which means that startups can invest as much or as little in any technology as they want. You can spend $ 10 on paid ads or $ 1,000. You can have two or 200 sales people.

When deciding how best to spend the budget for lead generation, the founders should ask:

  1. Can I control the levers? i.e. the tactic that I use within that tactic.
  2. Can I scale to the capacity that I need? Is there room for exponential growth?
  3. Can I control the scaling rate over time?

The last point is probably the most important, but is often overlooked. Startups need to be able to control the pace at which they scale. This means that they can increase activity when things are going well, but also reduce activity when things are not working, or – in the case of COVID-19 – when the company has to tighten the strap due to unforeseen or uncontrollable circumstances .

The best way to drive sustainable growth is to set up sustainable internal systems and processes. When you think of a company as an engine, we only know what the machine can do when we test its capabilities. We have to be able to scale processes because we find the weaknesses of the system here. However, we must also be able to withdraw if we find the weaknesses without causing further damage.

Startups have to “test” the lead generation techniques step by step. When a startup invests $ 100 in payment media and gets five sales qualified leads (SQLs) per month. The next step is not to say “Hey, it works” and invest $ 1,000 in it. The sensible next step would be to broaden the tactic by investing $ 200 and targeting 10 SQLs per month.

Sum up

Given the events and conferences canceled in the foreseeable future and the high probability that many organizers will not be able to recover from their losses this year, startups should use this forced break to reassess their processes and strategies.

As they say, the race is slowly but surely winning. The ultimate goal should always be to achieve consistency in scalable processes. When startups approach processes in a data-driven and consistent manner, there is the possibility of scaling exponentially over time.