James Fisher - Nov 1, 2018

Getting the Most from Exhibiting at a Conference: Part ☝

It’s late in the year, the leaves are turning golden, the temperature is turning brisk, and our attention is once again turning to Xerocon London! And we’re excited for it! It'll be our second Xerocon after debuting our all-in-one expenses management platform at Xerocon London 2017.

That was the first ever conference we attended as an exhibitor and we had an excellent time. It's a time when the whole Xero app marketplace comes alive, and we enjoyed meeting a host of the accountants, finance managers and business owners we serve.

xero con 2017

However, there were some very steep learning curves thrown in.

So now, with our third conference looming (after a very successful Accountex back in May), we share a few of the lessons we’ve learned and hope will provide some handy tips for how to make the most out of conferences you attend as an exhibitor.


1) Plan Ahead

As with everything, if you fail to prepare you should be prepared to fail! (Or, at the very least, not do as well as you can). Exhibiting at conferences is no exception - there’s a reason the organisers start planning the next one the day after finishing the current one! (That's a short timeline too, some argue larger conferences could take a couple of years).

There are many factors to take into account. For example: creating assets & marketing materials, stand design and layout, how you will get everything there, who will attend from your team, when should they be there, which other businesses are going that you should meet with, what branded merchandise needs to be ordered, how you will collect contact details, what if that method fails, how you will record conversations, feedback and feature requests for post-show follow up, pre and post-event communication with your customers and new leads.

Additionally, many of the above involve deadlines that are surprisingly far in advance of the event itself, we'd recommend creating a shared calendar specific to the event - then everyone can see these deadlines well in advance. Thinking about, and planning for, all of these things will make the day itself go far smoother and ensure you increase the chance of a successful event.


2) Take the whole team (or a variety)


Events are an excellent opportunity to meet your current and future customers and for them to meet you! We highly recommend bringing as much of your team as you can (especially if you're a small team, like us). Larger businesses would be well served bringing a representatives from a (socially adept) cross-section of your organisation.

Not only is it a great eye-opener for employees who wouldn’t traditionally interact with customers - such as developers - but it means you can tailor the conversation the customer has with you. Allowing them to get information that is more valuable and relevant to them. It’s a recognition that, while people go to these events expecting to be ‘sold to’, they often leave with a better impression of your business if they can have an actual conversation too.

It’s why we bring our head of integrations and CTO for those who want to talk about the detailed technicalities of our seamless integrations with Quickbooks and Xero, our partnerships manager to meet current & prospective partners, our CEO for those who want to make deals and, of course, someone from sales - who can explain exactly why we’re the best expenses management platform on the market!


3) On swag. (And your stand)


Swag, a polarising concept justified as “a universal tool that can help drive brand affinity with customers and partners as well as create brand awareness with net-new prospects.” It’s an open secret that many people attend these conferences aiming to collect as many free handouts as possible (while perhaps investigating one or two predetermined companies they’re considering).

While this is a shame, your swag can also be the catalyst that spreads the word about your presence, and draws attendees from all over the conference. Done well, it can turn in to something of a viral ambassador for your brand. Even obtaining further promotion beyond the conference itself - such as our appearance in AccountingWeb’s video Accountex 2018: The best Swag in town.

The literature on what makes a good item to give away is plentiful, so we wont go into that here. Suffice to say, if you do choose to embrace the Swagwagon™, your offering will do better if it fulfils as many of the following criteria as possible:

  • It’s memorable
  • It’s relevant (to your brand, your service, your audience)
  • It’s useful
  • It’s not rubbish (aka it works)
  • It’s semi-reasonable quality, (but cheap enough not to blow your budget)
  • It’s small
  • It’s customisable (to put your branding on)

Like it or not, you will be judged vicariously on this. So it’s best put some thought into it, mini-packets of sweets, even branded, will be quickly forgotten.

We’ve had great success with our cacti, despite the odd accusatory “what do they have to do with an expenses app?”. (Answer: Expenses are a prickly subject that we’re helping you manage and, dare we say it, grow to love). And they fulfil a large number of the criteria above.

Be careful though! If your gift is too good you may well draw a crowd of people who are there only for the gift itself! So make sure you qualify who you give them to by first explaining your offer and gauging their interest. You may also consider asking people to like and follow you on social media before giving up the swag (although we’ve found this can be time consuming on the day).

The other elements to consider include your exhibition-day presence itself. The stand is essentially your ‘shop’ for the duration of the conference. You’ll want to make sure it reflects your brand personality while being informative, visually appealing and not too overwhelming.

Achieving this of course takes careful, thorough design and planning (see #1)! If you don’t have the luxury of in-house designers to help you with this, it’s well worth investing in a freelancer or agency. You wouldn’t want to get to the conference only to discover the background is the wrong size, images are pixelated or words are cropped out!

The same applies to visual aids and other merchandise such as leaflets, booklets, stickers and tote bags. Often these will have long lead times too - especially for better quality materials and printing, so you’ll need to factor this into your plan (see #1). Fail to do this and you could end up paying a hefty premium to get them delivered in time for the big day.

You’ll want to ensure the handouts themselves are appropriate for the audience that will be attending, and visually appealing enough for people read it! It’s important to know the target audience well, and the specific problems they have that you can solve - this will help you craft concise, engaging copy that will convey your message succinctly. Bear in mind that, generally, your flyers will not be read at the time, but rather put away until hours or even days later.

If appropriate, and you have the resources, you should consider a live demonstration of your product or service. You’ll hopefully be busy enough that you don’t have time to use it very often, but it’s an excellent option to have for the quieter times and the very interested leads. When not in use the screen can double as a monitor for promotional videos product showcases.

4) Track the spending

Of course, you’ll want to make sure you know (and control) how much the conference is costing! This will help you calculate your ROI, as well as identifying savings to make for future events.

Naturally, we use Expend to manage our company spending on projects such as these. Not only does it save employees and management hours of time that would otherwise be spent creating and filing expense reports. But it also eliminates the danger of losing receipts - so you can reclaim the VAT and lower the cost of the event as a whole.

Moreover, Expend helps you set a budget at the start of the project and create customised tracking codes, meaning you can track every item as soon as it is purchased. Allowing full oversight and control while empowering everyone to do their best work and make your attendance as rewarding as possible.


Written by James Fisher