Event Season: How your User Community can Drive Attendance

Event Season: How your User Community can Drive Attendance

As summer rolls around, field marketers and sales teams across top-tier SaaS companies around the globe start to scramble. It’s events season. In-person events are often the single most valuable activity for both driving pipeline and accelerating deals to close. Why, then is this a time to panic? Shouldn’t event season be a time to celebrate?

The reality is, driving prospects and current customers to events typically means countless hours of cold calling, tense conversations between Sales and Marketing leaders, and a massive diversion of attention away from other selling activities and towards driving attendance to these events. People need to show up. Everyone’s on the hook to make it happen, and no one wants to truly own responsibility for getting butts in seats (and pipeline in the room).

Having previously run an inside sales org at Mulesoft, I’m intimately familiar with the aches, groans, and gripes that event season brings to bear. I’ve sat through enough (often painful) weekly meetings with executives to explain why our registration numbers are far from our targets. I’ve begged, bribed and pled with my managers to come up with new, creative ways to keep our Reps focused on driving attendance, all while still trying to hit our monthly pipeline targets.

Why is this so challenging?

Imagine getting a call from a salesperson inviting you to a dinner/networking event/conference. Why should you attend? Hopefully, that salesperson has a good answer. But even if they do, what’s going to convince you to give up precious hours outside of work to attend? What’s in it for you? Have you ever even heard of the product? These are all questions a company must be able to answer when inviting anyone to their in-person events.

These conversations are even more challenging if your product, platform, or value proposition is nascent, or hasn’t hit the mainstream, or the company itself has limited brand awareness.

Even working at Mulesoft, a company that offers a world-class integration platform, and is used by over 1600 companies, in years past, we spent months calling down our database of customers and prospects to ensure they attended MuleSoft Connect. While that’s changed as they’ve hit the mainstream (and last I heard their conference was completely sold out) I know that marketers, sales reps, and leaders of top-tier companies – both new and old – still feel the pain of getting butts in seats.

So what’s the solution? Community.

At the risk of sounding over-simplistic, while the solution is complex, community really is the key to activating a core group that’s not just potentially interested in attending, they’re actually the one group that’s unquestionably excited about coming onboard.

Defining community.

All companies have communities – some just understand and activate theirs better than others. A community can be power-users – developers, current customers, the champions you often ring up for reference calls. A company’s community often encompasses a broad swath of personas. Your community is the spearhead that drives deep and widespread adoption of your product, is happy to hop on reference calls, provides invaluable product feedback to your PMs, and are your strongest brand advocates – the ones that really move the needle on net promoter score, product retention, and driving expansion within key customer accounts.

When you think about the metrics that matter to a SaaS company, your Community is often the biggest, organic driver of net dollar retention, and growth. While they’re diverse and expansive in nature, there’s usually a single person in charge of managing the entire community – and typically, they’re doing it all with very limited resources. In some orgs, Sales and Marketing teams rarely interact with the Community Leaders – even when more often than not it’s in their best interest to connect and work together.

So why does community matter when driving attendance to your annual conference?

When discussing the value of attending an in-person event or conference, who do you think is more convincing? A salesperson who works for your company? Or a customer champion, who absolutely loves the company? Now who do you think is more convincing when discussing the value of attending an in-person event? A company salesperson or their customer/user?

What if you didn’t even have to invite people?

What if your community just showed up?

What if they brought their friends!

Events as an activator of current customers and prospects

The problem with events – and annual conferences in particular, is they often do an amazing job of activating your current customers and prospects. But then what? Where do your prospects and customers channel the excitement your event or conference drummed up? How do you keep them activated, excited, engaged?

Again, the answer is community.

The best SaaS companies feed off the momentum that conferences build by inviting the attendees to join the community post-event. This gives attendees a local outlet to channel their excitement for the brand. The growth to the community will begin to add up, and soon there will be community members clamoring to contact the community manager (or sales rep – I’ve seen it happen!) – to get access to future events and conferences. An engaged community can greatly reduce the time spent on chasing down registrants for that upcoming event.

Instead of spinning cycles, or massively shifting the focus of sales and marketing teams to drive attendance, partner with your Community leader and the members of your community to channel their energy into your next (even bigger) event.

PS-- here’s an oldie but a goodie to learn more about the business value a community can drive.

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We’ve been working with some of the best Community leaders in the industry and have discovered the most important metric for Growth, and Customer Success in 2019. Read about The Most Important Growth Metric for 2019.

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