Choosing a Conference: When and How to Invest

Tania Blake

By Tania Blake

Published Nov 14, 2019

Choosing a Conference: When and How to Invest

Summary - Maximize your conference ROI with Knak's guide on choosing the right event, from evaluating costs to strategic networking and follow-up.

The end of the year is almost here, which means it’s time to talk budgets. We don’t want to get into the specifics of your budget (we’ve got our own to plan, thanks very much), but if you’re considering attending a conference next year, we want to help you evaluate the options and determine which events will deliver the best ROI.

What’s your motivation?

Each organization has their own motivation for attending conferences, and they usually boil down to some combination of networking, learning and lead generation. Those three things are definitely nice, but at Knak, we base our conference decisions on a few key things:

  • Will our current clients be there?
  • Will our prospective clients be there?
  • Will our competition be there?
  • Will our partner be there?

The Knak team recently attended MarTech East in Boston, and our decision to go was pretty straightforward:We are Marketers who love marketing, and we have a product that makes life simpler for our fellow Marketers. MarTech East is a huge marketing technology trade show, so having a booth there gives us great visibility along with a chance to connect face to face with our clients and our prospects.

As you’re considering conference options, spell out why you want to go. Do you have a new product to introduce? Do you want to increase visibility into your organization? Who is going to be there that could help you reach some goals?

The “why” and the “who” are going to dictate the “where” here, so once you nail that down, compare your reasons to your list of options and see which event is the best fit.

What’s the cost?

Once you’ve found the perfect conference, it’s time to make your case for the budget dollars. Here’s how to determine your break-even benchmarks and ROI.

  • Add up the out of pocket expenses first:
  • Travel and accommodations
  • Booth rental
  • Sponsorship, or other partnerships that can add visibility
  • Signage, brochures, and anything else you need to print
  • Dinner, drinks, coffee, etc with your clients and prospects

And then figure out what you need to do to recoup that amount. Can you:

  • Assign value to the interactions you’re hoping to have
  • Figure out how many new accounts would cover the cost

When we were planning, we added up the expenses and then determined how many leads, demo requests, and new clients we’d need to justify the expense. We approached our budget with those goals in mind, which made it easier to show senior management that we’ve carefully weighed the costs/benefits and determined that the ROI would be worth it.

A note here: most of us are good at thinking qualitatively about the cost of conferences, but it’s important that we don’t neglect the quantitative costs as well. An out-of-pocket investment now can lead to long term returns over time, and a quantitative approach to budgeting can help you make smarter investments in the long run.

Maximizing your spend

Once your conference has been approved, it’s time to maximize your investment.

Invite, invite, invitePersonal connection is tremendously valuable here, so don’t leave it up to chance.

  • Have your sales team and customer success team reach out to their contacts and set up 1-on-1 meetings in advance
  • Personally invite people in your database – clients and prospects – to visit you at the event
  • Send a map of the expo floor plan, offer a giveaway, invite them to meet you for coffee between sessions, etc.

Be genuine, and let them know you’re looking forward to connecting in person.

Also, take a close look at the list of presenters and sponsors, and search the event’s hashtag to find attendees. See someone you want to meet? Reach out via social media and request a quick meet up while you’re there.

As the event gets closer, keep promoting it. Send an email, use social media, put a banner on your website. In addition to the meetings your team has set up, you never know who will reach out to request a meeting of their own.

Plan your spaceOur real estate friends aren’t wrong when they say location is everything. If you’re going to spend the money to be there, make sure you’re in a good location and not buried in a back corner by the vending machines.

Register early enough that you can strategically select a booth. It’s even better if you can see which other organizations have already picked their spot so you can see where the competition will be located.

Drive trafficWhile you’re there, drive traffic to your booth with social media posts, geo-targeted ads, or consider hosting a friendly competition at your booth.

Invest in your VIPsUse the event to further the relationship with your existing clients. We hosted a VIP dinner at MarTech East, and the evening was great on several levels:We got to hang out with our clients who are some all-around great people.We got to introduce our existing clients to some of our prospective clients, giving them the chance to serve as brand evangelists for the evening.We got to rehash the best keynote sessions of the day with people who love marketing as much as we do.

Whatever you do for your VIPs doesn’t have to be elaborate. Just make the effort to connect and let them know you appreciate their business.

What to do when it’s over

Debriefing after the event is just as important as your pre-event planning. Get together with your team and revisit your key learnings:

If the event was beneficial, consider re-booking right away. Many conferences offer a discount and priority booth selection if you book the next show during the current show.Find out what conversations they had with new leads, prospects, clients, competitors, etc.Make a list of everyone you want to follow up with, and get started: it’s important to make contact quickly once you return.

Keep in mind that it’s important to track results over the long term. Some of your prospects may convert long after the show is over, but if you’re tracking prospects properly in your marketing automation platform, you’ll have a record of your contact and can use the data to make decisions on next year’s show.

The Perks

In our years of attending events, we’ve found a few bonus side perks that are like the icing on the conference cake.

  • Recruitment – what better place to find future team members than at an event with 15,000 amazing people who already work in your field? If you have open positions, keep an eye out for someone who might be a good skill- and culture-fit for your organization.
  • Team-building – we’re largely a remote team, so trade shows are a great opportunity to actually have our team working together in the same place.
  • Client stories – at our last few events, we took advantage of the fact that we were in the same physical location as many of our clients and created some short video testimonials.

We’re already planning our attendance at Adobe Summit 2020 (it will definitely include our clients, our prospects, and our competition, so it’s a bit of a no-brainer for Knak).

It’s just one of literally dozens and dozens of great options for next year, so to help you pick the perfect conference, we’ve compiled a shortlist. Check out our 2020 Marketing Conference Guide, and find the event that’s going to drive results for your organization.

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Tania Blake


Tania Blake


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