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This Startup Wasted a Whole Lotta Money on a Conference

“Ten” “Thirty” “No way! Fifty!” “Are you crazy?! Atleast a hundred!”

I listened as the startup employees shouted over one another.Two of them just returned from a conference where they collected over 500emails from potential customers, and now they were preparing to email the entire list with a sales pitch. The employees were betting on how many responses they’d get from these 500 emails. Not wanting to spoil their fun, I kept my predictionto myself: “Zero.”

For startups, every sale is a big deal, and every lead is a step closer to thatsale. For a B2B product, anevent resultingin just5 sales is amassive return on the $2-4k spentto attendthe conference. In that case, getting 500 leads from a single conference is awesome

Exceptif the leads are shit.

And leads collected at conferencesas the celebrating crew soon learnedoften turn out to beshit.

The Problem

In hindsight, it’s easy tounderstand why. Attendees see conferences as an opportunity to use up their100-stack of business cards, stock up on ballpoint pens, and collect airlinemiles. Meanwhile, company repsindiscriminately collect names and emails of passersby as thoughevery one of them has an equal chance of turning into a sale.

Thiscouldmake sense if you have an automated process to screen contacts for quality leads (by way of automated emails — more on that in a future post).If you don’t have such an automated screening process in place, then you’resetting yourself up to waste a lot of time by manually screening these leads, most of whom will turn out to be crap.

That’s exactly what happened to this startup: They wasted a significant amountof energy and hours screening these 500+ leads, which resulted inzero responses. There was no winner, and a lesson was learned.

A Better Way

As a user acquisition strategy, conferences aren’t going to work for every company. However, it’s worth trying at least once, and when you do try it, here’s how to get the most out of it:

Set Objectives

Define a set of measurableobjectives for the conference. I suggest the following, listedinorder of importance and time to sales call(where #1 is least time before sales call):

  1. Get qualified leads.
  2. Get warmprospects who are interested in specialized content and may become leads soon.
  3. Get cold prospects who are interested in receiving occasional helpful content by email, and may become leads in the future.

Choose the RightObjective for the RightPerson

Take theGoldilocks approach: The companyrepresentative can optimize their time and effort by mentally sizing up prospects with the following series of steps, and leading them through the door that’s “just right.”

As you (or your representative) arespeaking to an individual, think where this person fits:

  1. If: Isyour target customer, has an immediate need for your solution, has a budget, and is a decision-maker: Then: Consider them a qualified lead. Your objective is to get the lead;schedule a demoor a calldepending on your sales processto discuss their needs
  2. If: Is yourtarget customer but not sure about budget or need. Then: They may soon bea lead, but need short-term nurturing.Your objective is to getthem to your website to learn more about your product or service. Have a custom landing page for the event where people can download a guide or whitepaper in return for their contact information (see next section). Use that contact information to nurture the relationship through educational content and occasional outreach(don’t barrage them with sales pitches).
  3. If: Is your target customer but has neithernear-term need nor budget. Then: They may become a lead in the future, but need long-term and light nurturing.Get their email and permission to send them occasional (monthly or quarterly) information that will be relevant to them (that doesnot includeyour sales deck).
  4. If: Is not your target customer. Then: Why are you still talking with them? At most, you can encouragethem to promote your company througha referral program, or by asking them totweet about youto theirfollowers for a chance to win X.

Objective 1: Get Qualified Leads

If the person passes the Goldilocks test and can be considered a lead, then follow your regular sales process: schedule a demo, a call, or a trial. You’ll get fewer leads in total, but you’ll also screenoutcrap leads.

Objective 2:Get Warm Prospects

If someone isn’t certain about their budget or need, trying to squeeze them into yoursales funnel will result in wasted time and wasted opportunity. Instead of pushing your product on them, offer something free and valuablein return for their contact information. That “something” can beane-book, a whitepaper, or a video, that’s informative and directly applicableto your target audience. It mustnot be a sales pitch.

Once you have their contact information, wait a few days and thenfollow up with a gentile (automatic) introduction email to learn more about the prospect and their organization.Now that you’ve given them something valuable, you’re no longer a pushy salesperson but a consultant (in a sales kind of way).

Inform prospects at the event about this freely available content, and tell them where to find it online. When they go online to download the content they will be asked to enter their contact and organization information before receiving access to the free download. The entered contact information is sent to the sales team for outreach.

Promote content at the event

Landing page (

The primary goal of this page is to make the visitor enter their information in order to view the content. This makes them a warm prospect that you can convert into a lead over time.The design should be very minimal; without distractions and with focus solely on the form and content summary. The page will have a link to your homepage and an optional email opt-in, but they are secondary goals by far. Here’s what you put on that page:

Tracking metrics

Use permanent redirects (301) to tag and track most traffic from the event in Google Analytics (or similar). Use the following formula:

Use permanent redirects (301) to tag and track traffic from the event to the guide in Analytics. Use the following formula:

For example, if youre promoting a report titled “Tech Innovations in Medical Tech” at an event called Medical TechExpo, then the URL can be That URL would redirect to utm_campaign=mte

Objective 3:Get Cold Prospects

If a prospect is neither ready for a sales chat nor interested in accessing the content you are offering to attendees, then you should get their email address. If you have their email address, you can enter them into your email campaigns. If you have an emailstrategy for automaticallynurturingprospects like this into leadsalso known as email drip campaignsthe simple act of collecting emails at your booth can feed your sales funnel long after the event.

The diagram below gives a sense of how you will collect and verify emails using the double opt-in process.

Collect emails

Your goal is to collect an individual’s email and first name, at the very least. All it takes is asking for their business card or their email. Justmake it clear what the person is signing up for and why it’s valuable to them.

Your email drip campaignshould be set up such that the subscribers receives some valuable content as soon as they sign up. This lets yougive value tothe subscriber immediately, instead of just asking them to join some mysterious newsletter.

Manually email to receive double opt-in

Receiving a second opt-in (called the double opt-in method) from emails you already collected helps maintain the quality of your subscribers list. This method helps keep out emails that are fake, were mistyped, or were provided without the owner’s permission. It also helps ensure that the people to whom you are marketing really want to hear from you.

Before emailing your prospective subscribers, find the subscription confirmation link for your email software.

Manually send an individual email to each of your acquired emails. This email should include:

For example:

From: To:

Subject: John, please confirm your email to receive your free guide and future emails from your company.

Hi John, great meeting you at the Medical Tech Expoin San Francisco.

Use the link below to confirm your email and receive the free Innovations in Medical Tech report and to subscribe for occasional emails from [Your Company]with similar guides:

Click here to confirm subscription and get the free guide now.

If you received this email by mistake, simply delete it. You will not receive future emails from usif you do not click the confirmation link above.

Very best,

Greg Co-Founder,Your Company

When the person clicks the confirmation link and submits the subscription form they will be automatically added to your email marketing list and should begin receiving your automated marketingemails.

Bonus: What about conference presentations?

All of the above assumes you’re running a booth and can speak with individual attendees who stop by. But what if you’re presenting to an audience at theconference? You can still use the Goldilocks method, but instead of leading each person into the step that’s right for them, you allow them to self-select.

Before, during, or after your presentation you can present the four options:If this solves a problem you have and wantto fix, come up after the talk and we can schedule a one-on-one demo.If you think this might be useful in the future,you can read our free guide about X by going to If you’re an Xprofessional but your company has no issues with X, we sendquarterly reports to our email list about trends and case studies in X that will give you the insider’s edge at your company…”

If your incentives match the self-interest of the person in each step, the audience will self-select into the right groups.


Taking a pragmatic approach to collecting leads at conferences takes thought and preparation, but you’ll be rewarded with:

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