Blog

by Michael Idinopulos
on October 17, 2014

How We Stood Out at #DF14: A Dreamforce Rookie’s Success Story

By any standard, we rocked Dreamforce ’14.

Our team collected 830 leads, over 30% of which are marketing-qualified. We met with over a dozen top-drawer analysts from firms like Forrester, IDC, Altimeter, Constellation, and Aragon. We put four of our favorite clients on stage (they were awesome), and demo’d our product for a couple hundred attendees.

Leading up to Dreamforce, I wasn’t convinced we’d reach this level of success. I had read blog posts about how to stand out at Dreamforce, and they made me stressed out that we were coming to the event with too little budget, too little time, and no eye-grabbing gimmick to make us stand out.

And yet we did stand out, and we didn’t spend a ton of money. We bought an entry-level booth and inexpensive SWAG. We didn’t buy a private room at the St. Regis or hire half-naked acrobats to pour drinks from a trapeze.

We stood out because we were able to create meaningful, personal experiences with prospects and customers.

Here’s how we did it.

We went on an adventure together with our customers.

From our very first conversations about speaking at Dreamforce, we knew we wanted our customers to be stars of the show. Our customers are innovators at some of the world’s largest and most respected companies. Our strategy was to shine a spotlight on them and bask in their reflected brilliance.

Boy, did our customers come through for us—from their willingness to sign up to the thoroughness of their preparation to the quality of the panel itself. They really were stars of the show. Watching them speak at Dreamforce about how they’re mobilizing their organizations for social selling was one of my proudest moments as a professional.

Dreamforce changed the flavor of those customer relationships. Dreamforce gave us the opportunity to connect with our customers in a very special way. This wasn’t an office meeting, or even an ordinary client dinner. We went on an adventure together. It was exciting, confusing, and even a little intimidating for both PeopleLinx and our customers. But we did it together, and when the panel ended we knew we had triumphed together.

It created a meaningful connection.

We reached out to attendees instead of waiting for them to come to us.

Walking the Expo floor, I saw vendors waiting for prospects to approach them. Their real estate was 2x, 4x, even 10x more expensive than ours, but they weren’t reaching out to passers-by. It was almost as if they had to justify the expensive booth by living in it.

We took a more outgoing approach. Since our booth wouldn’t wow anyone, we made ourselves the booth. We wore our PeopleLinx T-Shirts everywhere. (Four days and counting since I wore a garment that didn’t have a PeopleLinx logo on it.) We approached every attendee within 10 feet of the booth with a smile and a Tastykake. One attendee in ten walked away. The other 9 became conversations.

We invested in extra badge scanners, and I’m glad we did. With 3 scanners for 5 people, nobody had to wait to get their badge scanned, and nobody left us without getting scanned.

Some folks are questioning whether you need the booth at all. Personally, I think the booth is critical. It’s your anchor and your meeting place. By Day 3, people were coming up to us saying, “I’m here because my colleague said I needed to come talk to you.” That doesn’t happen when you’re just hanging out in the VIP lounge.

We handed out meaningful SWAG.

At our booth on the Expo floor we didn’t give away pens, skateboards, giant foam fingers, or cell phone chargers.

We gave away Tastykakes.

If you’ve never spent time in the mid-Atlantic region, that may not mean much to you. But Tastykakes occupy a special place in the heart of anyone who grew up in Jersey or went to school in Philly or worked in Delaware. We flew 1,000 Tastykakes (butterscotch krimpets, to be precise) in from Philly and gave them away at the booth.

Those Tastykakes meant something to us. Tastykakes are a Philly thing, and we’re a proud Philly startup.

Even more important, the Tastykakes meant something to many of the attendees we met at Dreamforce. People’s eyes lit up when they saw the krimpets. People stopped in their tracks, saying things like “Oh my God are those krimpets?”, “I lived on krimpets in business school”, or simply: “You must be from Philly.

As one executive said, “You just made me 12 years old again.” When was the last time you heard someone say that about conference SWAG? When you make people feel like that, they’ll happily hear your pitch.

Meaningful connections.

Given the frenzy around Dreamforce, it’s easy to think you need a gimmick or a monster budget in order to stand out. We found success with a different approach: Be thoughtful, be genuine, be relevant.

I’ve been saying it nonstop for the past four days: B2B is all about meaningful 1-1 connections.

May I scan your badge?