9 Lessons Learned From Our First Convention

Authored by Kayla Brehm

Published on June 22, 2015

Convention season is in full swing and companies and teams from every region are flocking to exhibit halls to showcase their products and get in front of the right people. As the new kids on the block this year with a product approaching general release, the Help.com team decided to take advantage of the opportunity and exhibit at our first event. Throughout the process we endured many headaches, high fives, and near heart attacks; but most importantly we now understand what to better for next time.

Here’s what we learned.

1. Draw people to your booth

Convention-goers, do you remember a booth that stood out to you? What about it makes you remember it so well?

Realistically, in the sea of unique products that makes up a convention, you need an element of surprise or interest that draws people to your booth so that you can discuss your amazing product. We’ve found that the most successful ideas are the simplest. From racecar games to competitions, people want to be engaged. The only babe at your booth should be your beautiful product.

Our team is fascinated with virtual reality, so we decided to create a game for the Oculus Rift that relates to our product to draw people to our booth. At the end of the convention, the highest score got to take a kit home.

Get noticed

2. Cheaper isn’t always better

We wanted a wall. It sounds simple, right? A nice, cheap, solid wall that we could put monitors and swag on to maximize the use of our small space. We didn’t realize the intricacies of booth design and the tangled webs involved with designing from scratch.

Our team got a late start designing our booth and because of such, we didn’t do the appropriate amount of cost analysis/ research. Our first solution was to have the designated exhibit design vendor construct what we wanted from scratch. After getting the outrageous quotes, we had a typical entrepreneur moment and collectively decided there has to be a better way.

There was. After doing last minute research and getting a recommendation, we found a vendor, Display Overstock, who could construct what we wanted at a quarter of the cost. While we didn’t get the wall we originally hoped for, we saved money and still got our idea across. Our booth showcased our product, and that’s what’s most important.

3. Don’t waste your money

When purchasing booth space at a convention, you quickly realize you’re only purchasing the physical space. Everything else is an upsell. While there are a few items that are completely necessary (electric, flooring, etc.), others are just an an added bonus.

4. Lead retrieval tools are a must

Your onsite team can approach lead retrieval two ways.

  1.  They have a spreadsheet ready to go and fully categorized for information they know they want to collect for each lead. For each company/ person, they manually input the information after each conversation. But what happens if your lead doesn’t have a business card on them? What if they’re not willing to stay the extra few minutes to hand over their information?
  1.  They bite the bullet and purchase a lead app from the conference and purchase a license for each sales res. After each conversation they simply scan their badges and say their goodbyes. Done. Simple.

Option 2 is really the only choice. The money you spend will be easily made up by the time your team will save by not manually inputting information after every conversation.

More Time = More conversations = More leads = More potential $

The final CSV file is easily converted into an Excel document that you can dig into once you’ve left the conference. Be sure to follow up quickly! The faster you reach out, the more likely they are to remember you.

5. Pay attention to your budget

Necessities add up. Make sure to do your research before finalizing travel and lodging. Most conventions will block off hotel rooms at a discounted rate for convention-goers. Before you take advantage of these, take a look through Kayak or Expedia to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

I also recommend looking at the IRS Per Diem rates for the host city. It should give you a good idea of what you’ll be spending for food and city transportation. A lunch in Kansas is not the same as a lunch in New York City. Budget accordingly.
6. Conferences are all about quick setup and takedown

Convenience is key. You’ll find after spending two days meticulously looking over your booth after setup to make sure it’s perfect, the opposite will happen when the event is over. Keep in mind that most booths should be designed to be torn down quickly.

If you put together your booth yourself, make sure to keep the basics in mind. From power drills to rulers, think through what you’ll need before you leave. After putting going through the process once, you’ll appreciate the ease of using a vendor even more.

Good to have on hand

7. Be social

Represent your company online and in person. It’s a big opportunity for any new business to be around that many potential customers. Enjoy it!

8. Imagine the number of business cards you’ll need. Double it.

This goes hand-in-hand with being social, but merits its own category. You’re going to be communicating with a variety of professionals and companies. You’ll be handing your card out to anyone and everyone, because everyone has potential. Bring enough business cards and then some (you can thank me later). We had our business cards next to a one pager about our product and both were very popular, but particularly the business cards.

9. Take the time to bond with your team.

Exhibiting at a convention is exciting for everyone involved. Make sure to take time to really appreciate the experience with your team. Plan a team dinner to celebrate the successes of the convention and digest what you learned. Relax and unwind.

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