10 Tips for your first exhibition at RSA – or any other Expo
This year, the Boxcryptor-Team exhibited at the RSA Conference for the second time. It is a major conference that attracted more than 38 000 visitors with over 500 Exhibitors. Every year, security specialists from all over the world get together in San Francisco to discuss developments in encryption and cyber security and to get in touch with businesses at the expo. We learned a lot about successfully exhibiting at an expo! In this article we put together a list of 10 tips, so you can profit from our experiences.
Secomba GmbH, with its products Boxcryptor and Whisply, is a small start-up from Augsburg, Germany. Andrea Pfundmeier and Robert Freudenreich founded the company five years ago. As a start-up, we face some challenges at conferences, because most people are not yet familiar with our product and we have to work with our budget. But, it is possible to create attention, to gather leads and to make the Expo a success. You just have to keep in mind that the expo does not work for you, you have to work for it. We saw exhibitors who spent most of their time on Facebook, not on talking to the visitors. Just “showing your face” at the conference will cost you a lot of money, but won’t help your business grow. This list is for you, who wants to make your first (or second… or third…) exhibition at a conference or an expo a success.
1. Don’t organize your own booth
If it is your first time at an expo, try to cooperate with other companies. This way you can share costs and you don’t have to organize everything yourself. We exhibited at the German Pavilion, for example. Try contacting the organizers of the expo for more information about shared booths. It is also possible to engage a contractor, who builds you exactly the booth you want and need. If you share the booth, try to get a good position, if possible in the middle, and not in the last row. But, this year we were a little bit further in the back, and we still made it work. Try to get the best position beforehand, and if it doesn’t work, make the best of what you have!
2. Invest in a scanner for visitor badges
At one point before the conference, you will have to make the decision, if you want to invest money in a scanner (at the RSA, it cost $600). It sounds like a lot of money and we actually first thought, it would work without one. But we changed our mind very quickly! The scanner is one of the best investments we made, because you can really keep track of all the leads that visited your booth, with a simple and quick scan. Especially at the last day, most people do not have any business cards left. If your booth is busy – what you probably hope for – you won’t have enough time to write down contact details. It can also be annoying for your lead, if they have a complicated name or a long phone number, to spell it out at every booth. Invest in some convenience for you and your booth visitors, it will pay off, for sure. You just scan the badges, you can add notes if necessary, and you have everything ready within seconds. You can export the contacts every day and send them back home to your sales team, to start working on them, right away. If you get 300 scans during the expo, one lead will cost you only $2, which is nothing for high quality leads.
3. Be active, work as a team
The RSA expo is very crowded with more than 500 exhibitors. A lot of them are representing very large companies who have very exciting products, booths, and specials – raffles where you can win an iPad, a Drone, or an Apple Watch. As a startup with an unknown product or company name, people won’t stop at your booth by themselves. They don’t know what you do, exactly, and why they need your product. If you don’t stop them to talk to them, they will just walk by. Position yourself smartly, one team member at the front, one in the back. One catches the passers-by and leads them back to his/her co-worker, who shows them a demo, or answers their questions. Sure, you have your information written on the booth, but everybody has. All this information will be overwhelming for the visitors. There is so much to see, so much to do! You have to be the one who gathers their attention. It is more likely that they remember this friendly person, who talked to them, instead of one out of 500 signs over a booth. This brings us to the next, very important point:
4. Don’t be frustrated if people show no interest
We have collected more than 300 leads during the 2.5 days of RSA expo, without any giveaways to collect leads, just by talking to them. And we did not only talk to the 300 or 400 people that we scanned. Only every 2nd or 3rd person who passed us by was interested in hearing more than 3 words from us. Sometimes we had five or even ten people in a row, shaking their heads and walking away. Is this frustrating? Definitely, yes. Should it keep you from being motivated? Definitely, not! Just continue! Pivot your pitch. Try a different wording. We experimented with many variations until we found our perfect three word pitch. So be creative and don’t give up.
5. Prepare several pitches
Prepare a 5 second pitch and step up to every person that walks by your booth. But stay open minded and change them, if they don’t give you the results you want. We tried several pitches from ‘German Cloud Security?’ to ‘Storage encryption!’ and ‘Afraid of the cloud?’ In the end, ‘Encryption for Dropbox?’ worked best for us, because most people understood what the product was about. Prepare a 2-3 sentence pitch to go into details (‘We offer end-to-end-encryption with “zero-knowledge”-standard for Dropbox and many other clouds. Files are encrypted locally and it works on all platforms.’). Prepare a 60 second demo of your product, for those who are interested. The demo should be long enough to give them a sense of your product and its benefits, but short enough to make them stop. Everybody who came by our booth did have these 60 seconds if they had a general interested in Dropbox encryption. Another good thing about a demo: if your team follows up on the leads and sends them a link to a trial, they are more likely to remember your product and your email won’t end up in the spam folder.
6. Find a unique (and cost-efficient) way to gather attention
Do you want to get attention without spending too much money on an extravagant booth or super expensive giveaways? Find something that fits your brand / your product / your home country and let it work for you. For example, we put on traditional Bavarian clothes and the people just stopped, because they liked our dresses. After some small talk about how beautiful Bavaria is, we asked them, if they want a 60 second demo of the best Bavarian encryption software for Dropbox. And guess what? 100% of the visitors wanted to see the demo. So, find out what singles out your company and what can catch the attention in the masses of exhibitors.
7. Hold a raffle to gather more leads
If you want to maximize the number of leads, hold a raffle. Users must scan their badges to get the chance to win a drone, an iPad, etc. You will get many leads, but it probably won’t be high qualified leads, because they might not even know anything about your company and just concentrate on the raffle. But it definitely works, because many people are willing to trade their personal data for something for free.
8. Book and plan early
During a conference or an expo, even a big city will be crowded. Prices for hotels and flights go up during a conference, they sometimes even double. San Francisco, for example is an expensive city to begin with. During RSA, hotel prices went up to $250-$500 per night. So, being an early bird might safe you some travel expenses.
9. Prepare material
Prepare information sheets, flyers and small giveaways. Create “hand-out-packages” that contain all of the three above and give the “hand-out-package” to every visitor at your booth. When they are at home, they will be reminded of your product. Repetition is very important for our memory. Most things stay in mind only the second or third time we hear or read about them.
10. Send male and female employees to the expo
Don’t get us wrong, we are NOT suggesting that you hire the classic “hostess” with a short skirt. This might attract some men and looks, but chances are that it might repel others. Also, it might not fit your brand and seem forced. We suggest that you find the most charming man and woman at your company, people who are social, outgoing and have a friendly smile. This is probably the most important thing. Have people there, who enjoy talking to others and who are motivated to pitch your product. From our experience, it doesn’t hurt if at least one of them is a woman. Often, female visitors feel more comfortable talking to another woman, instead of being addressed by yet another guy (there are probably more men than women at an IT-security expo). In general, some people prefer talking to men, others to women. Offer both to make sure everyone feels comfortable at your booth.
If you follow these 10 tips, you are perfectly prepared for your next conference or expo. You will be able to make the best of the experience and to take home high quality leads with you.
Let us know if these tips are helpful, or if you had similar experiences at expos / conferences!