Exhibiting at conferences and trade shows is typically looked at as a stale and archaic way to grow revenues for new, exciting startups.  My experiences differ greatly.


Here are a few best practices that I have seen used to drive customer acquisition and ROI from trade show events:

How to select the right conference:  The more targeted conference the better.  Quality over quantity.  Figure out what shows your core target frequent.  Focus not on number of leads but rather number of qualified opportunities from the event.

Prepare, Plan, Execute:  Don’t just show up.  Understand who the attendees are.  Decide who you want to connect with and prepare for those conversations.  Schedule time during the conference if possible to meet with your key prospects one on one.  Establish goals prior to event have a way (like CRM) to track the success of the event.  Know what needs to happen to help decide if you should do this show the following year.

Reach out prior to the conference:  Even is it’s just a “looking forward to meeting you at…”  Make it personalized – not a spam to all attendees.

Task current customers there with connecting you with one person:  If you have current customers at the conference as them for help.  Ask them if they would be open to bringing one person by your booth.  People like to help – just ask.

Booth engagement:  This should go without saying but I still see it at every show we attend.  Don’t sit behind a table sitting behind your computer or cell phone.  We have a no chairs and no cell phone rule.  Be engaging, draw people in, smile.

Be prepared if people are ready to buy:  If you run a credit card driven business have a Square – if they want to buy right then, let them.

Let them play:  Have demonstrations running.  Let them use your software or visually experience your product or service.

Network away from the booth:  Some of the greatest successes that we have had at conferences has been from networking at sessions, cocktail hours, or dinners outside of the exhibition hall floor.  The more people you meet the more opportunities for uncovering qualified opportunities.

The most critical time:  Once the show is complete the real work starts.  You’ve made the investment now relentlessly pursue an ROI.  Set specific tasks to connect with the top opportunities.  Make it creative – remember they are getting touched by multiple vendors after the show.  Stand out and be different.  At Hireology we started writing hand written thank you’s for stopping by our booth.  Have an email nurturing campaign set up to hit passive prospects.


HubSpot brings up some interesting points in this blogpost about why they don’t exhibit at Trade Show events and what to do instead:  For an opposing view CLICK HERE.




Teach, Tailor, and Take Control


Selling is not about relationships.  What?

Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson wrote a groundbreaking article a few years ago titled, “Selling Is Not About Relationships.”(http://blogs.hbr.org/2011/09/selling-is-not-about-relatio/)

I was a little floored when seeing the title of the article.  However, after reading the article and their book, The Challenger Sale, I agree with their stance.

The focus of their research and writing is that it’s not enough to build relationships. The Challenger sales model is built around being able to teach, tailor, and take control of the sale.

Selling in startup environments isn’t easy.  You have to somehow prove that your less known solution is the best fit for your prospects.  This takes more than building a relationship.  Following this “Challenger” mentality in the startup environment can help push prospects to make the less safe buying decision.

Is your startup developing a new market or launching a groundbreaking new product or service? Great, challenge your prospects about why they need this new product or service.

Is your startup disrupting an established market?  Great, challenge your prospects on the unique value that your product or service delivers.

Start statements with phrases like:

– What we’ve found

– As I talk with dozens of other companies in your space weekly

– When working with a similar organization

Your prospects yearn to have the conversations that you have with their peers. You connect with the folks that they would love to learn from and network with daily. Make this known to them. You are a wealth of knowledge and need to teach them things that only your experiences can bring.

9 Tips for Delivering Stellar Web Demos


For most SaaS companies, delivering a spot-on web demonstration is the most critical part of the sales process.  Here are 9 tips to make sure you nail it:

  1. Customize each demo.  You’d be surprised how much wow factor you can get from adding a prospects logo or name to your app.  Also, have tabs open and organized – the less clicking the better.  Have their website open if it would help when relating to their business.
  2. The opening conversation is more critical than your demo.  Don’t just jump into the product demo.  Do a thorough discovery of their challenges and issues to understand how your solution can add value.  Use a “Challenger” sales approach by teaching them about similar clients that you have helped.  Tell a story and paint a picture on how your solution impacted your clients business.
  3. Set the stage with giving a verbal overview of what they are about to see.  A customer story is the best way to do this in my opinion.
  4. Tailor product features to your audience.  Don’t show every feature of your platform.  Instead, hit on only the areas where the prospect mentioned pain.
  5. Handle technology.  We use join.me and GoToMeeting at Hireology.  Whatever you use, make sure it is easy for your prospects to connect.  Also, make sure your internet connection is humming as there is nothing worse than having your prospects think your application drags.
  6. Check in often.  During the demo make sure you stop for questions or clarification often.  Since you can’t read body language, it’s difficult to sense understanding and acceptance of what you are showing.
  7. Be ok with not demoing your product.  A great discovery and “get to know your business”  conversation can be a perfect first call.  You could also uncover who else might be involved and schedule a follow-up demo getting all the stakeholders together.  This can not only accelerate the sales process but could also ensure that you are doing the selling and not the first person you demoed.
  8. Watch other people demo your product.  Seeing how other people show your application could help you put a new spin or angle on how you present.
  9. Don’t get click happy.  Join.me and other screen sharing applications have a bit of a lag.  Taking your time moving around the app will also make the product look easier to navigate.

Why it’s OK to Hire Inexperienced Sales People


As startups launch, they need feet on the street or voices over the phone to drive sales.  Many companies struggle with the decision to hire fresh, inexperienced sales people.  I’ve had a pleasant experience with bringing on young talented people and having them cut their teeth in sales.

Here a few reasons why I feel hiring inexperienced sales people can work:

  • They can learn from the best – CEO/Founders are usually doing the selling in the beginning.  Let these unexperienced sales people learn from the best.
  • Put them on the inside – I would recommend you start with these folks in inside sales, cold calling type roles. If you have a solid sales process and pitch in place it’s conceptually an easy role.  They call and get the founders or experienced sales people in front of qualified prospects.
  • They’ve already lived in those shoes – If you are hiring “green” sales people make sure that during the interview process they shadowed someone making the types of calls they will be asked to make.  I stress to go a step further and have them make some sales calls of their own in the interview.  If they are reluctant to dial in the interview chances are they will be reluctant in the role.
  • Old dog, old tricks – The face of selling is changing so rapidly today (with Insight/Challenger selling, etc.) that the old school way of selling can be less effective.  Hiring inexperienced folks will allow you to teach and train an approach and sales process you believe in.
  • Compensation – most startups don’t have a choice when they need to start ramping the sales organization and can’t afford high salary sales people.

My proof of concept – Our most experienced sales person in the lead generation role at Hireology is 4 months into the role and 4 months into her career.  Even with no real B2B sales experience we’re glad we brought her on as she is performing well above expectations.  One of my most seasoned sales people (1 year of experience – yes that’s seasoned in our world) came to us with zero sales experience and wins our sales person of the month contest month after month.

Dave Stein brings good insight to the opposing view that it is better to hire experienced sales people.  His thinking is that they need to learn way to much to be effective in a short period of time.  I would agree if you are selling to enterprise clients in an established market – for most startups however this typically isn’t the case.  http://davesteinsblog.esresearch.com/2008/07/hiring-inexperienced-sales-reps/

Whatever your decision, (experienced vs. inexperienced) hiring the right person is critical.  Perform structured scored interviews, do reference checks, understand their personality makeup and make sure they understand the role and day to day expectations.

Creative Sales Incentives for Startup Budgets


Most startups don’t have a lot of money to throw around.  Most startups are also sales driven organizations – they need to be to survive and thrive.  How then do you offer the incentives and rewards that most sales people yearn for.  It’s a fine line that sales leaders at startups walk.  Below are some ideas and points to consider.

Incentive Ideas

Time off – give em a half day, give em a full day.  If they are working typical startup hours, they probably deserve it.

Office/Desk gadgets, toys, games, etc –  You might not think that a ping pong table for the office would push people and drive behaviors.  Try it… I promise people will bust a$$ to hit metrics.  From my experience, chair massagers, beanbag chairs, stand up desk converters, cube art, etc. can all be motivational rewards as well.

Work from home day – if you don’t have a work from home policy, this could be a motivational reward.

Incentives to drive CRM Behavior

Sales people have always and will always hate updating their CRM’s.  Some may recall the famous quote that reads, “Should I do SalesForce updates, or stab my eyes out with a fork?  Decisions, decisions….”

I use Level11 (http://leveleleven.com/) to drive CRM behaviors.  It’s a great tool and keeps CRM contests top of mind.  A side bar smacks them in the face every time they log into Hireology as they see who is the current leader.  The critical fields that we need to have filled out in SalesForce are now miraculously complete since an incentive is linked to that behavior.

Make contests visible and top of mind

Do you have a leaderboard present?  Does each person on your sales team know where they rank every day?  This is a critical component.  The contest, ranking and reward needs to be top of mind.  To drive positive behaviors, reinforce the contest and reward daily.

Experience driven incentives

With a limited budget, things like cash, electronics, watches, even gift cards are often out of reach when it comes to sales incentives.  Incentivizing teams or individuals with experiences is a great way to reward performance without breaking the bank.  Here a few:

Come as your coworker day, office pizza party, stock the bar party, beer tasting, team field trip, etc.

Keep Contests Consistent

At Hireology we run a monthly contests for the entire team and one for the top sales person.  Keeping the contest cycle consistent adds excitement to the close of one and the start of the next contest.

Ask Them

If you are having trouble coming up with creative incentives ask your team.  You will undoubtedly get some unrealistic rewards, but you will also get some great ideas.  Most importantly you don’t have to worry about the team not being motivated to hit the goal if they selected and truly are excited about the reward.


Photo credit: EcSell Institute