5 Software Companies That Host User Conferences: What They Know That You Don’t

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Next week, I’ll be attending Dreamforce, a conference hosted by Salesforce.com. Looking at all the different sessions, expos, and locations being rented out for the event, I started to wonder how they could accomplish all of this!

Business Presentation

But most importantly, why would they go through all the trouble to put on an event of this scale? Do they expect to generate and close new business? Will they encourage advertising options for future events? Is there any kind of ROI from this event at all?

I couldn’t ignore these burning questions, so to prepare for my trip, I decided to find out as much as I could about what goes into planning and executing a software user conference.

In addition to Dreamforce, I researched several other software companies and their events, to learn how and why they host user conferences. Here are my findings:

Dreamforce

Dreamforce is hosted by Salesforce.com, a web-based CRM solution, founded in 1999. The first Dreamforce occurred in 2003, with just 1,300 attendees. Now, in its 11th year, the event is expected to to host 135,000 registered attendees from around the world.

Dreamforce

With over 1,450 sessions, this conference is a business professional’s dream (see what I did there?). Thousands of industry experts are presenting, covering a wide variety of roles, including developers, administrators, and IT, on top of the usual sales and marketing folks. Salesforce.com is then seen as a brand that can distribute this type of information, making them a true expert in the industry.

Another benefit of Dreamforce is its access to hundreds of exhibitors. Want to learn more about how software can help your company? Talk to a number of different vendors one-on-one who can give you a personalized demo of their product and show you what it can do for your business; most booths are also giving away cool prizes in exchange for a quick chat! Dreamforce organizes all of this, making it the place to be if you’re selling or in the market for software.

Lastly, Dreamforce is just plain fun! Like I said, there are tons of chances to get free stuff (I’m a sucker for anything free!) and all you have to do is walk around the campus. Throughout the 4-day conference, there are many networking opportunities around the Dreamforce campus, from the conference-wide welcome reception to parties hosted by other attending companies.

And of course, the UCSF Benefit concert with Bruno Mars; other headliners over the years have included the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, Stevie Wonder, and the Foo Fighters. With so much fun to be had every year, it almost guarantees return visitors, as well as new registrants that were referred by past attendees. This ensures constant growth, demonstrated in this infographic.

Unanet Champions Conference

Unanet provides professional services automation software for project-based businesses, on the cloud and installed on premise. Their annual conference is called the Unanet Champions Conference. According to Richard Hayden, the Senior VP of Marketing and Product Management, the conference is based around product education, sharing best practices, and leadership.

Unanet

Unanet started producing the conference once they hit a revenue level of $4 million annually, and on average they host about 220 attendees at each conference. As far as ROI, Hayden says they treat the event as an “important part of our customer success programs, helping with retention and increased adoption of Unanet’s software.” They price the event to break even, focusing more on the benefits for their users rather than the company’s bottom line.

The Champions Conference offers Hands on Training and workshops, allowing users to learn more about project management. The sessions range from a basic “101” level, to more advanced concepts, such as resource management, forecasting, and budgeting.

Users that attend also have the chance to network with other Unanet users to discuss best practices and exchange lessons learned from their own experiences with the software. Additionally, they are able to learn about other capabilities of the solution that can improve their business processes.

“Attendees benefit from increased knowledge to improve their adoption of the system and identify new areas of usage,” says Hayden. “They leave inspired and empowered with the ability to implement new processes, improve on existing approaches, and with specific ideas to improve current business practices in order to increase management insight, and to save time and money.”

Widen User Summit

The Widen User Summit is produced by Widen, a provider of SaaS digital asset management software. They started hosting the event in 2012, when their revenue level hit $10-20 million annually, with 75 attendees, and are expecting 150 users to attend the event this year.

Widen

Uniquely, the event has been free to Widen customers, select evaluators, and partners! However, as it continues to grow, they will consider opening the summit to the public and charging for it, according to Jake Athey, Director of Marketing.

Athey also says that Widen sees a positive ROI from the conference, because since it’s free for customers, it provides a competitive advantage for their industry.

The Widen User Summit has proven itself to be extremely beneficial. Since starting the event, Widen has been able to cut their customer churn rate in half. Athey says they owe this to their loyal user community that attends the summit.

They also use the summit to drive innovation and the development of their software solution in-house, so that the company as a whole is ready to put their best foot forward at the conference.

Finally, Athey says that the event “unites a very engaged community for all to feed off of with the knowledge and inspiration and open feedback loop.”

MivaCon

Hosted by Miva Merchant, a supplier of e-commerce software, MivaCon is the longest running e-commerce event of its kind. Since 2001, they have hosted 16 user conferences, including new regional events for this year. Their national conference averages about 400 users per year, while the regional ones have seen about 150 attendees each.

MivaCon

When Miva Merchant started producing the conference, their annual revenue had reached about $2 million. As far as ROI goes for the event, Rick Wilson, President of Miva Merchant, says they run their conferences to break even, using the cost of tickets and sponsorships to cover all costs.

Wilson says their number one benefit of MivaCon is customer retention, training, and service. “In B2B software, unlike consumer software, our products tend to do a lot of things. Even when you develop a new feature it can be challenging to get adoption or even awareness of the critical new competitive features. User conferences are a great way to get your key clients focused on what your product can do.”

MivaCon2

Aside from their customers, Miva Merchant also uses the conference to introduce prospects to the product: “[H]aving prospects see our existing customers face to face and be able to talk to them without our involvement is a great way to expand our brand and win new customers.” However, he does point out that this only works if you have happy, loyal customers!

Finally, MivaCon gives clients the chance to give their own feedback face-to-face. Wilson stresses how important this is for Miva Merchant to truly understand their customers’ needs. He says it tends to be more difficult and time consuming to gain this kind of feedback remotely, but they “can accomplish a lot more, faster with nuance when you’re in person with multiple customers.”

SoftServe Innovations Conference

SoftServe Inc., a software application development and consulting company, hosts the SoftServe Innovations Conference. The one-day event usually draws 50 to 100 executive-level attendees. They began producing the conference when their revenues hit $15-20 million annually.

SoftServe

Unlike the events I discussed above, SoftServe tries to gain a return of 2-3 times the investment in the events. According to Mary Brandon, VP of Global Marketing, they “continue to deliver a return of 4 to 8 times the investment.”

The purpose of the SoftServe Innovations Conference is to “bring together the best IT minds, including well-known industry thought-leaders as well as SoftServe customers and strategic partners.” Brandon says that they use the event to increase business with their current customers, as well as build and strengthen the relationships they have with those customers.

SoftServe2

In terms of new business, the conference is used to educate “…potential customers on the business value that SoftServe services and solutions bring to their organizations.” Their end goal is to close the new business that comes in.

Do you host a user conference for your software customers? Is it profitable or do you do it for other reasons? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Looking for software? Check out Capterra's list of the best software solutions.

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About the Author

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Caroline Malamut

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Caroline is the Vendor Marketing Manager at Capterra. Her love of marketing began while growing up in Philadelphia and has only grown since attending the University of Pittsburgh. In her free time she enjoys reading, spending time with friends and family, and cheering on her Philly and Pitt sports teams.

Comments

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I know we run our shows at a loss overall. We try to break even with regards to hotel/transportation/catering cost, but we spend a lot of time in the months leading up to the even preparing sessions and equipment, so in the end we usually take a loss on our annual conference. It’s easy to justify though, since we look at it as a way to cement that relationship with our customers. It helps us really connect and understand our customers pain points, and it gives us the opportunity to educate them in ways to use our software that they didn’t know possible. It energizes us as a staff, and reminds us of why we do what we do. You can’t get that type of emotion from any other type of event.

Something else, we make a point to spread out during lunch and help get conversations going so that companies not only build relationships with us, but also with each other. So many times we’ll hear someone talking about a problem they are facing in their environment, and another customer will say, “Oh yeah, we had to deal with that too! Here’s how we handled it.” That type of networking is hard to fake and takes the right culture to foster. I’ve been to shows where everyone keeps to themselves, and you don’t get as much out of them, even if the sessions are great.

The ultimate goal of our conference is really retention. We want to build such a solid relationship with our customers that they don’t have any questions or doubts about continuing their relationship with us. Our conference is the best way for us to do that.

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Hi Caroline,
Great and really interesting article… Thanks for confirming how important such gatherings can be.
The company I work for, SensioLabs, is the company behind Symfony, one the leading open source PHP Framework. Very early on in the history of the company we decided to create events, in France and then other countries to gather our passionate community of developers.
To this day, this remains our most important marketing effort, gathering anywhere from 150 ( in NYC last week) to 800 developers (in Madrid in November) in 5 to 8 locations each year.
We have found great benefit in doing so over the years. So yes, in this virtual era, it’s more important than ever to meet face to face and spend time together.

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