Last month, I attended Dreamforce, a software user conference hosted by web-based CRM software giant Salesforce.com. If you’ve ever been, you know just how exciting, overwhelming, and tiring the experience can be!
After returning from my cross-country trip, I needed some time to stop and think about what I had just experienced over the course of four, action-packed days. Now, I’d like to share with you some of my top takeaways from not only this conference, but why I believe it is well worth both the time and monetary investment to attend similar events.
My hope is that I can help make the case for other B2B software marketers as to why they should consider sending their team members to user conferences for CRM, Marketing Automation, Social Media, or other software they currently use.
A Networking Extravaganza
There were over 150,000 registered attendees at Dreamforce ‘14. That gave me 150,000 new people to meet, network with, and help build a relationship with Capterra. If you’re in the B2B space, I’m not sure there is a better business networking event than Dreamforce.
Throughout the event, I was in breakout sessions with like-minded professionals, or wandering the expo floor surrounded by hundreds of cloud computing companies, or simply eating lunch next to other hungry professionals. Literally, at any point during the day, I never knew who I’d be talking to next.
As a marketing professional, the relationships I build for myself and Capterra are extremely valuable. Attending a conference full to the brim of similar professionals is one of the best ways to create and nurture those relationships. For example, if I’m interested in partnering with a company to promote our service, I can meet face-to-face with them and really get to know them on a personal level, not just over email. I think that creates a stronger connection for when the time comes for me to reach out to them to possibly work together. The likelihood that they will be responsive is significantly greater. Or if I hope to pitch an article that I wrote to a blogger, I can meet that blogger in person before sending them a cold pitch.
So if you plan on interacting with anyone outside of your company―which is necessary if you’re in marketing―then user conferences help you to build a worthwhile business network.
Explore, Discover, and Learn
With over 1,400 sessions this year, Dreamforce attendees had access to an abundance of knowledge. Salesforce held sessions for every business function, from sales and marketing, to IT, developers, and engineers. If you wanted to attend sessions only for nonprofits, or just retail and consumer goods, you could tailor your agenda to meet your specific needs.
Conference hosts want to be more than just a tradeshow floor for companies to advertise their products. It’s an opportunity to educate the industry they serve, as well as facilitate interesting and informative conversations by industry leaders about hot topics. Depending on the size, there could be dozens, hundreds, even thousands of sessions to attend, which means a wide variety of subjects to choose from.
You can expand your knowledge of one skill, or learn about something completely new! It’s a great way to truly focus on growing as a marketing professional.
A Time to Brainstorm
When I’m in the office, I’m focused on my responsibilities and getting my work done. It’s a rare occasion when I have the time to step back from my day-to-day and think big picture about new marketing campaigns and tactics.
At Dreamforce, I had four days to attend sessions, walk around the expo floor, and just THINK. Most of my ideas came from attending the various sessions. I covered my notebook with scribbles and thoughts about how I could apply their examples to my work at Capterra.
Sometimes you just need to get out of the office to come up with good, actionable ideas for your business, and a conference can help! Can’t figure out how to engage with your customers? Sit in on a panel about email marketing and learn how other companies have used email to achieve that goal. Looking for a new way to leverage your database? Check out a session discussing lead scoring and grading and how to improve your targeting. You never know what ideas will spring to life with a little time away from your desk!
New Product Information
Most attendees of Dreamforce use Salesforce, or a Salesforce-owned software. Product representatives are everywhere, allowing you to discuss user-specific topics face-to-face. And most of these vendors use Dreamforce to unveil new features and capabilities to attendees. It’s an exclusive opportunity, only available to those who attend the sessions in-person. So if you want to know what Salesforce and its family of products has in store for the future, Dreamforce is the place to be!
That’s why, if you use a marketing software product, it can be incredibly useful to attend their user conference. You’ll be able to attend sessions specifically about how to use the solution, including one-on-one training opportunities. Account representatives can walk you through how to set up an email nurture track, or where to find the reports you need to measure your campaigns’ ROI. This is especially valuable if you’re a new user of the software, as they can show you step by step how to effectively utilize the product to best meet your business’s goals.
There could also be sneak-peeks of new features that are only shown to those who attend the conference. Sure, everyone will eventually be in on the secret of what’s coming down the pipeline, but don’t you want to know first? You’ll have an advantage over competitors also using the product, allowing you to plan future marketing campaigns with these new capabilities in mind. Then, when the new features roll out, you’ll be ready to go, way ahead of your competition!
Fun, Fun, Fun!
Dreamforce sure knows how to throw a party! My dad works in the pharmaceutical industry, and he has been to his fair share of conferences, but when I told him I would be hearing Hillary Clinton and Neil Young speak, as well as attending a free concert by Bruno Mars, he simply muttered, “marketers…” and shook his head, baffled by my career.
He has a point; marketing conferences are known to be tons of fun, with interesting keynotes and wild performances. This year, Kevin Spacey spoke at Content Marketing World; Maroon 5 and Lenny Kravitz performed at past Adobe Summits. The phrase “work hard, play hard” is one that marketers definitely live by.
Other than once in a lifetime speakers and entertaining performers, conferences also give marketers the opportunity to travel and see new places. I had never been to San Francisco, let alone California, before attending Dreamforce. While my time there was packed with sessions and networking events, I did get the opportunity to explore the city and see some pretty cool things. Did you know that sea lions just hang out at a pier on Fisherman’s Wharf? (Washington, D.C.’s wildlife consists of squirrels and pigeons) Everyone should travel and explore new places, so adding that to your conference agenda is a huge perk, both personally and professionally.
Dreamforce was fantastic, amazing, exhausting, and an incredible opportunity for my growing career. I am so glad to have been a part of it and can’t wait to attend another marketing conference!
Have you ever attended a user conference? What were your biggest takeaways? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.