September 2022 marks our third XeroCon and though it felt a little different than previous years, it was our most successful yet. I've written a few thoughts about what to expect and how to get the most from exhibiting at #XeroCon.
First of all, what is XeroCon?
The marketing materials would have you believe it's a 2-day industry conference and learning opportunity to find out what the latest is with Xero and its broader ecosystem. This is absolutely true, but it's better described as a pilgrimage, massive gathering, and celebration of the Xero community. Friends reunite after long absences, networks open up, and new relationships start to form. It has the vibe of a bustling marketplace complete with spectacle and awe as you walk into the main exhibition hall.
Figure: Image courtesy of XeroCon Photo Gallery
This is where you'll spend 99% of your time during the event, as there's always an opportunity to be speaking with delegates, even during sessions. You won't be bored either, as there's usually a variety of activities on the show floor and plenty of other exhibitors to talk to.
In addition to the main exhibition hall, there's also:
- a main stage for keynotes and conference-wide presentations;
- breakout stages for the smaller sessions, hosted by Xero and a variety of partners and;
- a couple of demo stations where longer form demos are presented to the crowd wearing headphones.
There are thousands of delegates and plenty of opportunity for great conversations, so let's dive into why you may or may not want to exhibit.
What's your reason for exhibiting?
Before anything else you need to work out what you'd like to gain from the event. There's actually a few ways to benefit from exhibiting at XeroCon, but the most popular are going to be:
Sign up as many people as possible
If you're new to the Xero marketplace or looking to be added, XeroCon is an ideal way to put your product in front of Accountants and Bookkeepers. Most delegates are keen to explore what is on offer, and willing to put in a little time to understand and try things out. This time isn't unlimited though, so be sure to have a good reason for how this will help the delegate save time/money in future.
Collect just the high quality leads
If you've already got a solid understanding of your target customer, XeroCon is a great way to get some face time with decision makers and begin the relationship. Get your pitch across and book in a demo/follow up meeting on the spot. I highly recommend this approach, as it isn't too overwhelming, but locks in a continuing conversation. This was about 20% of our reason for attending.
This is actually where we sit now, with our remaining 80% reason for attending to just maintain relationships (with both Xero and delegates) and to keep our brand relevant when payments are being discussed. Over time our target customer has drifted away from Accountants and Bookkeepers, and into the broader Australian B2B company base. This means while we're still trying to sell ourselves, mostly we're explaining the benefits of our platform as a whole.
The one warning I'd drop here, is that if you're planning to rely on referrals from accountants or bookkeepers to their clients, then think again. There is a mountain of trust to be built up before that will happen, and even then it's still difficult. I'd recommend approaching a Cloud Integrator company such as SMB Consultants who will have a better understanding of the ecosystem and already have a reputation for helping customers find ecosystem apps.
I'm adding this in as well, despite the fact you could simply purchase a delegate ticket and have most of the same networking opportunities. The difference when exhibiting is that you are showing a commitment to the ecosystem and are more likely to form a lasting relationship with Xero and it's partners.
Is it worth the cost?
There are a few packages you can take, but if you're reading this, the two key stands are the Standard Booth and the Startup Alley. We did the startup alley the first time around, followed by two years of standard booths. Let's take a look at what's provided and the costs associated.
Figure: XeroCon 2018 - Startup Alley
Cost: ~5k AUD.
Paul and I split the cost of the startup alley out of our own pockets when we first started, as we didn't have any company money yet! It's a great atmosphere and a relatively cost effective way of obtaining early customers. It was well worth the cost when we started and exposed us to many great relationships. Building trust is the hardest part of being an early company (especially for us as we handle money), so be prepared for questions about how long you've been in business, and what your plans are for the future. There's room for about 2 people with a couple of stools and a little bench.
Figure: XeroCon 2018 - Our first booth
Figure: XeroCon 2022 - Our third boothCost ~17k AUD.
The standard booth has space for three people, a bar table and stools, and a storage bench for merch and bags. Paying for the first year of the standard booth was a bit of a stretch for us. Luckily, we had just raised a small amount of money, but this was still a significant purchase and we had high expectations for the return on investment. Our goal was to sign up customers, and we ended up with around 190 leads, however it would take the next year and a half to see any real returns.
Partly this was due us finding our ideal customer, and partly due to the long term nature of our industry. It's now been 3 years since our first standard booth and I can reflect back to see that while returns in the short term didn't meet our expectations, over time it has been worth the money and effort. We didn't know it at the time but brand awareness and resiliency was working in our favour, like a snowball rolling down a hill, we're gaining traction and recognition.
Figure: XeroCon 2022 - Many standard booths in the background. One larger booth mid-left.
Be prepared - Get the most out of the event
Let's take a look at what you should be thinking about long before the event starts.
Who is your ideal customer?
Though there are a wide variety of delegates and exhibitors, this is an accounting and bookkeeping conference at heart. Make sure what you're selling works for those people or it will be a difficult time for you. I mentioned it earlier, if you're targeting accountant's or bookkeeper's customers, it will be a little harder, but not impossible. Having good conversational skills can really open up opportunities to discover customer pain points. Everyone seems to have a niche of their own, and you'll be surprised about what you can learn by asking about their specific customer base.
Get your message across
I'm going to break this one down into brand and signage, materials, and merchandise. Let's start with the booth branding.
Booth branding and message
You can assume most delegates don't know who you are or what you do. You've got a few seconds and half a glimpse at your booth for them to judge whether or not you are relevant to their interests. Get a short, sharp, large font headline nice and high and make sure it says what you do, not why you should buy. You've got plenty of time once they talk to you to convince them of your product, but the headline needs to categorise you.
Our current headline is "Collect payments on autopilot". You'll be surprised how long it took and how much effort went into finding an effective headline. Our first year, people weren't sure if we let businesses collect payment, or make payment. That was a hard learning experience about just how easy it is to get the headline wrong.
Once you've nailed the headline, go for branding. A nice big logo for the top board, some company colours as a background and some sort of interesting to look at image/artwork/design so people don't gloss over you. Our current design isn't perfect, but it does the job well.
OK, they're interested and want to chat. The most common starting lines will be, "So, what do Pinch do?" or "What do you guys do differently?". It's at this point that everyone's sales strategy will be different. Personally, I try to give the 15 second overview and see if they gravitate towards a question. My Sales Director, Bill, who is much better than me at talking to customers, mostly asks questions. Have you heard of us? Do you currently take payments online? Do you have clients with pain points when trying to get paid? It leads to a more natural conversation.
The one thing we both had in common this year though was a very nice flyer. Admittedly it was fairly last minute, but boy-howdy did it make an enormous difference to our pitch. Suddenly we had something tangible in our hands when discussing our features and benefits. The middle of the brochure laid out 6 features that customers perused and honed in on. It made the experience of describing what we do much more visual and interesting.
The back of the flyer had our call to action which made closing the conversation that much easier. Were they worth booking a meeting with? Great here's the QR code, scan it now and we can book a time in Bill's calendar on the spot. If not, we could leave the flyer with the delegate, and if they didn't want the flyer (nor the digital version), then we know not to bother following up. 95% of people took the flyer though, so there was pretty good interest.
Figure: Our XeroCon 2022 Flyer. Feel free to download and explore.
But Ben, this was supposed to be a paperless conference! I understand the intention of the organisers to try and reduce waste, but I've got to tell you, the flyers were so effective and worth it, that I don't think it's a good idea to push the paperless message. A digital brochure is next to useless, I mean my website is one giant well crafted digital brochure is it not? Pushing people to a website / digital brochure in person is weird and kind of not the point of getting physically together. Speaking of waste though, let's talk about merch.
I'm a big fan of merch. It's a nice way to get a little brand out into the world and it can be fun as a delegate to chase down all the cool knick knacks you can find. There's plenty of people that don't like merch, and see it as cheap junk. I actually agree here too, I think if you're going to do merch it has to be good quality and something you would personally love to own and use yourself.
We currently give out stubby coolers. These can live at home, be given away to friends, and are generally a useful thing to have on hand. They're reusable and any we have left over can be used for future events. No waste. I also go for the good quality ones, non-collapsable thick neoprene with a base. I'm proud to own them, and proud to give them away.
Figure: The latest iteration of our stubby coolers
Walking into the hall to set up your booth is fun. It's neat to see what everything looks like, and to be honest, all of the hard work is now already done, so it's pretty low stress. It's just a case of execution now. There's also usually app partners drinks on the night before the event starts which is a great networking event and nice casual get together.
On the first day, you'll have some eager beavers come in early to chat. The keynote and first session will run and then the big wave of delegates will flow in. You'll have periods of being swamped mixed in with periods of downtime during popular sessions. Your feet will hurt by the end of the day, but you've made it, you've had good conversations and you've learned how to adjust your pitch to suit the audience. There's also normally drinks in the exhibition hall on the first afternoon, but they were sorely missing this year. A shame, but hopefully next year brings them back.
The second day is more of the same, though what you may find is that the people who REALLY wanted to see you already have, and now the broader delegation are looking around, having absorbed some of the info given out during the sessions, and they're ready to see what's on offer. As quickly as it came, the event winds down and comes to a close. By this time you will have filled your lead capture device with some great leads, and accomplished the goal you set out for. It's now time to gear up for the afterparty.
The Afterparty aka The Drawcard
As much as the event itself can be fulfilling and entirely worth it on it's own, I think the afterparty is what gives Xero it's "cult" like status. Who knew accountants and bookkeepers could party. It's the photos and stories from the afterparty, shared between colleagues and on socials, that drive the hype for the event. It's usually extravagant and fun, and the memory that lingers into the next year.
Figure: Image courtesy of XeroCon Photo Gallery
Once the event is done, leave a little time to let everyone recover and catch up on their work. You can ask people during the event when they'd like to be followed up. Our strategy of booking meetings automatically takes care of this, but know that typically they want between 1 and 4 weeks delay before communication.
Also, know that it's not now or never. Many conversations we've started have come back alive once the appropriate client or pain point arises.
And that's it! If you have any questions about the event feel free to get in touch. I'm @BenWhoLikesBeer on twitter, or Ben Cull on LinkedIn. PS, if you're an app partner in Brisbane or Melbourne, we put on events periodically through the year and would love to have you join us and the community.