How we hacked events to get a 90% response rate

Written by on June 25, 2018

When it comes to feeling the pulse of your prospects, nothing is better than meeting them face-to-face. Knowing this, I try not to miss a business event where I can meet our potential customers and talk to them in person. But these events come with their own set of challenges; they are usually overcrowded, everybody is trying to pitch their own business hack, and the majority of attendees are there just for networking.

In the span of past two months, I attended three events – Digital Travel Summit APAC (Singapore), Collision (New Orleans), and Tech In Asia (Singapore) – and had an incredible experience that has added new paradigms to my understanding of how to communicate well with customers. My goal, as the Head of Marketing for Freshchat, was to make us stand out in the crowd and create a lasting impression on people we met.

At Freshworks, we believe that if we can have meaningful conversations with customers, they will remember us for the way we make them feel, the time they spent with us, and the value our product offers. So this time around, I hatched a tactical plan with the marketing team to make our event experience count, and create a memorable impression on our customers.

 

Prospects will remember your product. When they do, make sure they also remember how you made them feel.
– Unknown

For many of us, one of the first things that grab our attention at an event is the swag that vendors give away or the out-of-the-box ideas they come up with to attract more crowds to their booths. Some of these ideas are beyond impressive, such as a popcorn stand within a kiosk. (I may be biased, but I can live on popcorn! So I’d definitely gravitate to any booth that gives popcorn for free.)

However, many of these swag and ideas are rarely practical; it’s foolish to assume that prospects will be impressed and ready to do business with you just because you gave them free caramel popcorns or mass-produced merchs. From a marketing perspective, do these swag convey the experience your brand offers? Far from it.

Another swag idea which has been around forever and has been done to death is printed tees. I remember my dad, who attended many such events in the 90s in his position as the APAC Head of a big corporation, coming back with a bundle of new t-shirts with him. Having freeloaded on a bunch of tees myself from such events in the past, I know for a fact that most people take whatever size of t-shirts they can get their hands on and wear them to bed. They won’t wear it to work or to meet friends. I might wear them to the gym. 🙂

Free tees, popcorns, or unlimited beer refills only go as far as an event’s doorway. Nobody will remember you or your product when you email them a week later saying, “Hey Brad, I really hope you liked our collared t-shirt. Let us know when can we get on a call to discuss a possible business opportunity.”

In this post, I am going to discuss the techniques that I and my fellow marketer comrades used to attract the right people to our product and the results we gained on applying those plans to practice. And the best thing? You don’t have to wait for your swag to be delivered, the mugs to be personalized, or your CRM setup to be able to do this. You can get started with most of these things right away.

From crafting personalized swag to writing great post-event emails, here are three things that we did to get a 90% response rate from people we met across the three events.

 

1. Personalize your meetings

Many businesses who participate at these events come with a briefcase full of brochures that harp on how great their products are. All they want to do is hand out thousands of glossy leaflets that talk about how their product is disrupting a business landscape. But if you are like me, you’ll probably just do a quick once-over of the flyer content and crumple-toss it into the nearest bin because you find it irrelevant.

Trust me, nobody who goes to these events carries these brochures to their homes or offices and thinks to themselves, “Ok, so I have these great brochures from the event that I just came back from. Let me take out two hours of my time tomorrow to go through each of them and see which products and services I can use for my business.”

There are benefits that brochures offer – they can be extremely useful for attracting your target audience, especially in a mad dash situation where they’ve thousands of brands to heed to. But we decided to steer away from the conventional brochure-and-flyer idea and go for something that was more personal and sticky.

We designed personalized greeting cards to give out to likely prospects. Team Freshchat believes in personalizing customer experience, and it’s something that the product does really well. For example, you can use Freshchat to run targeted and contextual campaigns among customers visiting your website based on their behavior on your website.

Going back to the event, we had designed persona-specific greeting cards which recognized our target audience for their great professional work. So we handed out the cards based on personas of the visitors who came to our booth at the events.

 

But you don’t just hand over a greeting card to a random stranger, right? We first needed to develop a rapport with people in order for us to give them the card.

So we struck up conversations with everyone who came to our booth and asked them their motive of coming to the event, basically to map if someone fell into one of our buyer personas. We engaged in small-talk and tried to genuinely understand what they did and if they could benefit from our product. Once we had enough information about them, one of us gave them an elevator pitch of Freshchat and briefly explained how their business could benefit from using it. There was no explicit business ask, no commitment trap.

Instead, we asked them if they would be interested in taking a selfie with one of us – you know, for remembrance. We told them we would email the pictures to them later. People are more likely to remember meeting you and reciprocate better if you share a photo you took with them.

Now, who wouldn’t be flattered by a request for a selfie? It’s today’s equivalent of someone asking for your autograph. Everyone we asked honored the request without a flinch, especially after the informal chit-chat. Taking a selfie with prospects also made our meetings friendlier and more laid back.

 

After the selfie, we continued to talk about the product and their business. We used this time to walk back behind the booth counter and write a handwritten note in the greeting card. Once done, we thanked them for stopping by our booth and wished them well for their success.

 

Apart from the artistic cover and the blank page for me to jot down my handwritten message, the third, fourth, and fifth page of the card had intriguing details on how Freshchat helps businesses elevate their sales and support game. So it wasn’t just a greeting card to make people feel all warm and fuzzy inside (although that definitely was a goal), it actually had a marketing message weaved in it.

It was a brochure like no other at the event, and yet, that wasn’t the end of it. There was one more surprise waiting to unfold.

 

2. ‘Wow’ the people you meet

While we wrote a message on the greeting card, we had a Polaroid Zip mobile printer, sitting secretly in one corner of the booth, that printed the selfie we took with prospects. We stapled the selfie over the hand-written note and also snuck our business cards inside. When people opened the card, they had to flip the photo up to read the message, kind of like reading a postcard.

sample

When we shook hands with prospects and gave them the card, not a single person expected a greeting card with their photo in it and I could tell they were ‘wowed.’ A personalized greeting card served as a fresh breath of air in a crowded space that was trying to sell them everything through flyers and business cards. It made their experience more personalized, more attuned to their attention.

They couldn’t easily dispose of the cards either. Who would throw a greeting card with their name and picture on it, unless of course, they find themselves utterly bad-looking? I covered that base too – my years of interest in amateur photography and an investment in buying the latest smartphone with 16-megapixel camera finally paid off because I made those selfies look nice!

We didn’t come up with this idea out of the blue. We actually employed a science hack to our advantage. Humans process visuals 60,000x faster than text, so people are more likely to remember and return your favor if they remember your face. Most businesses coming to the events focus only on engaging with customers through oratory (conversations) and auditory (listening) means, unaware that those memories can easily fizzle out.

By attaching the selfie on the greeting card, not only did we stimulate their auditory and perceptual senses, we delighted them with this simple yet thoughtful gesture and tattooed a strong recall point in their respective hippocampus.

Each greeting card cover read like a certificate of acknowledgment, so I could imagine prospects pinning it on their cubicle with pride instead of dumping it in the trash can.


3. Take notes to email them later

Despite our best attempts to etch a strong visual memory in everyone we met during the events, we wanted to take my interactions with them to the next level, to see it thrive into meaningful connections.

So we mailed everyone a few days after an event. But we didn’t just copy everyone and blast mass emails asking them to attend our product demo or sign-up for a ‘quickly filling’ webinar. We have done that in the past – guilty as charged – and we’re not very proud of it. This time around though, true to our Freshchat motto of championing conversations through personalization, we added our personal touch in the emails. And taking notes about each person helped us ace at that.

 

Every time a prospect left our booth, we jotted down the highlights of our discussion with them in a small notebook we brought with us. We stuck their visiting cards on the page for us to better recollect our conversations with them. There are plenty of mobile apps for this kind of digital note-taking, but we took the old school route because we didn’t want people to think that we were constantly distracted by the mobile phone.

We recorded even the seemingly trivial nitty-gritty about them to bridge their event experience with the email that we sent them. It’s what made our email stand out, unlike other emails that come across to them as spammy follow-ups.

We also wanted to make our subject lines stood out so that the readers were inquisitive enough to open our emails. The time I spent building an SDR team taught me the importance of writing clickable subject lines. I used a standard subject line that said, “James, here’s your photo from Collison.” Anyone will open an email if they know that it has something interesting that features a part of their lives from the recent past and is not just another cold follow-up email.

When we sat down to write email messages to every individual we met, it felt like we were writing a letter to our friends – thanks to the notes. We kept our emails short, unique to the discussions with our recipients, focused on what was great about our meeting, and how that can be carried forward.

We also attached our mutual selfies with the mail, which made a world of difference. While our emails were unique and personalized to each individual we met, here’s a sample of how I worded an email to one of the SaaS entrepreneurs I met in New Orleans, Rinaldo.

 

Make meaningful connections

We didn’t know the success of our efforts until after a few days of sending emails to the people we had met. We were confident about hearing back from about half of the people and that’s about it. But I am happy to report that we had a record-breaking 90% response rate from everyone we met!

And that’s the measurement of our success of going to these events. More importantly, it’s one of the best lessons we have learned about the value of meaningful communications in order to build fulfilling relationships and not to see prospects merely as dollars and sign-ups.

What are some of the best ways that you have seen marketers or other attendees apply at events in order to attract the right people to their business? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.

Liked the article? Here’s a video that summarizes it in easy takeaways. Share it and spread the word on how marketers can apply some of these to make meaningful connections with people they meet at events.

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