I used to run my own conference and events business until I sold it to the folks at WebMediaBrands in late 2009. As such, I get pitched fairly often by companies with tools and technology products looking to sell to event organizers. Invariably I tell the entrepreneurs to come up with a new model – most event organizers I know are not interested in buying / paying for technology tools for startups unless they drive ticket sales or are a must-have for putting on the event (Wi-Fi, ticketing services such as Eventbrite or Mogotix, etc).
The key to understanding why this is the case is to put yourself in the shoes of your buyer, the event organizer. Putting on a large conference or event is like throwing a dinner party for a few hundred people – you want it to go as smoothly as possible without any major issues. As such, always remember the following:
Putting on events can be really stressful. So many things can go wrong, from food, to Wi-Fi, to speaker no-shows on the day of the event. Adding in a brand new technology product to the mix has the potential to do more harm than good for the organizer.
This applies particularly to technologies that will be deployed and used on the day-of the event. Tools that can be used in advance or following the event are different.
That is, at the core, why a lot of the pitches I see fail to meet the usage test. As an event organizer, there are a few questions you have to ask yourself before you deploy something else:
– If this is a new product, how do I know it will work? Am I the guinea pig?
– If I deploy it at my event and have problems, who will fix them?
– Will this actually add value to the experience for a large slice of my attendees?
Imagine yourself as an event organizer. You deploy some slick tool to your attendees and it fails on the day of the event. You have to get it fixed. And now. If it sounds like a lot of event organizers are conservative or risk-averse, it’s because many are.
The other area where I see real issues is with the business model for a lot of these products. A handful of products have approached me with one of two business models. One is to charge on a per-attendee basis for the product or service. This one can be challenging when I, as the event organizer, have no idea how many (if any) attendees will want to use the product. The other piece of the puzzle is to have a flat fee model. The flat fee model usually ends up being expensive for the event organizer and frankly often isn’t better for the event organizer in most cases.
By and large, event organizers have limited ability to pass on the cost of tech products and services that enhance the experience to the attendee. So any money spent on tech and tools comes right out of the event organizer’s net revenue.
There are two approaches that I think will work for those looking to sell tech products and I’ll summarize them below:
#1 – Wait for the world to catch up and have attendees demand the service is provided
This is clearly not helpful for startups. But in the past few years, there are two technologies that I think used to be considered luxuries that have risen to the level of customer expectation. Those two technologies are free Wi-Fi for conference attendees (and working the whole time no matter how many devices are on the network, I might add) and livestreaming or video recordings of the event sessions. Attendee expectations do eventually push event organizers to start offering new tools and services as part of the cost of doing business.
#2 – Build something attendees can adopt and use without having the event organizer involved
For most companies looking to sell into the events space, I would recommend thinking about how you can go direct to attendees without having to sell directly to the event organizer at first. Looking to build a tool to help attendees network and connect at an event? Try to go direct and find some attendees (via social media, via interest groups, etc) and see if they’d be interested in using the product. Find some way to build momentum among those planning to attend the event and then go back to the organizer and pitch him or her on using the solution. Taking the risk out of the solution and deployment plan can go a long way to making the sale seem less risky.
If you’ve had experience trying to sell products and services to event organizers, feel free to leave a comment here or send me a message @chudson on Twitter.