So a lot of SaaStr’s team is getting back from Shoptalk, a big industry e-commerce event that is a little like the e-commerce version of SaaStr Annual.

We did a dinner with some of our top partners and some of the conversation went to the ROI on big events:

  • Some folks just advocated for just buying tickets to the event and networking.  This is cheapest, of course.  If you can work a room, the ROI here is real.
  • Some folks advocated their own side events and dinners.  This is cheaper, and you can easily decide who to invite.
  • Others spent big, big, big on the event. This can cost 20x-200x more than just a nice customer dinner, let alone a couple of tickets.

So what’s the right approach?  Well, we’ve done a lot of events at SaaStr and we just want everyone to be happy.  But we’ve learned a few things:

* First, buyers go to the top events.  And they go to the expo when they are there.  The top buyers in every industry want to meet their existing vendors, and meet the top new ones.  And they walk the expo, and talk to the vendors.  It’s in their interest to do so. It’s efficient for them. So if you can afford it, it almost always makes sense to have a booth at the top events in your industry.  If — and if this is a big if — you know how to work an event.

* Second, inviting your existing customers to a nice dinner during a big event always works, too.  If your top customers are at Dreamforce or Shoptalk or SaaStr Annual or wherever, take them out to dinner!   And ideally, get prospects and existing customers together.  This works.  The only problem is that it’s limited to your list and your own contacts.  So it’s not the same as a booth.

* Third, just attending a top industry event is worth it, if you are good at networking.  Of course, you’ll meet some great people.  Personally, I’m even a bit of an introvert, but I always meet and reconnect with some great people at any top industry event.

Finally, note that events have certain economies at scale.  Not of scale, but at scale.  When your marketing budget is $50k a year, a $50k booth makes zero sense.  But when it’s $5m a year, it’s just one piece of a puzzle.  And in fact, events get more cost-effective the bigger you are, and the ROI should be even higher, because you get more leverage out of all the attendees.

So it’s OK for your field and events strategy to evolve.  First, start by showing up.  Then host a dinner or two.  Then add a booth when you can afford it. Then, a really big one once you own the segment.

It all works.  The key is just understanding if you have the team and resources that know how to do it.  If you do — back them and let them run with it.

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