How to negotiate with conference organizers

Industry conferences and exhibitions can often be one of the most expensive marketing activities in your calendar. Remember, it’s not just the conference fees you have to budget for; swag, stand design and build, travel, staff accommodation, the list of expenses goes on.

That’s not to say that these types of events aren’t valuable; they can be hugely successful in connecting buyers to your offer.

However, it’s vital that you understand how you’ll be measuring the ROI of your investment because you can guarantee the event organizers will be strong-arming you to sign for next year’s event before you’ve even started the pack-down.

This is a tactic I’ve been seeing more and more frequently. Before the event is even over, your conference account manager will whisk you to a private room, lavish you with pastries and demand your commitment for next year.

Don’t sign now and you’ll risk losing your prized stand location opposite the coffee station, they’ll tell you. You might even be warned that next year’s event is over-subscribed and you might be relegated to the graveyard speaker slot on the Friday at 4pm.

I can’t blame them of course. It’s good selling practice – they’re simply capitalizing on the buzz of the event while it’s happening in front of you.

Post-conference ROI can take six weeks

The one problem with this, and the thing that so many event account managers fail to understand, is that the days of orders being signed on-stand are long gone. If I’m measuring my ROI based on sales revenue then I need time.

  • Three days to cover travelling home, debriefing the team, processing all of the leads that have been collected and building my post-event outreach.
  • A week for the SDR team to qualify the leads and book meetings / demos.
  • Depending on calendar availability, up to two weeks to run these meetings / demos.
  • A week to chase follow-up and log any qualified opportunities.
  • A week to continue discussions and progress an opportunity far enough that it can be committed to pipeline.

So, that’s 4-6 weeks before I have enough data to really start building a credible ROI that’ll get buy-in from the wider business.

Demand a break-clause

With this in mind, don’t be afraid to negotiate hard. The organizer might start the conversation claiming there’s nothing they can do, but I’ve yet to walk out of one of those meetings without the organizer conceding to a break-clause in the contract. Hold your ground and chances are they magically appear, pre-printed and ready to be completed with a break-clause date.

Push for this break-clause when negotiating next year’s event and signing – at least four weeks, more if you can get it. It’ll show commitment to the organizer, and provide you with some breathing space to run your ROI analysis.

  • Look beyond the buzz of the show-floor – sentiment changes when prospects are back in the office.
  • Go armed with your sales cycle data. Show your account manager how long it will take to measure your ROI based on typical lead to opportunity / pipeline times.
  • Play good cop / bad cop if you need to. Show willingness to continue the partnership, but explain that the budget holder will require ROI on the current event first.
  • If it’s your first time at the event, ask to speak to long-term exhibitors so you can gauge their own experiences and ROI.

Good luck!

jump out as one of the most expensive marketing activities


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