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Strategy & Planning Updated on: Mar 8, 2023

No more trade shows. Now what?

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Many B2B SaaS Companies still rely heavily on in-person events to drive certain parts of their commercial funnel. Some depend on a Trade show presence or sponsorship to drive awareness, others use it to meet with existing clients or manage vendor relationships.

Read on to learn 9 ideas on how to put your savings in time and spend, that used to go to events, to good use.

“Oracle NetSuite is postponing SuiteWorld 2020, originally scheduled for April 20 - 23, until August 10 - 13, 2020.”

Ok... So what does this mean for the 2020 demand generation plan of a software solution for Netsuite customers?

Is your 2020 growth plan based on the returns you can normally count on from the trade shows you sponsor or visit? How can you update your strategy as many events are being canceled or moved into the future, and some still don’t provide clarity? How does this impact your Marketing and Sales strategy?

What’s the current lay of the land?

The spring and fall are especially important for tech companies that depend on trade shows. A survey of upcoming shows reveals that, as you might expect, many options are in flux.

Some go to the logical format

“The digital experience conference has gone digital.”

For some events going virtual/online/digital might be good. The new headline on the Adobe.com summit events page for the Digital Experience Conference scheduled on March 31 feels natural.

  • Nvidia GPU Technology Conference, San Jose, March 22-26 – now an online event
  • Adobe Digital Experience Conference, March 31 – now an online event
  • Google Cloud Next '20, San Francisco, April 6-8 – now an online event
  • Red Hat Summit 2020 – moved online
  • Adobe Summit and Magento Imagine, Las Vegas, March 29-April 2 – now an online event

Others are cutting bait

  • SXSW, Austin, March 16-22 – cancelled
  • Facebook F8 conference, San Jose, May 5-6 – cancelled
  • Google I/O, Mountain View, May 12-14 – cancelled
  • Business Round-table CEO Innovation Summit, Washington, D.C., March 18 – cancelled

Many get rescheduled or postponed

  • SaaStr Annual 2020, San Francisco, March 10-12 – rescheduled to Sep 2020
  • Gartner Data & Analytics, Grapevine, March 23-26 – postponed
  • BTOES 2020, Orlando, March 23-27 – new date to be announced soon
  • HardwareCon 2020, Mountain View, April 16 – rescheduled to Sep 24

A few are holding on

  • Servicenow “Knowledge” summit, Orlando, May 3-7 – no change yet
  • Saphire Now, Orlando, May 12-14:
“As of today (March 13, 2020), SAP and ASUG are still planning to host our guests at the SAPPHIRE NOW and ASUG Annual Conference, taking place in Orlando, Florida, USA on May 12–14, 2020. We will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation daily and will provide regular updates. Our hope is that the spread of this virus will soon be halted.”
  • From “Sharepoint Fest”, Apr 13-17 in Washington DC:
“Currently, they have no expectation that any events of our size in the DC area will be mandated to be canceled and are moving forward with business as usual. The entire convention center is going through a 2-week complete sanitization ending on April 1. with approximately 350-400 attendees expected, well below the current 1000 person threshold advised by the DC leadership. We expect the current reality to be fairly different at the time of the event as it is still a month away.”

So where does this leave you?

First, one event might be worth attending, given the new reality is The remote work summit 2020, where they promise to address building a remote culture, remote organization, and remote team.

Ask for your money back?

Do you want to ask for your money back? Can you? Should you plan for a new date?

Policies will be different per organization. Red Hat shares the following on their website, and basically provides the option to get your money back:

“Attendees who were registered for Red Hat Summit will have two options: roll over their conference pass to Red Hat Summit 2021 or refund their conference pass.
Red Hat Summit 2020 sponsors will have the following options:
  • Rollover your investment to Red Hat Summit 2021 at your same sponsorship level, at the 2020 rate.
  • Receive a full refund of your sponsorship fee.”

As the role conferences play in your Marketing and Sales mix might change forever based on what we learn this year, my recommendation is: Do not commit to a future event if you have the option to get your money back. Bank the cash and try out new things that might work well. You may find that you don’t want to invest in these events in the future, or that later this year is still not the right time.

Will I get the same ROI later this year?

It’s unlikely that all these conferences and events will be able to secure good venues with the same efficiency, cost, and convenience within 2020 or even in 2021. Capacity at suitable venues is limited and most of these take at least a year to plan to do them well. This means that even if many trade shows and events will get rescheduled, you cannot bet your business on them to the same extent as you have in the past.

What’s the alternative?

Turn lemons into lemonade

Can you find new opportunities that can provide new levels of ROI?

  1. Find deals - Sponsor live/online events. If you can reach your ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) and the right Audience Persona through these new online events, you might be able to find a great sponsorship opportunity that was not available before.
  2. Increase reach - Online events may reach a larger part of your target audience. Sponsoring an online event could get you a different type of exposure, with different levels, reach, or impact.
  3. Learn - Let your team experience these events that now often are free, like this Adobe Summit or the this ABM Innovation Event

Speed up the digital transformation of your marketing and sales teams

  1. Challenge your sales team - Now that they cannot go to trade shows or meet prospects in person, can they work on improving their pitch and demo skills on Zoom calls? Turn their calls into great recorded sessions to learn from and potentially turn into great online content.
  2. Build that BDR playbook that’s long overdue - You know you need a sales training guide for new team members, and writing up your call script, objection handling, and qualification questions needs to be done anyway. Building on #1, challenge your sales team to create those great sales tools.
  3. Build new lists - Now that you can’t meet people at trade shows, or buy the list of attendees, it’s a great moment to double down on defining your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and pilot a new Account-Based Marketing program using phone, LinkedIn and email outreach. 
  4. Interview your customers - Catch up on those long overdue “health checks” with your existing customers. Seek out new ways to add value as they’re also experiencing these challenging times. If you can’t sell something new, this investment will pay in increased customer retention and satisfaction.
  5. Clean up your online “booth” - Now that your online presence is more important than ever, invest in the long-overdue SEO that your website needs. Clean up your social presence from your LinkedIn profile to your online brand. Just like your trade show booth tells your audience a lot about your quality and how you show up, so does your online presence. Take this opportunity to get it to the next level.
  6. Follow-up and retarget - What happened to the leads from the last trade show or event you participated in? Can you invest the time that’s now freed up to make sure you nurtured those contacts well? Retarget them with email and other media. Reconnect now since they have canceled their trip to the tradeshow as well.
  7. Take your sponsorship digital - Can you repurpose your event’s budget to invest in other paid channels? There’s so much more out there these days then just Google Adwords and Facebook ads. Do an experiment with the many new options like sponsored content, sponsor a webinar or podcast, pilot a LinkedIn advertising campaign, or invest in an online academy. 
  8. Organize a virtual trade show - What did you plan to do at the trade show? If you were doing a keynote or breakout session, can you turn that into a virtual event? Can you turn the demo in your booth into a self-service online demo?
  9. Rethink your swag - Now that you don’t need to buy USB sticks or T-shirts to give away at the booth, can you come up with a more interesting “giveaway” that helps your digital customer journey? What tools can you develop that provide value to your prospects as they evaluate and consider their options?


If anything, the current crisis challenges marketing and sales professionals to rethink the balance of what they do to drive Awareness, Consideration, and Conversion. What role do events play in all these stages of the funnel and can some of these be done with digital alternatives?

Ask yourself about the event you were spending money on, what was it for, how did you define success and ROI, and what would be the digital alternative to achieve the same?

No more Tradeshows



What’s next?

Kalungi is an agency that specializes in “Growth-as-a-Service” using all the various channels that B2B SaaS companies have at their disposal. 

A complimentary offer for you

To offer some support we’ve created a special 1-hour consultation with one of our Associate CMOs to help you “balance your portfolio” of marketing priorities. The consult includes:

  • Budget bench-marking - Where are your funds and resources going, and how does this stack up vs. other B2B SaaS ventures?
  • Reviewing your marketing calendar and thinking through options combining the right timing, channel, and tactics to get maximum ROI when you shift budget to spending on digital.
  • Assessment of your online presence, digital advertising, or other alternatives to in-person events and trade shows. Bench mark your KPIs and priorities
  • Account-based marketing planning - Collaborate on a plan for you to find new leads and prospects using a high-quality outbound marketing campaign strategy to make up for the “hole” that the lack of events and trade shows will leave behind.

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