Dream Big: How Revenue Leaders Maximize ROI at Dreamforce

Joseph Floyd
Oct 18, 2017 · 7 min read

Dreamforce is the Superbowl of SaaS. Wait, no. It’s bigger than the Superbowl. Over 170,000 SaaS superstars will descend on San Francisco in less than a month to buy, sell and learn about enterprise software. Dreamforce is so big that organizers are going to park a CRUISE SHIP in the Bay to serve as a floating hotel in order to ease the demand on the city’s limited hotel infrastructure. Think about that for a second.

With thousands of companies hosting booths, organizing info sessions and dropping dollars on happy hours, how can anyone stand out in the chaos? How can sales meet new customers and close more deals? How can marketing justify the increasing costs associated with Dreamforce? To answer these questions and more, we reached out to Sales and Marketing executives in the Emergence portfolio who have dozens of Dreamforce’s under the belt.

1. How can you best prepare your sales team before Dreamforce starts?

Start by making sure your team knows and understands the goals and objectives for the event:

  • Quantify how many meaningful conversations with potential prospects and current customers they need to have each day so that they know what’s expected of them.
  • Schedule a few training sessions before the event to make sure that everyone can give a nice concise pitch.
  • Finally, do your research. Find out which current clients will be attending as well as prospective clients, and be where they will be (hotel lobbies, at certain booths, etc.), ready with the pitch you’ve practiced and a next step.

Takeaway: Prepare clear, quantifiable objectives for your team and enable them with training ahead of time.

Derek Grant, VP Sales @ SalesLoft

2. How much of your sales team do you bring to Dreamforce and how do you want your reps spending their time?

We have a small sales organization, but we are more focused on quality of time over quantity. A mix of personalized meetings, small social events, and a personal approach to meeting our prospects goes very far. Putting in the work ahead of time is important!

Make sure your reps are reaching out to the right prospects, and make sure you’re aligned with marketing on what types of meetings and events you are investing in! You’ll run into the same group of people at your various events and meetings — treat them as interconnected! There’s no one way to win Dreamforce, make sure your time counts.

Takeaway: It’s all about quality over quantity — have reps have fewer more meaningful meetings, rather than taking an impersonal approach!

Rob Perez, Head of Sales @ Chorus.ai

3: What types of marketing programs do you run to support Dreamforce leading up to the event?

Many of the marketing leaders that I speak to consider launching their own product announcements the week of Dreamforce, which I think is a mistake. Salesforce will launch a series of product announcements and strategic investments that week that will inevitably drown out the news that your company may have. Instead, here are some ideas to consider:

  • The best thing to do is launch 1–2 weeks prior to DF or 1–2 weeks post DF, unless you are actually a part of the announcement strategy at Dreamforce. In order to maximize coverage, you have to find a time where your announcement can be heard.
  • Another idea that I’ve used to my advantage is news jacking/trend jacking. The term itself may sound off-putting but put simply, it’s the art of taking advantage of a trending topic and using it to your advantage. You can gain attention by using news announcements or trending events to amplify your point of view. For example, if you’re an AI company and you have an idea that Salesforce is launching a new Einstein feature, you can tie your AI news to whatever Salesforce announces that day by writing a piece of content that ties back with their news. This will require a bit of prep-work and prediction — you’ll have to have the content ready to launch and will need to monitor all of Salesforce’s announcement activity.

Takeaway: In order to drive awareness during a crowded time, find a time to launch your product/initiative that isn’t noisy or be creative and use trend jacking as a means to draw attention during the event.

Viviana Faga, Operating Partner @ Emergence Capital

4: What type of spend has the best ROI? Going big at the booth, pushing for speaking slots, throwing a party or laying low and booking meetings around the event?

ROI at conferences can be defined differently depending on the company size and trajectory. It’s important to set objectives prior to the show such as building your brand, increasing the prospect pool or nurturing relationships with potential customers further down your sales funnel (and ideally a mix!). For earlier and growth stage companies, we’ve seen great results from a mix and match approach such as:

  • A small intimate event with your top prospects coupled with a speaking event to tell your story
  • A stand-out booth (of any size) with a strong brand presence on the conference floor and public areas helping drive traffic.

Conferences aren’t one size fits all, and I recommend having a few different tactics to help achieve your unique goals.

Takeaway: Align your spend with a stage appropriate goal, and don’t be afraid to mix and match!

Alexandra Kane, Head of Marketing @ Chorus.ai

5: What is the most unique marketing stunt you’ve seen at Dreamforce?

Conferences are a time that a lot of people decide to pull out a publicity stunt or daring marketing technique. We don’t blame them, and we’ve tried a few ourselves. A few years back we hired a Marc Benioff impersonator and fake security staff to hang out at our booth. At the time, SalesLoft had 15 employees and we were a bootstrapped startup bursting onto the tech scene in Atlanta. We could only afford the smallest exhibitors booth at Dreamforce so we knew we had to push the boundaries and think outside the box.

We headed to Dreamforce with 5 employees and our Marc impersonator. Using our resources, we had our Director of Sales act like Marc’s bodyguard by dressing up in a black suit and headpiece. Our Director of Marketing posed as his publicist to navigate the schedule and meet-and-greets. The goal was to get so much attention that eventually Marc himself would visit our booth. Not only did he show up, Marc took a picture with his doppelganger at our booth and tweeted it!

The key is to make sure your marketing stunt aligns with and boosts your brand. Conversely, you could have your sales team dress up like clowns and that would definitely get you attention, but it doesn’t reflect well on your brand or your sales organization.

Takeaway: Be creative to stand out from the crowd as long as your marketing stunts align and boost your brand.

Kevin O’Malley, VP Marketing @ SalesLoft

6: At a show like Dreamforce, are you primarily interested in pitching to other exhibitors (ie other tech companies who may be looking for go-to-market solutions) or to the general attendees?

At most shows, the reality is that our target customers tend to be the tech companies who are exhibiting at the show. We get most of our trade show ROI from those customers. But at Dreamforce, every company we want to speak with has at least one attendee at the show. For our business, we spend 30% of our time and effort trolling around the booths asking to speak to the Channel Chiefs, and 70% on catching the eyes/ears of attendees walking past our booth. Of course, the majority of the success we have with Dreamforce comes from the campaigns leading up to and following the show. We typically get over 3x ROI on this show because of our efficient and effective follow up.

Takeaway: Most ROI comes from other tech companies/our customers at Dreamforce, versus general attendees. With that being said, it’s still important to have visibility at your booth with those walking around.

Dave R Taylor, CMO @ Impartner

7: What is the story behind the biggest sales deal your team has closed at Dreamforce?

Dreamforce attracts execs from some of the biggest companies in the world. Why? They come to meet with Salesforce executives and learn about how they can create a better partnership with them. Additionally, they come to meet and network with their peers. If you’ve done your homework and have established a relationship with the executive prior to Dreamforce then you’ve got an amazing opportunity to close (or uncover) some massive deals.

At Dreamforce, Salesforce runs an executive briefing center where hundreds of execs from companies all over come to meet with their Salesforce revenue sales leaders. I’ve seen multi-million dollar deals done in just one hour. But remember most of the legwork had been done months in advance of these meetings. So if you’re coming to Dreamforce, know that you’ll likely have access to the right buying audience and if you’ve done the right amount of legwork you too can close multi-million dollar deals. Pro tip: book a suite in one of the hotels nearby so you can create your own pseudo executive briefing center like the one Salesforce runs at Dreamforce.

Takeaway: Do the legwork ahead of Dreamforce and use the event to create executive meetings between your leadership and the senior leadership of your prospects. If you’ve done enough work ahead of time you might just close your own multi-million dollar deal.

Doug Landis, Growth Partner @ Emergence Capital

Joseph Floyd

Written by

Venture capital investor and author of Silicon Heroes (www.siliconheroes.com). You can find me living at the intersection of technology and snowboarding.

More From Medium

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade