64 Questions to Ask When Planning your Next User Conference (Part I)

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Ah. The elusive B2B software user conference. With fancy venues, lavish networking events, product demos galore, and more content than anyone can possibly digest, the B2B software user conference has become a must-do for SaaS companies to educate customers, build relationships, launch products, and drive expansions. Even in the digital age with the explosion of social media, these face-to-face conferences continue to gain momentum.

These events provide a fantastic opportunity to expand your customer experience beyond typical interactions like sales, training, and consulting. Further, having your customers interact with each other is priceless. Strategically coordinating simple conversations between your top advocates and prospects can accelerate the sales cycle. Customer-to-customer conversations can ignite new up-sell and expansion opportunities.

Companies like Salesforce and Oracle have set a high bar for conference innovation and are often the gold standard that other SaaS businesses aspire to, although usually on a smaller scale. Whether you’re planning your company’s first user conference, or if you’ve been doing it for years, here are 64 key questions that stakeholders should think about to maximize the opportunity.

The Basics: Date and Location
What comes first, the chicken on the egg? Sometimes the date of the event will drive the location (a winter conference is best suited for a warmer location), and sometimes the location will drive the date. Determine what your top priority is — date or location — and then plan from there. Your goal should be to make the conference as easy as possible for your customers to attend. For example, if you have an international customer base, you should plan your conference in a city that has a large international airport.

1. Is the location convenient for your customers to travel to?
2. When are the competitor’s conferences?
3. When are the largest industry conferences that could pose a conflict?
4. Are there any holidays or school breaks that could pose an issue?
5. Is a high hotel room rate going to be a barrier to a large portion of your customers?
6. From a sales cycle perspective, is a certain time of year more advantageous?
7. Does the location suit your brand? (Fun, professional, casual, etc.)
8. Could severe weather impact your event at a particular date and location?

Pricing Structure
Pricing can be tricky. There are hundreds of things you can do with discounts and free passes to encourage attendance, but you can’t lose sight of the budget. If your registration fees won’t cover the cost of the conference, make sure you have a way to measure ROI (more on this later in Part II). Consider working conference passes into sales contracts. A $750 registration fee will seem less costly as a line item of a $300,000 contract than a credit card transaction on an employee expense report.

9. How much do your competitors charge?
10. What is your average sales price? If it’s upwards of $1M, then you may consider a lower price point than companies with a smaller ASP. In other words, the more revenue you stand to gain from each attendee, the more attractive the price should be. You don’t want to be seen as nickle-and-diming a customers who spend millions of dollars with you.
11. What is your target cost per attendee? Be sure to factor in food and beverage, SWAG, and hotel room subsidies.
12. Are you trying to make a profit, break even, or consider it an investment in your sales pipeline?
13. How important is it to have customers register early? This will drive how aggressive your early bird pricing is.
14. How will you determine who gets free passes, and how many will you give out?
15. Will you allow refunds and/or substitutions?
16. How important is it that multiple people from a business attend, and how will that drive your group discounts?

Agenda Structure
It’s much easier to develop a content strategy and plan networking events if you first have an agenda structure in place. Developing an outline 6-9 months before the conference will keep everyone organized and marching to the same beat. Even though specific time slots will likely change due to presenter availability and other variables, be sure to have a defined framework in place. This outline will serve as a “scope of work” for content planning.

17. Do you want to have separate tracks for different types of attendees?
18. If so, will they be oriented by job role, industry, level of expertise, or something else?
19. What percentage of the agenda will be keynote speakers vs. breakout sessions?
20. How many total sessions will you have?
21. How long will each session be? Will they all be the same length?
22. Will you structure the agenda for people to fly out on the last day of the conference, or the following morning?
23. How many sessions will occur simultaneously?
24. How much time do attendees need in between sessions?

Content
The content planning process is typically the heaviest lift of any user conference and involves the greatest number of people. Managing anywhere from 15 to 200 presentations from customers, employees, partners, and industry experts that all share a common theme is no small task. The content needs to tell your brand story in a way that is helpful, inspiring, and engaging.

25. What is the balance of presenters among customers, partners, industry experts, sponsors, and others?
26. Will you put out a call for speakers, or hand select them?
27. Who within your organization will be responsible for managing the presentations? The marketing team? The product team? The services team?
28. What are the key brand and product messages that need to be delivered?
29. How will the sessions engage the attendees? Will there be live polling? Q & A sessions?
30. What is your goal with your keynote speakers? General inspiration? Humor? Entertainment? Industry expertise? Keynote sessions should be on-brand, but they can exist for the sole purpose of providing a unique, enjoyable experience without pushing your product messaging.
31. Will you include panel sessions, and what will be the balance between panels and presentations?
32. What customers have the most compelling stories? Be sure to include a mix of unique use cases that demonstrate innovation with the product, as well as more common use cases that demonstrate measurable results.

More to come. . .
I think I’ve exceeded acceptable blog post length! Be on the lookout the remaining 32 questions next week, which address internal collaboration, incorporating attendee feedback, and measuring event ROI.

And in the meantime, you can read about Clarabridge’s recent C3 conference on the Clarabridge Blog.

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