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Burn After Reading: The Vendor's HR Technology Conference & Exposition Manual


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Your trip to Vegas and the HR Technology Conference is booked. Your marketing collateral and booth are nearly ready to ship. You’ve stowed away some cash for the tables and are preparing yourself for some serious parties networking.

There’s one thing you haven’t done, though: Ask 16 of the brightest minds in HR tech what you should do to maximize your investment at one of the biggest events in our industry.

Don’t worry — we went ahead and did that for you.

In “Burn After Reading: The Vendor’s HR Technology Conference & Exposition Manual,” you’ll read all about:
• The art of selling at a crowded, busy trade show
• The key to building relationships that last beyond Vegas
• The perspective you need to make bold business and marketing decisions
• The swag people really want, and the swag that ends up in the trash a week later

Download the manual today and learn how industry luminaries like Laurie Ruettimann, Mark Stelzner, China Gorman, and Bret Starr want you to raise your game.

Published in: Business, Technology
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Burn After Reading: The Vendor's HR Technology Conference & Exposition Manual

  1. 1. The Vendor’s HR Technology Conference & Exposition Manual BURN AFTER READING FIELD GUIDE
  2. 2. 2 Each year, the annual HR Technology Conference & Exposition offers an opportunity for more than 250 vendors to get in front of approximately 3,200 HR technology decision-makers. INTRODUCTION
  3. 3. 3 Each year, exhibitors try to create meaningful impressions or experiences for attendees, using a formula they think looks something like this: If only it were that simple. HR Tech attendees will be nobody’s fool. You’re talking about an unmatched opportunity to get in front of decision-makers, from directors of HR to CEOs and CHROs. Booth + Swag = Meaningful Impressions ??
  4. 4. 4 Don’t get caught with a pile of stress balls and a profoundly vapid event strategy. As an agent of The Starr Conspiracy, you have insider access to the minds of vendors who get it right and serial attendees from the influencer and analyst communities who have seen it all. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to stand out at the annual HR Technology Conference & Exposition. Use this Field Guide to accomplish your task. BURN AFTER READING
  5. 5. 5 As part of your training and preparation, RSVP at the following coordinates to receive a free 2-hour strategic planning session* and debrief at HR Tech. * Based on availability RSVP NOW
  7. 7. 7 HR Tech attendees are more senior than the usual HR confer- ence attendees — and some are IT leaders. The visitors to the expo hall have actual shopping lists. And budgets. And are decision-makers. The usual HR conference swag won’t cut it: 1. No to bottles of hand sanitizer 2. No to Post-it note page- marker packs 3. No to stress-relieving squeezy balls in odd shapes 4. No to stuffed toys — unless your brand is an animal 5. Yes to high-quality logo pens 6. Yes to technology-related gadgets (thumb drive, porta- ble mouse, etc.) 7. Yes to gadgets that relate to your business or services 8. Yes to a cool, useful thing that no one has ever seen before 9. Yes to high-quality or boutique chocolate Best conference swag ever: Last year at HR Tech, an exhibitor had a caricaturist who worked on an iPad. Not only was the portrait great, she printed it out for me AND emailed it to me. It is now my social media avatar. Useful, cool, never seen before. Winner! China Gorman, CEO CMG Group
  8. 8. 8 Exhibiting at HR Tech is all about the swag, giveaways, and making real connections with people. I always remember the brands that provide a memorable experience during the conference. People buy from people they like and from brands they trust. Ready, set, go! Teela Jackson, VP of Talent Delivery Talent Connections
  9. 9. 9 How Visiting the Expo Hall at HR Tech Could Be Like an Old Episode on “Wheel of Fortune” Look at these luxurious prizes ... fabulous merchandise just waiting to be won today on “Wheeeeeeeeeeel of Fortune”! I’ve attended numerous state SHRM conferences, the SHRM Annual Conference since 2001, and the HR Technology Confer- ence the past two years. Here are a couple of thoughts I’ve gleaned over that time with regard to the exposition hall. 1. Rethink the swag Do you remember the shopping segment on the old version of “Wheel of Fortune”? Contestants were not able to keep their cash winnings. In- stead, after winning a round, contestants would have to spend the dollars they won on an array of fabulous prizes — it might be a trip to Bermu- da or a pair of motorcycles. Or, the options might include a candy dish or a ceramic pig. In one episode (from my hazy memory), the contestant hated almost every option except one — a Mick- ey Mouse clock — and bought seven of them. I know your goal is to attract people to your booth with the hope of turning prying eyes into future customers at as low a cost as possible. However, much like it’s better to make no hire than a bad hire, it’s also better to have no swag than bad swag. What seems attractive at first turns into “swag remorse” a week later. That cool pedometer? It no longer works after a week and goes in the trash — with your name and bad memories attached to it. Who doesn’t love T-shirts? The reality is that your audience can most likely buy their own shirts, and the one you gave out will end up on sale for 25¢ at Goodwill. Is this the branding you had in mind? So, what will likely be the equivalent of that Mickey Mouse clock instead of that candy dish? • Gift cards. Emblazon your company name on a gift card that can be redeemed for a cup of cof- fee at Starbucks or has a code for a free tune or app from the iTunes Store. Plus, it’s much easier to fit into my luggage for the trip home. • An external mobile phone charger. This might be pricier, but given the demand for charging sta- tions and the likely drain on phone batteries at HR Tech, who would be a bigger hero than the booth that provides a solution to this problem. This is something most people would use every day, and they’d associate peace of mind with your organization. 2. Treat students with respect As with No.1, your goal is to create sales, preferably short-term. However, there will be students in attendance. They will be roaming the expo hall looking to better understand HR technology and the HR marketplace. While they might not buy in the next six months, they will sometime in the future. Today’s good interaction may be tomorrow’s newest customer.On the other hand, students who have a bad experience at your booth will not likely think kindly about your product or service in the future. Matthew Stollak, Ph.D., SPHR, Associate Professor of Business Administration St. Norbert College
  11. 11. 11 Find somebody to work your booth who is the perfect mix of farmer and hunter. You don’t want them in sandwich-sign mode in the middle of the aisle, but you also don’t want them hanging out behind the booth and only speaking when spoken to. If it were me, I’d want someone leaning on the outside of the booth and actively saying “hi” to people and using stage banter to draw them over for a conversation. Harder than it looks, and not many people get it right ... Kris Dunn, CHRO Kinetix
  12. 12. 12 1. Greet with a smile. Extend your hand, introduce yourself, and actually walk into the aisle to make a personal connection. 2. Ask how you can help. If you do most of the talking, you may miss an important opportunity. Ask what brought them to the show and what problem they’re attempting to solve. 3. Be specific. Don’t verbally burst the piñata of HCM acronyms, but explicitly and definitively state what you do and why you’re different. If you aren’t a good fit, be candid and don’t waste their (or your) time. 4. Use examples. Describe how your firm assisted top brands like “XYZ Corp,” or even better, look at the attendee’s name badge and think of similar clients you are servicing to draw connective tissue. 5. Say “thanks.” Beyond stuffing their bags with goodies or rapidly scanning badges for the big giveaway, thank them for spending a few mo- ments getting to know you and your firm. Despite clever signage, a well-placed booth, pre-existing brand equity, or some combina- tion thereof, a disproportionately high percentage of HR Tech attendees will not clearly comprehend the value that you and your organization can provide. As HR service providers tend to often employ the same tactics, it’s important to use personalization as a differentiat- ing experience: Simple human interaction can go a long way! Good luck, and we’ll see you on the floor. Mark Stelzner, Principal Inflexion Advisors
  13. 13. 13 Vendors need to know the basics of selling. Too often, vendors today have this notion that people no longer want to be sold to. “Oh, this is HR Tech, everyone coming here is bril- liant! They know what they want; they don’t want to be sold to!” Bullshit! Everyone says they don’t want to be sold to, then someone tells them about this fantastic new thing and shows them how it works and bam! — they buy! The problem is that HR vendors don’t bring salespeople anymore — they bring “solution providers.” I get it. No one wants some creepy used-car-salesman type coming on strong in the expo hall. But if you sit back and wait for people to magically appear in your booth, you’re missing out. HR Tech has buyers coming to the expo floor. This isn’t SHRM. At any point, you might have someone with a big checkbook walking by who can be sold on what you have, but you better have someone out there shak- ing hands and kissing babies! Tim Sackett, President HRU Technical Resources The problem is that HR vendors don’t bring salespeople anymore — they bring “solution providers.”
  14. 14. 14 The folks strolling the Expo Hall floor are not the same ones you encounter at a typical HR conference who tend to be more interested in grabbing a plush toy with your logo on it and a piece of chocolate to get them through the next session. Rather, you’ll encounter in- formed, interested, and knowl- edgeable HR professionals who have already done their home- work and are looking to make technology decisions … soon. These are the HR leaders who understand SaaS, are often savvy about social media, and realize that HR technology can not only meet their HR needs but, if deployed correctly, can also link directly to the strategies of their business. HR Tech attendees want real details and real solutions — not buzzwords and platitudes — and that’s why they’re stopping at your booth. But a piece of candy will be nice, too. Robin Schooling, Owner/Consultant Silver Zebras LLC HR Tech attendees want real details and real solutions.
  15. 15. 15 HR Tech is the human capital management industry’s version of a CES or SXSW — anyone who’s anyone, whether vendor or buyer, is there, and it’s easy to get lost in the crowd on the expo floor or in the noise in content and social marketing. To make sure you re- ceive ROI, here are three things every vendor needs to know to get the most bang for their HR Tech buck and generate the kinds of leads that translate into sales and industry buzz. 1. Don’t rely on giveaways to drive booth traffic. From Tiffany’s gift cards to iPads to cold, hard cash, every exhibitor is trying to drive booth traffic (and leads) by actively promoting a giveaway. This is fine from a lead-capture perspective, but focusing on the giveaway prize as the explicit reason that attendees should stop by your booth detracts somewhat from the technology you’re there to show off, which should really be the cen- terpiece of your marketing and promotion efforts. Everyone can give away an iPad, but standing out means using that iPad to showcase your tech — that’s what buyers are there for, after all. 2. Add value to the conversation. There’s nothing more annoying than the flurry of tweets and so- cial content from the event hashtag that are thinly veiled sales pitches and poorly constructed prod- uct marketing CTAs (e.g., “Stop by our booth to check out the coolest product at #HRTechConf!”). Instead, use your corporate social media and content marketing efforts to add value, insights, and perspectives to the conversation. Whether you’re live tweeting the best stats and takeaways from a session or creating blog posts positioning you as a thought leader, it’s way more effective to build visibility as an active part of the industry rather than just being the dudes behind a booth scanning badges. 3. Scope out the competition. One of the biggest misses at HR Tech is that many exhibitors are too focused on hyping their product to actually look at the bigger picture of where that product sits in the market. HR Tech is far and away the best show to see what the competition is up to (and who they are). Pick up as much collateral and have as many meaningful conversations with other exhibitors as possible — they’re generally really open to showcasing their stuff, and it might be the only chance you’ll have to get a demo or insight into their product, road map, and competi- tive positioning. Matt Charney, Writer/Producer Brookledge Entertainment
  17. 17. 17 If you want to engage the press and analysts at HR Tech, you aren’t going to do it in half an hour, sandwiched between a dozen other briefings. I’ve come home with notes from HR Tech that look and read like lecture notes from 400-level college courses. It’s good information for me, but if you really want to engage, offer to do the actual briefing before or after the show and offer to just connect in person at the show. Buy them a drink and just talk about the industry, sports, or the crazy stuff you saw on the Strip. Relationship first, then you can push information later. JUST TALK ABOUT THE INDUSTRY, SPORTS, OR THE CRAZY STUFF YOU SAW. Lance Haun, Editor The Starr Conspiracy
  18. 18. 18 The most important thing for vendors to know about exhib- iting at HR Tech is that it’s not about generating sales leads — it’s about making connections, starting new relationships, and enhancing current ones. Too many vendors stay glued to their booths, trying to entice attendees inside for a pitch. While that will always be part of the show floor, the real value of HR Tech is making connections with the large and growing community of buyers, sellers, and practi- tioners who work with HR technology. And making those connections takes many forms — show-floor selling is certainly one, but not the most valuable. Attend the opening reception and mingle with peo- ple you haven’t met — make a connection and try to follow up, either during the show or after. Attend parties — and don’t drink so much that you can’t make real business connections that can be developed. Go to meal and refreshment functions in the expo hall and mingle — don’t just hang out at your booth. If you are not a full conference registrant, buy a ticket to the opening day luncheon and sit at a table where you know no one — and get to know someone or a whole lot of someones. The widely diverse world of HR technology comes together at HR Tech. The show floor is great, and the conference program is great. But the real value is the people who come together to do business with each other. Build your network. Be an active part of the community. Get out of your booth as much as possible and leverage the entire experience. Claude Werder, VP of Corporate and Product Development Brandon Hall Group +
  19. 19. 19 The best way vendors can exhibit at HR Tech is to forget everything they know about exhibiting and throw a party. People do business with brands they like. Cultivate leads through relationships, not generic demos on the expo floor. Show gratitude to your buyer through vodka martinis, not swag. And always ask yourself, “Bass! How low can you go?” Laurie Ruettimann, Founder
  20. 20. 20 When it comes down to it, the HR Technology Conference is all about relationships, whether it’s building new ones, cultivating existing ones, or reconnecting with network acquaintances. Exciting communications and product releases can provide great value; however, we live within the HR community and discipline, where it’s all about cultivating and building meaningful relationships.And it’s through this relationship- building that you realize the true value of events like HR Tech. Chris Brablc, Marketing Manager SmashFly Technologies
  22. 22. 22 Live events are the No. 1 source of qualified leads for HR technology companies. HR Tech is the pre- mier conference for companies in this industry. Therefore, if we apply the transitive property of equality in marketing, HR Tech is the No. 1 source of qualified leads for HR technology companies, right? Nope. Not even close. Here’s the truth that dare not speak its name. HR Tech is not the best demand generation event in our industry. Not even close. It’s a beauty contest. It’s the Catalina Effing Wine Mixer. It’s a cocktail party. But it’s not a great demand generation event. There are better events for that. Before Bill Kutik launches a cruise missile at my house, I will tell you where this event succeeds like no other. It’s the premier brand awareness event in HR technology. If you want to be somebody, you’d better make your mark here. You don’t do that with lots of kiosks pimping your demo or squooshy balls with your logo or slick product brochures. Too many companies spend too much time communicating their functional capabilities. Bell X does this. Whistle Y does that. Yawn. Creating an emotional connection is how you make your mark. Remember the Sonar6 cardboard box booth? It’s probably the most talked about booth in the history of the show. I’ve heard CEOs talk about it in the hushed tones usually reserved for IPOs and Bugatti Veyrons. And I’m pretty sure Mike Carden got everything he needed for that booth at Big Lots. Cardboard box? Check. Flat-screen TV? Check. Magic Markers to write on the walls? Check. All right … let’s do this! Yes, Sonar6 stood out because they did something so different from everybody else. They came across as incredibly likable, idiosyncratic, and innovative. They established an emotional connection with their buyers — and they got noticed. That’s it. Want to succeed at HR Tech? Dare to do something different and authentic. And don’t forget to follow up on your leads. Good luck! Steve Smith, Partner The Starr Conspiracy Creating an emotional connection is how you make your mark.
  23. 23. 23 To be successful as a vendor at HR Tech (or any show, actually) the one thing you need to absolutely know is that just being there isn’t enough. If you don’t have a pre-, at-, and post-event strategy, and know how you’re going to communicate, captivate, and interact with your prospects at those three stages of the event, you might as well throw your money away. And remember, every event registrant and attendee is not created equal — identify who you really should be focusing your time and dollars on. Rob Catalano, VP of Marketing Achievers PRE + AT + POST
  24. 24. 24 Don’t treat the HR Technology Conference Exposition as a “point in time” marketing event. If you approach it like that, look- ing to scan as many badges as you can and divvy up the “leads” later, you’ll just be another failed marketer trying to justify next year’s trade show budget after generating no results. Treat this conference as a touch point with your customers, advocates, badvocates, prospects, analysts, partners, influencers, investors, and future employees. It’s a branding opportunity, a messaging testing ground, an opportunity to make an impression, and one of your best chances to understand how you can differentiate yourself in the current market. You need a plan for pre-, during-, and post-show execution for each of the audiences. That plan needs to fit within your overall marketing strategy and plan. Turn the HR Technology Conference Exposition from a “point in time” marketing event into one of your most important touch points between you and all of your audiences. George LaRocque, President LAROCQUE Inc. OCT 7
  25. 25. 25 Remember that a trade show is frequently the first and only time that a prospect sees a physi- cal manifestation of your brand in very close proximity to your competitors. Intuitively, people transfer positive and negative perceptions of a physical exhibit to perceptions of the brand. At a trade show like HR Tech, that’s even more important because the prospect is in a unique context to compare your physical space to that of your competitors. If your booth is lame compared with your competitor down the aisle, they will know it instantly and they will assume your com- pany is lame as well. A lot of people get wrapped up in the lead generation dynamics of a trade show and neglect the brand recognition and recall dynamics. In reality, trade shows are one of the most expensive demand generation tactics in the world. But they are a relatively inexpensive and high-impact branding opportunity. The opportunity for a big win at HR Tech is not driving 10 more leads than your goal — it’s creat- ing an experience and impression that is talked about for years afterward. In the long run, that explosion in brand recognition and recall will have a much more significant impact on your business than a temporarily inflated pipeline. At HR Tech, if you can’t afford to show up in style, don’t go. People are judging you. Spend the money, unleash the big idea, and focus on the quality of the experience rather than the quantity of leads. I want to emphasize that leads, of course, are im- portant. But when that’s your only metric for suc- cess, you’re inclined to reduce the scope of your ideas to hit some magical cost per lead. Go big. If you want to see what’s possible at a trade show, go to an auto show, or a boat show, or a bridal show, or a home furnishings show, or a consumer electronics show. You’ll be amazed at the ideas that get pulled off at these types of events. The stuff that scares you now about your big-idea ex- hibit wouldn’t even register at those events. Our market segment is maturing. There will be more people at HR Tech this year than ever before (including more exhibitors). It’s time to raise the game of the entire industry. Don’t show up at HR Tech with a safe concept, because safe means invisible. Bret Starr, Founder and CEO The Starr Conspiracy
  26. 26. 26 You shouldn’t have to pay an agency to get to know your industry. The Starr Conspiracy already knows your market segment, who you are, and where you fit in. We’re a strategic marketing and advertising agency devoted exclusively to enter- prise software and services. When you partner with us, it’s to build market share, multiply brand awareness, and drive sales leads — not to bone up on the basics. We’ve been “out there” for more than a decade, so you can hit the ground running. Founded in 1999 and located in Fort Worth, Texas, The Starr Conspiracy has won eight best places to work awards and countless creative awards. Visit us on the Web at ABOUT THE STARR CONSPIRACY THANK YOU TO OUR CONTRIBUTORS China Gorman CMG Group Teela Jackson Talent Connections Matthew Stollak St. Norbert College, True Faith HR Kris Dunn Kinetix, HR Capitalist Mark Stelzner Inflexion Advisors Tim Sackett HRU Technical Resources, The Tim Sackett Project Robin Schooling Silver Zebras LLC, HR Schoolhouse Matt Charney Brookledge Entertainment Lance Haun The Starr Conspiracy, Between the Brackets Claude Werder Brandon Hall Group Laurie Ruettimann The Cynical Girl Chris Brablc SmashFly Technologies Steve Smith The Starr Conspiracy Rob Catalano Achievers George LaRocque LAROCQUE Inc. Bret Starr The Starr Conspiracy