Big Bang vs. Precision Strikes: Conference Sponsorship for Startups

“If we’re showing up, then we’re going to own the place.”

That’s how – as a startup – we justified spending big money to sponsor major industry conferences. What a waste!

At #snowflakesummit2023, we spent 1/10th the budget to get 6-8x the qualified opportunities. Here’s how we did it.


Big Bang

There was solid logic behind the Big Bang approach:

  • Put more money behind fewer events
  • Appear big as a way to establish credibility
  • Create the feeling of momentum and a fear of missing out

It was also fun. Arm a uniquely creative team in a traditionally dull space with a big budget, and it wasn’t hard to stand out: reserve the biggest booth, bring the best swag, and sponsor all the silly add-ons (e.g. lanyards, room keys, and lounges). Throw in some fancy gimmicks, like a digital “situation room” or a Queen-inspired flash-dance, and keep one-upping yourself year after year.

The result, lots of “buzz” as measured by booth attendance and leads. To what end, though?

For all the dollars spent and all the hours of planning, we always came up short on quality opportunities, and ultimately, new customers.  

As to the reasons why, we can point to a couple of golden rules of startup marketing:

  1. Marketing budget should be spent on lead generation, not branding: We created a ton of company awareness. Great, but in a conference of 10k attendees, maybe 500 were our targeted buyers. Also, people who swarm booths for swag, games, and free drinks are rarely the buyers of transformational enterprise software. As a result, we generated company awareness before we had established product awareness. Those leads weren’t real leads. They were just curious, non-ICP conference goers.
  2. Constraints inspire greatness: With a big budget, we had to make very few tradeoffs. As a result, few ideas were really pressured. Just like the cliche that pressure turns coal into diamonds, so does pressure turn mediocrity into excellence. We had a lot of good ideas, but with sufficient pressure, I have no doubt they would’ve become outstanding ideas.


Precision Strikes

At #snowflakesummit2023, we did a complete 180, and the results were infinitely better.

Everyone at Elementum knew the one goal for the conference: book as many ICP meetings as possible. They also knew the constraints: no big booth, no fancy swag, and no gimmicks. Instead, we let our product be the main attraction, and we let others speak on our behalf.

Sales and Marketing hit up our contacts early and often. Each AE and SDR had meeting targets and incentives baked into their commission plans for landing qualified meetings. The AEs reached out to each of their contacts from the last six months while SDRs prospected high-priority conference attendees (deemed “Tier 1” and “Tier 2”). Meanwhile, digital campaigns targeted the same accounts, bringing the maximum amount of attention to a narrow set of qualified eyeballs. 

At the conference, we were extremely fortunate to have customers and partners speak on our behalf. On Tuesday night, one of our customers co-hosted a VIP event with us at their Vegas store. The 50+ data executives in attendance got to hear about innovation from an incredible company and the power of data driven workflows. On Wednesday night, we co-hosted a more intimate dinner with Snowflake. The smaller venue gave us a better opportunity to talk about how Elementum is using AI to accelerate the adoption of business automation.

We also benefited from our product’s unique value proposition. In a conference inundated by analytics, data sciences, and implementation partners, attendees were eager to hear about automation and intelligent workflows built natively into Snowflake (no moving data, ever!). We announced Elementum’s native app launch of License Patrol (for automated software license management), we were given an interactive demo booth to showcase our On-Time-In-Full app suite, and we had another featured session around data driven workflows. 


Measuring the Results

It’s still early, but we spent 1/10th the budget to get 6-8x the qualified opportunities, and we already have four deals in paperwork. Some of that speaks to the quality of the conference. A lot of it speaks to taking a better approach and a product with a clear, differentiated value proposition. In the world of startup marketing, precision strikes are much more effective than a big bang. Know your objective, set your constraints, and focus your efforts to maximize the results. 

If you’re interested in Elementum, the only workflow platform built for Snowflake, or automating your business processes with data driven workflows, feel free to reach out to me directly or email!

David Blonski

David Blonski

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