If you have a growing user base, there is likely going to come a time when someone will suggest hosting a customer conference. Bringing together hundreds or thousands of users can either be the perfect way to galvanize your user base or it can turn into a massive time sink with no discernible ROI.
During a meeting in 2013, we discussed the idea of hosting our own conference. We had happy customers, but we wanted passionate evangelists. A conference would give us the chance to talk about important issues and trends in our vertical (the legal industry) as well as connect with our customers about our technology solution.
Related: 6 Tips for Making the Most Out of Trade Shows and Conferences
Our second annual conference wrapped up last month, which doubled in size and received rave reviews, and the wheels are already in motion for 2015. It has been a steep learning curve and a huge commitment from my team to make these events happen.
If you’re planning to host your own customer conference, here are the critical considerations you should keep in mind when putting it all together.
1. Gauge the interest of your community first.
When you are planning your first conference, it’s natural to wonder if anyone will show up. And the last thing you want to do is cancel an announced event due to lack of interest.
To gauge interest from your community, use Twitter, Facebook, user forums or email surveys before committing to an event. Then during the planning process, you can go back to these same channels to solicit feedback on critical decisions.
2. Make the conference bigger than you.
If you truly want to capture the imagination and attention of your community, you need to make the event larger than your product and company. Yes, we had plenty of product-focused content but more broadly, we set out to build an event where the legal industry can gather each year to talk about the future of technology and how to run a better business. For any startup considering a conference, think about how your industry is changing and the role youplay in your customers’ lives. Build on those elements as you develop your conference focus, speaker list and session topics.
Related: Want to Get the Most Out of Conferences? Follow These 7 Tips.
3. Make it personal.
Any live event is a unique opportunity to showcase your brand and company culture in a very real andpersonal way.
While we did outsource a few aspects of the event planning, real Clio employees were responsible for almost every aspect of the planning and execution to ensure our brand and energy really shone through. In that regard, don’t limit your event staff to just marketing or sales. We had product managers, developers, customer service and even members of the finance team working the event.
4. Treat each attendee as a VIP.
From the choice of morning snacks to informal hangout spaces and responding to attendee requests, the most microscopic details can have a huge impact on someone’s experience. Everyone planning the event needs to commit to the mission of making it a VIP experience for attendees. So, if a registered attendee emails a day before the event asking for help finding a hotel room, you’ll need to smile and do everything you can to make it happen.
5. Keep it fresh.
If you are holding an annual event, keep in mind that no one wants to invest his or her time and money to hear an encore presentation of last year’s speakers and topics. With just a few exceptions, we have challenged ourselves to schedule an entirely new roster of speakers and topics each year to make sure return attendees have a lot to look forward to.
6. Market the event just like a product.
Much like launching a new product, a user conference requires its own branding, marketing and sales efforts.
During the lead up to our Clio Cloud conference, we staggered speaker announcements to build excitement and created incentives for registering early. Reminders of conference deadlines were woven into every customer touch point. Customer service and sales staff mentioned the conference during every call and were even trained on how to handle common objections. As a result, the conference was 90 percent sold out two months in advance.
7. Just do it.
Launching your first user conference is a daunting task, and it’s hard to know where to start. If you have a strong vision for the event and interest from your community, just dive in. Picking and announcing your conference dates is similar to burning the boats: There’s no turning back.
A well-executed user conference can help you make your customers more successful which will in turn transform them from ordinary users to evangelists.