Dreamforce is a huge event here in San Francisco. It's when Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff squares off against Oracle CEO Larry Ellison to see who can close the most city streets, get the best celebrity bands to play (Foo Fighters and Killers, hello!) and get the most amazing speakers to come and share. Whether they're speaking about CRM, tech, saving children, elevating women in tech or saving the environment it's an amazing show, the attendees are top-notch and the speakers are amazing and meaningful. And who knew that a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) company can attract this many people to an event?
I've been an attendee, I've been an exhibitor while running VerticalResponse, the number one downloaded email marketing add-on application on Salesforce's Appexchange for many years, since 2002. That was the year when "Dreamforce" was a tiny room inside of Salesforce where we were lucky to get a 6 foot table. During certain breaks in the day they would run their salespeople and Customer Success Representatives through the room to say hi and learn about what we would offer their customers. And THAT was the only way Salesforce customers knew about our offerings.
Fast forward to now where 150,000 people attend Dreamforce for over 1400 sessions and over 400 partners exhibited in the huge Moscone hall. Not to mention to attend and get into the concert it costs $1000 a ticket. And let's not forget breakfast and lunch (and great food!) each day for all paying attendees and partners, a welcome party complete with food, beer and wine included. On top of all of this it was reported that there were 15-20K Tweets per hour during the keynote session with hashtag #DF15, a very far cry from the days of 2002.
And this year at my new company Dasheroo, it was a big decision on whether or not we should spend our precious marketing dollars to attend and exhibit. Since it's quite an expense for us, it was an important one and not a decision we made lightly. With that many attendees we decided to offer our data dashboards, where a business can track all of their KPIs in one place, right inside of a user's Salesforce account. Why did we develop this? We wanted to see if we could offer this type of customer something they found valuable, and luckily we were right; many did like the promise of accessing their dashboards right within their 'home' app, Salesforce.
So how does Salesforce do it? With a ton of money no doubt. I think I asked about 15 people how much in total did it cost to put on the event and I got numbers from $50-$70 million although none are confirmed.
Events for all size businesses can be great, they take a lot of work but they can really put a face to a name with your business. They can contribute wonderful word-of-mouth and build your brand. They can get people excited about who you are and doing more and more business with you. Here are a few things you can take from the Dreamforce playbook for your events.
Stick With It (If you can)!
If you're going to do something like a huge event and you've got the money and sponsors to support it, stick with it! At VerticalResponse we spent a chunk of change ($90K) to put on an event in San Francisco with three tracks and 10 speakers (luckily most VR employees) at a large hotel. We got 400 paying attendees ($39 for a one day event with breakfast and lunch!) who by the end of it were so happy to be a part of what we offered. Unfortunately we didn't get the amplification we could have because social media hadn't proliferated as much at that time, but we did get a ton of great word of mouth marketing.
We couldn't sustain it ourselves being an ultra lean, profitable company, so we sponsored other companies at their events. But if we had the cash we'd have done it each year because it builds on itself. People get excited about a great event, about the people they meet and attend with, and they get excited about planning for it the next year. Dreamforce is already pre-registering for 2016, amazing.
Participate On Social
Salesforce has the money so they can afford to close off Howard Street and get Jessica Alba and Patricia Arquette to come in and speak about women in tech. But any small business can have a "big" moment. If you put on events that people will "talk" about to their friends or to their social networks, good for you!
Make sure you have a memorable and easy hashtag (#DF15 is a good one), monitor those who are Tweeting and talking about you on social networks and jump into the conversation with them! At Dasheroo this year we were lucky to have Salesforce Tweeting about us! So make sure you RT those tweets and like and comment on any comments. Know of a great local celebrity (and they don't have to be Jessica Alba) who would love to come to your event? Get them in and get them coming back! Politicians in smaller towns need to fill up their calendar sometimes and it could be for your event.
Encourage photos! People RT and post photos and videos of the event all day long. They take photos of a booth, a keynote, slide presentations, a speaker, a concert the food, you name it so make sure you also jump on that bandwagon and participate yourself.
Finally make sure you follow all of your partners and follow or make a list of your attendees and speakers so you can easily see what they're posting.
Give it Away for Free
Now don't get me wrong, Salesforce charges a pretty penny to sponsor ($25,000 ), get a pass into the show ($1000 ) which gets you into any session you want to go to as well as the Foo Fighters/Killers. But they also do something very cool, they give Expo passes for free. This gives the sponsors the opportunity to get in front of more potential customers that couldn't afford the big company price tag. Plus Marc gets to boast to Larry he has double the number of attendees at his show
So all of this over the course of over 10 years has made Dreamforce what it is today and growing to what it will be tomorrow. What does your Dreamforce look like?