Firstly, can you tell us about your background and experience?
I’ve been involved in conference marketing and institutional sales for most of my career. All IB related, at bulge brackets and boutiques alike, targeting both public and private companies. I spent over 20 years at Citigroup, then switched to the boutique world 7 years ago before landing here at AGC Partners. AGC consistently ranks among the most active deal makers in tech. We do 30+ deals per year, and conference marketing is a key driver to that high level of deal activity.
What lessons have you learned over the course of your career in regards to strategy & success of deal sourcing at conferences?
Management access, corporate access, whatever you want to call it, is absolutely key to succeeding in this business. You can look at financial models until you are blue in the face but at the end of the day, there’s no better substitute than meeting 1on1 with a management team when sizing up an investment or buyout candidate. Invest in great management teams, and the rest often takes care of itself. Our conferences facilitate those interactions with 1,500+ 1on1s daily. We meet with every company we invite. That said, the majority of those company 1on1s are with prospective investors and buyers. This generates tremendous goodwill that our bankers can tap throughout the year.
The same applies to the other side of the table. A management team is looking at you and thinking, is this who I want to be in business with? Is this who I want to engage as my advisor? Conferences can be incredibly impactful on a banker’s success in sourcing and converting leads. The more prepared you are going into those in-person meetings, the higher your odds are for success.
What strategy do you employ going into a conference to ensure the best opportunity of obtaining a strong ROI on your attendance?
It starts with doing diligence on companies before they are invited to make sure they fit squarely in your target market, then pushing for the broadest reach possible. That’s where SourceScrub comes into play. It’s the most powerful tool we could find for pre-vetting large quantities of companies to ensure that great fit, and it saves us an enormous amount of time that it would otherwise take scrubbing those lists on our own. Conferences should be a catalyst for prospecting. A single conference can pack the punch of several weeks, even months of traditional road warrior marketing. Many of our bankers will turn out 30 or more pipeline companies per conference. That’s huge.
Once you hit critical mass in terms of quantity and quality, these conferences tend to sell themselves. The investor community picks up on the positive buzz and you begin getting word of mouth referrals, especially within the PE/VC community. They are very motivated to leverage the better conferences to source deals more efficiently and to provide positive exposure to existing portfolio companies. We get a lot of referrals that way. As a result, our conferences get bigger and better every year. It sort of feeds on itself.
Where does the biggest opportunity lie for bankers when continuing their deal sourcing and relationship management post-event?
Take the goodwill to the bank, then let it pay dividends. Its all about demonstrating that you own a space, that you are totally wired in, and that you are in touch with all of the key players – be it on buy-side or sell-side – and nothing demonstrates that more than getting them all under one roof. In our case, that space is the private tech ecosystem.
Once you’ve done that, you’ve succeeded in building a brand and mindshare. Even for a company that hasn’t attended one, you need to feature your conferences in every pitch and every call. Let them know that you own the space and that you have another one on the calendar in the near future. That could be the deciding factor in a competitive bake-off. If you can tell a management team that you can start a process or pre-process at a conference that is just around the corner, and that everyone who is anyone will be there, and that it is YOUR conference, it’s pretty powerful. It can prove to be the difference between winning that bake-off or not. This is an incredibly competitive business and anything that gives you an edge is huge.
Where are most bankers missing the mark in their post-conference activity?
90% is determined by pre-market activity and proper preparation. You want your conference to stand out as a singular positive and use it as a consistent touchstone in every conversation you have with that prospect. If another conference is coming up in a different geography, you also want to remind them of that. The post-conference push is no different than any other marketing campaign. You do your perfunctory thank yous, you close out any open items discussed or follow-ups promised, and you schedule check-ins at regular intervals thereafter. If I were to single out any one item for the immediate aftermath, its logging all of those conversations into your CRM. It can be a blur when doing 15 to 30 meetings in a single day, but if the info exchanged is properly logged, that can fuel many more conversations and check-ins for months to come.
What tools can bankers utilize to augment their post-conference activity?
Content marketing, though its more of a strategy than a tool. By continuing to publish prolifically on the topics discussed at your conference, it reinforces that you own that space. Combining digital and physical traffic is a very powerful one-two punch. You really need to do both to be successful in this business and stand out from the crowd.
We already touched on CRM as a key enabling tool – just to record at a basic level who attended your conference, and what conversations took place.
I also can’t emphasize enough how critical it is having a pre-vetting tool like SourceScrub to enhance conference marketing. Whether it’s to qualify companies for your own conference or to get the best bang for your buck out of someone else’s, having a tool like SourceScrub to quickly render decisions on large lists of private, non-transparent companies is huge. It saves us significant amounts of time and money, which can quickly rack up in the conference business.
How has your use of data & tools changed over the course of your career to enhance your workflow?
In terms of data, there’s certainly more of it. What gets generated annually has grown something like 1,000 fold just in the last 20 years. We’ve gone from having not enough info on private companies to having too much. Now the challenge is boiling it down to make it more actionable.
We’re a boutique focused on banking the tech sector only and private companies only. Still, there are something like 55,000 private companies in tech in the US alone. Our target market is something like 5% of that universe. If we didn’t have a tool like SourceScrub, we’d waste tons of time on the other 95%.
Just getting basic info like employee size, growth rates, ownership type and who occupies the C-suite can be a major time suck in the non-transparent world of unlisted private companies. You can try to do it on your own or bring in a core competency and tool to do it for you. We did the latter.
What are your top three pieces of advice to bankers to most effectively capitalize on post-conference momentum?
I’ll give you four:
- Say thank you. People are flying in, taking time out. They don’t need to.
- Keep the memory of your conference alive. In every conversation with a prospect and in every pitch.
- Ask for referrals based on the goodwill generated among investors and buyers. They will steer you toward their own portfolio companies for your next event or for prospecting in general.
- Build a 12-month calendar, leveraging not only your own conferences but also 3rd party conferences. Then use a tool like SourceScrub to pre-vet attendees in advance so you are locked and loaded when you arrive.