Freebeer Image

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the World of Concrete tradeshow in Las Vegas. Something we like to do every year, in addition to showing off our latest construction software and mobile apps, is to provide an open bar at our exhibit booth. Visitors could grab a cold beer, glass of wine, soft drink or just a cold bottle of water.

We hadn’t always had the open bar at this event—at any event, actually. Our thinking was that we were in the software business, so folks who were truly interested in our software would come and see us. By giving away beer, we would just be attracting folks interested in beer.

Well, several years ago our marketing team talked me into trying out a bar at our World of Concrete booth. I watched as they rolled in the kegs, chilled the pinot gris, and iced down the soda. The accountant in me started adding up the costs, and I suppose our marketing manager could hear the mental 10-key touch going on in my head because they said, “John, I promise this is going to be worth every dollar.”

serving beer world of concreteThree days and about 10 kegs later, I asked the manager how many new prospects we had engaged. She gave me a pretty impressive number–about four times the number from previous years at this event. But, I was told, about two thirds of these were “beer leads.” The look on my face likely motivated her to clarify, “those are the folks whose badges we scanned when they dropped by the bar.” The resulting new look on her face likely motivated her to add, “I know that most of the bar leads are folks who just wanted a cold beer. But John, they’re all in our industry and trust me, folks remember you when you give them a cold beer. They might not be buying software this week or even this year, but someday they might.”

I’m used to return on investment calculations that are a bit more rigorous, but I waited for the post-show report and was delighted by the number of new prospects we met at the show who were seriously considering our software. This included a large contractor in Canada who caught my eye as we had just begun selling into that market. I checked with the account manager who was working with this new potential client and asked how things were going. They gave me a thumbs up and said “good thing we were pouring Sam Adams at the show—that’s their CFO’s favorite beer…”

Today, this prospect is our largest Canadian customer. And last week we poured a record (for us) amount of Sam Adams (among other brands of beer) for our tradeshow guests.

There’s a saying a friend of mine has about marketing. Paraphrasing him here, “Half of marketing usually works. The trick is figuring out which half.” Over the years I’ve developed a corollary to this maxim: You won’t always know exactly how or why folks find out about you, your products, or your services. But if you don’t give them a reason to engage with you–if you don’t put yourself out there–you’ll have a lot fewer folks about whom to ask this question.

As I write this, our marketing folks are sending out thank you emails to all the “beer leads”—to everyone who stopped by to say “hi” and grab a drink in Las Vegas last week. I rest assured that I’ll be seeing a number of these folks at a Dexter + Chaney Users’ Conference some day in the future…

What do you do to stay engaged with prospective future customers?

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