B2B Rocks #REBOUND, a retrospective of successful covid-proof conference
B2B Rocks, like so many events, has been through a challenging year. Back in March, when we were shaping the 2020 edition, the lockdown started in France. Early on we decided to make a bold decision and shift to a fully online event, with a completely different format. While health and profit have been put at risk, we wanted B2B Rocks to keep both safe and focused on the #REBOUND to help the ecosystem make the most of the economic recovery.
Powered by Axeleo, a French accelerator and VC, B2B Rocks serves our organizer’s mission which is to “power founders for the long run”. We leverage B2B Rocks to support our B2B tech ecosystem and help it grow. This is why Axeleo along with its partners, decided to offer the event for free to all entrepreneurs.
This year’s edition is backed by the French Tech initiative, and supported by tech giants and service providers such as Salesforce Appexchange, AWS, Jenji, Wrike, Microsoft for Startups, Pennylane, Edenred Capital, RSM France, iii Financements. We can all thank them, as the event wouldn’t have been possible without them.
I/ Pre-event: building an agenda for the event, targeting guest speakers, and reaching the largest audience within the ecosystem.
Back then, we didn’t have to wear a mask in public, and we had no clue how strong it was going to impact our lives. Nevertheless, at Axeleo, as VC and accelerator, working closely with B2B founders, we knew the main business and management concerns of founders. Founders took all the initiatives to protect the people and the business. Then, the focus shifted to “what is coming next?”. Therefore, we had to build a program focused on what the entire ecosystem had in mind: how to #REBOUND?
Building an agenda that answers founders and executives priorities
We built an agenda dedicated to our core audience: european B2B businesses, mainly early-stage.The ultimate goal was to answer the main concerns founders and C-level executives have related to sales, marketing, product, tech, go-to-market, HR, international, funding, etc. We produced 35 hours of content, cadenced on 45-minute sessions answering key challenges (i.e. defining your princing, channel sales strategies, expanding to the US).
Inviting the most successful B2B leaders to share their feedback and best practices
The B2B Rocks team then targeted the most successful B2B scale-up (mainly in Europe) to invite founders and C-level executives on stage. Those inspiring entrepreneurs went through a rollercoaster journey, had a steep learning curve, and have highly valuable insights to share.
Thanks to the unique values of our ecosystems, a large majority of them are willing to take time to share their learnings with less experienced entrepreneurs. Having learned from other founders when they were less experienced, they maintain this tradition of peer-to-peer exchange of best practices. Thanks to the online format we had the chance to have inspiring leaders such as John Pestana, Founder of Omniture (acquired by Adobe at $1.8bn) and CEO at ObservePoint, or Laura Urquizu, CEO at Red Points who has been shortlisted among the top 50 SaaS CEO worldwide and featured among “the hottest European start-ups” by Wired in 2018 and 2019.
Bringing together VC expertise on our side, and entrepreneurs' feedback from speakers, we made our best to deliver the most accurate content to fit strategic startup concerns. The agenda covered strategic topics such as lead-generaion in a post-Covid economy, channel sales strategy, managing cash flow, implementing OKR methdology, defining your pricing strategy, etc.
How to reach a 200% YoY growth and got 2,000 executives to attend the event
Early on, we knew that it was going to be a challenge to host a physical event in September, with the global pandemic. Large corporates had strict policies until the end of the year, and we wanted to keep people safe. So, we shifted to a free to attend a remote conference, open to a maximum of peers whitin the European B2B SaaS ecosystem.
To do so, we collaborate with Sifted on a media partnership. Backed by the Financial Times, Sifted is about in-depth reporting on startup Europe for startup Europe. They helped us reach a large but highly targeted audience. We also had the pleasure of having the support of existing communities such as Station F, Appvizer, Eldorado, SaaS groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, etc. Indeed, it’s always better to leverage existing communities than trying to create one from scratch. Thanks to this strategy 86% of the attendees were first-time attendee at B2B Rocks, including people from the US, India, Australia, and all over Europe.
We also leverage our speakers and partners communities by providing them with visual and wording elements to invite their network to this open event made for them. Thanks to the network effect, we attract a broader audience than what could have dreamed with people from 49 countries in the world, over 200 investors and 1,500 european startups.
Last but not least, we used some growth techniques on LinkedIn. Setting up automated scraping on LinkedIn (through Phantombuster), that targeted all B2B founders in Europe. Once this data was extracted, the software automatically sent "connection requests" with a personalized message providing information on B2B Rocks and a call to action. In accordance with the limitations of the “free plan” on Phantombuster, we sent 10 new messages every 1h (running 24/7) for 15 days.
In the end, we attracted 2,000 people to the event, which is 50% over the initial target we defined and a 200% growth compared to last year’s event. Among those attendees, 84% attended the conference for the first time, which is a big jump to enlarge the B2B Rocks community. This wouldn’t have been possible without the online format and free ticket we have offered thanks to our great partners.
II/ During the event: focusing on the operational execution, communicate massively, stay open to learnings
Having a large audience is great, but the challenge is to engage such a large community to have the maximum of executives actually connected on the platform and accessing the exclusive content delivered by the speakers. Engagement was the key to our success!
To do so, we intensively communicate during the week, with a daily emailing early in the morning with the program of the day. It helped to remind people of the content of the day and put placeholders on their agenda. We also scheduled a series of tweets and Linkedin posts announcing each of the talks, 15min before they actually started.
During the week, the most important thing was to stay on track with the planned agenda. People expect the organization to be on time! Don't be in advance, don't be late as people. People have taken some time in their week to get something, make sure to deliver! (PS: we ended up with a NPS of +48).
The event platform also allows organizers to run polls. it’s an amazing opportunity to collect market information. Collecting data through polls is valuable for all stakeholders (organizer to know your audience and their expectations, partners to gain knowledge on the prospect base, speakers to adjust their talks, and attendees to learn from their peers). You can check some data points at the top of the article.
Last, at the end of each talk, make sure to have the speaker share their contact details or the best way to connect with them, before the Q&As. Many people won’t ask questions on stage but will contact back the speakers when relevant. It’s a great added-value you can offer to the audience!
III/ Post-event: leveraging the value created
Before the end of the event, run a survey to collect feedback. It is very important to run it very shortly after the last talk (or during the last one). If you wait for the next day, it will be too late as the engagement decreases.
The end of an event is also the moment to thank your sponsors, your speakers, and your attendees. Your event won’t be happening without them.
The final step of the event itself is to analyze data. It helps us understand what worked and where you have room for improvement to make the next edition an even better event. This continued learnings allowed us to reach a satisfaction rate of 8,7 out of 10.
Last but not least, we leverage the content produced over the week. With 35 hours of talks, we are producing as many videos and summary articles. It will offer a 365 days experience until the next B2B Rocks conference. Delivered through a monthly newsletter and smaller B2B Club events. We keep acting for our mission which is to “power founders for the long run” and help our B2B ecosystem grow.