Prospecting: Build a Barrel
So I think the next strategy is probably, or I should say, you shouldn't do only one of these. Ideally you do all of them if you have enough energy and hate sleep. I hated sleep so much. I love it more and more, but I really hated it. A more strategic approach is to build a barrel. So, when people talk about shooting fish in a barrel it means, oh it's so easy because they're all there and I just need to. No one does that first of all. I don't know why it's a saying, but it's like oh, it's so easy, I can just reach in and grab that opportunity that I want. So if you're, not that I suggest you equate clients to fish. But if you think, it's like it's projects, it's opportunity, it's right there. The question is, where's the barrel? What's the barrel? And okay, let me describe a barrel and I'll talk about like what is building your own barrel. A barrel is, imagine there is a conference. Maybe Ad Age puts it on and it's the Top 100 Marketers in the U.S., invite only but you are lucky enough...
to attend. That is a barrel. It's got a lot of fish in it. Right? And so you're thinking like, really, just let me in that barrel. I'm gonna scoop out some fish. It's gonna be great. The issue is that normally it's very expensive for you to participate, right? They're gonna ask you, "Oh, well "you're a service provider, an agency, "write us a check for 25 grand to sponsor the thing "and then we'll let you in the barrel." Or "I'll just buy a ticket and that's 2500 bucks." Still that's not nothing, that's expensive, I don't think I spent any money on attending conferences in the many, many years, the first many years of the company because I figured out that building a barrel was much more valuable. So you could go to somebody's barrel, you could be led into it, but there's a fee. So you ask yourself, well how do I build my own? So I was either dumb enough or smart enough with my team to build a really, really big barrel. So it was a combination of building a barrel and boiling the ocean. Year, was this year three of the business, I think I had three employees. We decided we were going to launch an eight day festival in DC. And I don't mean to suggest that this was the South by Southwest of Washington DC, but it had interactive and film and music and all those awesome things that South by Southwest has. And so we say we're going to call this thing DC week. It's going to be a celebration of entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity, technology and sort of fashion and music. It's going to be all these things that people might like to participate in, and we're going to throw a big opening party, a big closing party, and you can add you own event to our common calendar, but got to register here. Within three months 6,000 people registered to attend the festival. So think about that, that's another big ocean boil. But then within that, we collected first name, last name, email, zip, company, job title, and then 12 different points of information related to what they do for work, and guess who we emailed to invite to private cocktail parties? The marketers who would be our potential customers. That's our little barrel. So we boil the ocean, we found the fish that we wanted to put in the barrel, we invited them to meet each other, gave them free booze, and guess what, that worked. That worked, really, really, really well. Meanwhile we had sponsors for the festival, so we didn't pay for any of this. So we figured out how to get people to pay for us to acquire customers. You can do that too. Actually you should. If you can figure out how to get other people to pay for you to get revenue, that's magic. That is what we did, that was God I love that. I don't know how to replicate it again, we'd probably have to launch another festival. Though we've done it a few other times. So does that make sense? Build a barrel. That is a barrel that we built, or I should say, the fish swam into the barrel having boiled the ocean. You don't have to boil the ocean to do that. You can just host a breakfast and say, and I've done this too. Maybe three or four times a year I'll email 20 or 30 top marketers in New York or DC and I'll say hey, I'm just having a breakfast with people like you and we're hanging out, and breakfast is on me and come sit and come chat. They come to breakfast, we all talk, and then three or four months later I get an email saying "Peter, it was so good meeting you, "and by the way we have this project, "I think it might be great for you." So I'm just trying to like get the fish to come back in the barrel and then we can talk a little bit more. Much better than a strategy which is like, can I cold call people every day? I haven't done a cold call in this business ever. I hope never too. The example I gave when I used to record the sort of TV and radio advertising in that agency, I cold called my face off. So I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't do that. That is a, I call that, I guess that's the brute force approach to prospecting. And you might have to. You absolutely might have to. Some of the things that I'm describing, you might be in a market that's too small, there's no ocean. There's no ocean to boil it's like, you're going to boil a puddle? If you boil the puddle, it evaporates, it's gone. I don't know that that works. And then there's a fried little fish there and it's dead and that's not so good. This analogy has outlived its possibilities.
We have some questions here, and I guess these kind of, these questions apply to both of our last tactics here, but I guess the first one, I just want some clarity. When you mentioned that you found 800 people to come to your first happy hour, and then you found 600 people to sign up for this event, I think those numbers are a little overwhelming for the people who are just getting started, and we have some questions about okay, well first off, how specifically do you get that high of a number of people, and is it okay to do something like that and say oh, alright, I got like 20 people and just like go from that group? I guess what is the threshold of people that you feel like is good for these methods?
For boil the ocean, I think bigger is always better. It should be as big as humanly possible because the headline shocker value is literally the sheer size. So the second happy hour that we did, the Washington Post put me on the front cover of the business section saying that I was the uniter of the innovators of the region. I was a dude throwing a happy hour. I wasn't going to turn down the coverage right? But the headline was like, actually it was that and it was like the economy is also waking back up after 9/11 and a recession and the tech bust and like finally the region is picking back up steam. So I tied myself to a big, broader story of the way that change was happening in the region. So, bigger is absolutely better from a boiling of the ocean point of view. The smaller thing is more building a barrel, as I described. And I think that's great. I think that doing a small breakfast, lunches, cocktails, whatever that might be, totally great, it's a different approach. And it may be that my personality was more in tune with being some kind of crazy circus barker ring leader of lots and lots of people, and I like that and that's fun and I'm not shy, and some people are shy. Some people are not going to want to be the person who is responsible for 2,000 people's happiness at an event. Mind you, for the festival I mentioned, it was 6,000 people the first year. The second year it was 10,000 people, and the third year it was 12,000 and that's crazy, it's insane. Mind you, we're doing client projects at the same time. So there was no sleep happening. And I literally got every single email that would come through our events account.
That question just came in. Yomei Harold says, how did you even get the emails? So what was your method of getting that? When they signed up for the event-
Oh, how did I acquire the emails and all that stuff?
Yeah, did they have to give their emails to attend the event?
Hell yeah. So I used Eventbrite. I still use Eventbrite. The company uses Eventbrite for all of its events. Eventbrite is an awesome RSVP system. It's free to use if your tickets are zero dollars, and if there's a price associated than they take a small fee. And so what I did was, God, there's so many little tricks in there. So I can teach a class on Eventbrite viral marketing strategies. Okay, so let me describe. You come into the RSVP, you select a ticket that's free. So no barrier to entry. If you don't want to come, there's another ticket that says let me know about the next one. Boom, so I'm missing nobody. Either you're coming or I'm going to market to you next time. And then what I would do as we collected information for the RSVP, Eventbrite lets you expose the attendee list below it. So I'd say first name only, company, and website. Marla from Marriott is coming. You're like, I wanted to meet someone from Marriott, right? Or title is in there too. So Marla, VP of Marketing, Marriott, and now all the attendees are like wow, there's all of these people that I want to meet and it's zero dollars to go, and it's free drinks? Like how many more value propositions do I need in order to go to this thing? Like that's all that's needed. So there's just this self fulfilling mechanism of ... The value proposition is great human beings are going to be there. So all I had to do was make sure people knew great human beings were going to be there. Part of that strategy was don't expose the attendee list until there's at least 40 or 50 people because otherwise it looks like no one is coming, and then you expose it. And then the other strategy was expiring tranches of tickets. So today we're going to release only 100 people can attend and then tomorrow maybe we'll release some more, so there's that scarcity factor. And I know that again, this can sound like you know a cynical, diabolical marketing mechanism, or it's just really smart marketing, and it was. So that's what we did with the festival, the first 4,000 registrants could get them for free, and then the next would be discounted, but then we got a sponsor and then we said, oh, the sponsor is discounting all the rest anyway, and so guess what, a sponsor doesn't want to give you a check when no one's registered for the festival. But a sponsor wants to give you a check for 50 grand when there's 4,000 people coming, right? So there's a lot of dynamics around how to create sort of attendance from nothing and let it build on itself, and I don't know how I learned to do that, but that's it in a nutshell. I mean, that's the mechanism that we use. And the beauty of Eventbrite is it has a really good contact management system, so over time we built these separate lists. Like are you a designer or a developer or a strategist, or a marketer, and then being able to easily invite people to the next thing, so they all built on themselves. So we couldn't do the festival until we had done three happy hours with the top number at 2200 people. Guess what, when we launched the festival I invited 2200 people to it, and they all RSVP'd because they had a great experience, right? And then those 2200 people, how many people do you think they told? Three or four at least, right? Maybe more? Maybe they emailed the invite to the whole company. We got to be involved in this thing, we got to sponsor this thing. Oh look, I can submit to present on a panel. They got keynotes open. They send it to the CEO. The CEO goes we need to sponsor this thing. Right? Good question. I'm happy to take more on this before I go any further-
One more question before we move on to our next tactic here, and you touched on it a little bit, but this got people talking online. The original question posted by Shoi Chan, a few people voted on this one, and this could be a whole nother class as well, but just a short answer here, "How did you even approach these sponsors for the festival?"
I didn't, I didn't.
Okay, well what is your method?
They have to approach us.
They approach you?
They would walk in with a basket of money. No, that's not what happened. I'll go back to it. There were already people coming, right? So I described this mechanism of building on your past successes with the event and now saying oh, there's already 4,000 people RSVP'd for our first festival in the first 24 hours. Oh my God, this must be an incredible thing. If 4,000 people said immediately I want to go to this. And guess what, in that audience, those are professionals, some of them are marketers, and so they're looking at this going, "Holy crap, clearly I must sponsor this, "because our business is to sell insurance "to entrepreneurs, and the RSVP just said "there are already 1200 entrepreneurs registered." There are 1200 entrepreneurs registered, there are 800 designers, there are 1,000 developers, and we would give those sort of broad statistics in the body of the RSVP as the registration base changed, and so the sponsors essentially were salivating because they saw us building barrels for them. And so then the sponsor money comes in and we go, and by the way, the sponsor dollars, most of them, unless it was like a 20 grand sponsorship or more, was self service, you can put your credit card in to Eventbrite and just send us five grand, and money just started coming in and we're like okay, that's cool, we haven't made a call to convince anyone to sponsor, they just give us money. We've done something, we have done something right, right? So I'll tell you, we did our business model canvas exercise earlier today. The value proposition must have been so dramatically clear to these people that it didn't require a phone call or a conversation, there was just going to be $5, and then they were going to email us their logo and a link and say can we please be a part of this thing?
One just clarifying question there, I mean as far as the size of the sponsor. So if people are just getting started, maybe they only have 20 people coming to their event. I mean, there is a sponsor for every size event, right? It may just be a smaller sponsor sponsoring a smaller event.
I will say for better or for worse, we had 20 sponsorship sizes. The smallest one was 100 bucks. The smallest one was 100 bucks where you get to put the logo in the footer of the website. Nothing else, don't, nothing else. Actually, I think they got an invite to like a VIP cocktail party or something like that for our sponsors. So 100 bucks, 150, 200, 500,000, 2500, 5 grand, 10, 50K, whatever the number was. So we again wanted to serve the spectrum of possible sponsors because a local law firm, actually law firms had the most money. They'd do like 2500 bucks, no problem. It's like five billable hours for them. But you know, a smaller service provider would be like, oh, you know, 250 bucks, I can handle that. And then your major marketers, people like Ford, and Google and AT&T, a bunch of our sponsors, they're like, we don't know how to cut checks for 500 dollars, I wouldn't even know how to do that. They're like can you take 10 grand? Yes, we can do that. Go ahead.
I just have a quick question. Every industry has their own barrels. For instance, I'm in the architecture industry, so they have their own events where designers are hanging out. What would differentiate our event for instance, we try to do the same or just doing events differently would help?
I would be very careful about building a barrel that attracts your peers. That's not your customer, right? So you guys are architects, you do architectural work? I don't want another, I don't want any other architects coming. There should be zero other architects in the barrel. They're not the fish. It's the clients.
It's different, yeah.
So are you doing, you're doing commercial work?
So product design.
You need the clients. So you need the marketers who are building consumer electronics devices, maybe they're building wearables, maybe they're going to do a Kickstarter project. I would host a how to get prepared for your physical product Kickstarter 101. Come to our office, we're going to talk to you about the process of going from sketch to 3D model, and we're going to have Solid Works, and some other 3D modeling company sponsor it. That's the barrel you should build. No other architects should come. No other industrial designers should come. Those are the last people you want to show up. So having clarity of who are the fish so I can build the right barrel is crucial. Good question.