Once upon a time at South by Southwest

SXSWBlueVenn Sales Director Andrew Smith and Business Development Executive Neil Mutalik shares their thoughts after their exploration of uncharted frontiers at the 2017 South by Southwest conference and festival... 

For many, the yearly retreat to Austin for SXSW (otherwise known as South by Southwest) is an opportunity for inspiration and an escape from the mundane. Whether that means attending a keynote with speakers like former Vice President, Joe Biden, testing out the newest tech from one of the many vendors, catching a film premiere or up-and-coming musical act, or even just a great party at one of the numerous sponsored houses, the “next big thing” is always right around the corner.

However, for a sales professional at a startup tasked with generating new business opportunities at this gathering of multinational juggernauts, it felt like a far more daunting and strenuous week away from the office. I arrived in Austin feeling like Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, caught between the Rojos Brothers and the Baxter Boys. Fortunately, much like Eastwood’s quick draw, we came with a few skills of our own to leave SXSW with a fistful of (pipeline) dollars...

The Good:

Photo Credit: Amanda Butterfield

Social: Every squinty eyed gunslinger is quick with a six shooter and you’ll have to be even quicker with Twitter. As a B2B organization targeting Marketing execs, we found a number of our prospect accounts actually had speakers and panelists at the interactive sessions. Engaging with speakers can be challenging, the “social imbalance” between speaker and audience and the sheer number of attendees meant it was hard to stand out. My approach:
  • Engage – start quoting the panelists
  • Ask tough questions – put yourself on equal footing with them, and prove you know what you are talking about
  • Thank them for an awesome session – build trust
  • CTA – “Let’s grab a drink”

Meetups: Planned SXSW Meetups are a great way to find relevant contacts and the open format means there is plenty of time to talk about yourself and your company. However, as sales professionals we have a tendency to jump into “pitch mode”, so remember to stay open ask questions and talk about your experience. You can’t pitch product until people think you have something valuable to say.

The Bad:

Photo Credit: Merrick Ales 6th Street Bars & Parties: While the sponsored parties and bars on 6th Street are a fun, Bourbon Street-esque romp, the after-hours at Darwin’s Pub and the likes proved relatively fruitless from a networking standpoint. On the other hand, $3 Shiner…

Massive Installations: Similar to the previous point, companies like IBM and NatGeo have turned bars and restaurants into their own personal storefront during SXSW. While these installations are certainly impressive, as a third party vendor even in a related field it was hard to network. We had an interesting conversation with a fellow SXSW attendee flying out of Austin at the end of the week. He had been working as part of the installation team for one of these branded experience and we reflected that, while it was certainly a monument to what a massive marketing budget can do, does it really impact those who visit? Are impressions enough?

The Ugly:

Photo Credit: Aaron RogosinNothing particularly ugly - Austin is a beautiful city!

Just watch out for the guys who try to steal your drink when you're in the window seat at a bar...

 


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