Sponsor sessions at VMware events: If you build it right they will come

if-you-build-itSponsor sessions at VMware events such as VMUGs and VMworld always seem to get a bad rap and with good reason, they are very often sales & marketing pitches. These sessions very frequently tend to be focused on the vendors products and are not very educational to attendees and as a result they are usually not very well attended. Most attendees go to these events to learn about technology and unless they specifically have targeted a certain vendor for a potential upcoming need, they generally don’t want to hear sales pitches in sessions. The audience at these types of events is in the large majority technical and sales/marketing pitches is like kryptonite to them. I wrote about what I thought sponsors should do at events a few months ago when I offered feedback on VMUG events and I wanted to illustrate that here in more detail.

To make my point I wanted to share a real life and recent example that serves as proof that there is a right way and a wrong way to present a sponsor session at VMware events. The company I work for had several sponsor session slots for VMworld, my BU had one of them and I was responsible for putting together the abstract and session content for it. I had originally submitted a new edition of my VVols session from last year’s VMworld that was voted in through the content committee but it didn’t make it through this year. So instead I crafted a sponsor session that was about 3/4 VVols and 1/4 Containers and 100% technical and educational. When I submitted the abstract I did not even mention either a company name or product name in it. Now the other 2 submissions that my company submitted were pretty obvious product pitch sessions, one was pretty blatantly a product session, the other was a bit more subtle. So what do you think happened?

vvols-ccAfter my session was submitted along with our other sponsor sessions and the Schedule Builder opened, every week I would get the registration numbers for all 3 of our sessions in our weekly VMworld planning meeting. It was no surprise to me that my submission was doing well, registration was in the hundreds a few weeks before VMworld, the other sessions in comparison were in the double digits. The closer VMworld approached my session registration numbers were climbing fast, it hit the max limit of the room it was in several times and as the waiting list grew it was moved to a larger room. I watched as it hit 400, then 500, then 600, in the meantime our other 2 sessions were still stuck in the double digits. My submission eventually was moved into the largest room available that held 1,150 people and ended up with almost 900 people registered, the day of the session almost 600 people showed up for it.

I was frankly astounded that it was that high but not really surprised, I carefully crafted the abstract as a deep dive on VVol & Container technology and I delivered just that. My overall session rating was a 4.22 out of 5.0 which is pretty good in my book, want to see for yourself how I did it, watch the replay here. The final registration numbers of the other 2 sponsor sessions were around 60 and 100 as comparison. Do you wonder why that is? If you have been following what I’ve been saying so far you should know, If you build your session right, attendees will come, if you don’t they won’t come.

So let’s define what right is for a session, it’s a pretty simple formula.

  • Knowledgeable, technical speaker + educational/technical content – sales/marketing pitch = great attendance

Let’s cover more specifically some Do’s & Dont’s to make this happen:

  • Do write your abstract to be technical in nature, focus on technology, trends, features features, etc
  • Do talk about technology in general without getting too deep into your products
  • Do have someone technical design your presentation
  • Do send a technical SA, evangelist or engineers to deliver your session
  • Do use subtle mentions of your product as it relates to the technical content at hand
  • Do technical demo’s and examples of your product in action but don’t over do it
  • Do make it both interesting and educational so an attendee learns something about technology and your product
  • Do leave people curious about your product so people can talk to you afterwards about in more detail
  • Do bring people that know the answers to tough technical questions
  • Do try and include a customer or industry expert in your session
  • Don’t mention product’s in session abstracts, if you have to keep it at a minimum
  • Don’t bait & switch by promising technical content and delivering sales content, you’ll be hated
  • Don’t send a sales guy with no technical background to deliver a session
  • Don’t use any slides from your marketing decks
  • Don’t have a marketing guy prepare your deck
  • Don’t send someone to the event that’s going to be in over his head and say I don’t know or I’ll have to check
  • Don’t use magic quadrant’s or talk about industry trends or metrics
  • Don’t have a C-level or VP person in your session (some exceptions apply)
  • Don’t have someone pretend to be technical by reading speaker notes verbatim

If you are in doubt about if your content is appropriate for the event ask a VMUG leader, a tech marketing person, a techie customer or someone in the community to review it. Now let’s talk about what’s in it for you, you spent a lot of money to sponsor an event, how do you talk about your products so you get your ROI on the event and make it worth sponsoring.

Talking products and making sales pitches is not completely off-limits at events, just do it at your booth instead of in your session. At the session encourage people to come by your booth, if you delivered a good session people will come. At the end of your session use a slide or two to talk products, if you delivered an interesting presentation up until that point people won’t mind it and will stay and listen to what you have to say. At your booth people expect to talk about your products but again make sure you have some techie folks there as well to engage in deeper technology conversations.

A final thought I’ll leave with you, as a sponsor would you rather have 600 people listening to you in a session or 60? That one should be a no-brainer, if you do it the right way as I described here attendees will respect you more and they will likely come to you when they are ready to talk about products. If you do it the wrong way, you have missed the chance to influence a greater number of attendees and in many cases you will alienate a potential customer. But don’t take my word for it, why don’t you try it yourself and see what happens, you may not get huge numbers of attendees right off the bat but I guarantee if you do it right, they will come and ultimately you will be successful.


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