This post is about my software product Hyperion. You can read more about it here.
We arrived on the first day of the conference to find out that internet access for the booths wasn’t free, and would cost something absurd, like a hundred dollars a day. I set up my phone as a mobile hotspot and hoped for the best (it ended up working fine).
We set up the laptop, connected a monitor, set up the banner and table-sign, filled the bowl with candy, and tried to look professional. I was 26 and self-conscious about meeting many of my potential customers in-person for the first time. Would they think I was too young?
When manning a booth you have to do a few things simultaneously: You have to be friendly. You have to try to figure out what sort of person you’re talking to (are they just curious and browsing or actually a potential customer?). You have to answer their questions and get them interested in the product. And, most importantly, you have to remember to write down who you talked to so that you can follow-up after the conference. I failed miserably on that last task for the first four or five people who approached the booth.
If you really want to be a booth-pro, then you should learn to juggle the attendees, giving each person a minute or two before politely disengaging and moving on to the next person. I didn’t get the hang of this during the conference. It’s harder than it sounds!
The booths were placed near the food, which meant that manning them was feast or famine. We would go hours without talking to anyone and then be stormed by three groups at once before lunch.
I’m also fairly introverted and as the days wore on it became harder to stay friendly and engaged. Thankfully, the friend I invited really shined here. She not only picked up the slack but actively brought people over to the booth and made friends with everyone.
We really only had 26 potential customers in Florida. Most of them were at the conference, although I was already talking to six of them. I had three goals for the conference: First, to make sure everyone in the state knew Hyperion was an option so anyone desperate for a solution could make the switch. Second, start becoming a fixture of the Florida homelessness space (to help pick up skeptics in a few years). Third, to meet with a couple organizations that were interested but not sold on Hyperion.
As I mentioned, there was a talk in the conference titled, “Digital PIT Collection: Tackling Homelessness One Data Point At A Time,” and it was being given by a company! (Not the main competitor I mentioned here, but a new one I hadn’t heard of yet). One of the first things I did was to wander over to their booth, introduce myself, and ask for more information about their company and product. I learned that they did have a product that they were positioning as a solution to the PIT count – similar to Hyperion. I couldn’t keep a self-conscious smile off of my face.
My friend told me that while I was gone and she was returning from the bathroom, she caught the guy from their booth leering over ours and snooping through our material. It was kind of funny – he avoided eye-contact for the rest of the conference. He could have just asked!
The first day of the conference was slow, and so I went to a few of the talks. I was still new to the homelessness field and wanted to learn. The latter two days I stuck to the booth, thinking my time was better spent there.
I made an exception for one talk: the competing company’s. Theirs happened the day before mine. Multiple people told me that the talks were supposed to be vender-neutral, but unlike my joint talk with THHI, this company would be giving a talk alone. Would they really stay vendor-neutral?
I was in a tricky spot. The stated purpose of my talk with THHI was their experience hiring a software contractor (us) to build something for them. It was not about Hyperion (the product I was there to sell). To do this ethically, I probably shouldn’t even mention that I had a product. But if this competitor made the whole talk about theirs, would I really take the high road?
We never found out because they behaved impeccably. They spoke in generalities about “digitizing the PIT count” and even refused to answer specific questions about their product. Respect. So I took the high road as well.
I was nervous about the talk, but it went well enough.
After the conference was over, we had six new leads. Less than I hoped for, but I still suspected it was worth going. I wouldn’t really know until I followed up.