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SOLD OUT! The importance of having customer training at your conference

Written by Bill Cushard

Published on August 27, 2019

Fall is tech conference season in Silicon Valley, and there is quite a consistent and accelerating flow of conferences that all seem to lead up to the climax that is Dreamforce. If you are planning your first conference or are looking to expand on your existing conference, you must consider adding training workshops to the schedule.

First of all, the training sessions will probably sell out. Second, you will make it easier for customers to justify attending your conference. Third, you will build a strong bond between customers and your brand. 

Workshops and training sell out

I remember back in 2014, when a VP of customer success told me what happened when he added training workshops to his conference. "All the spots sold out in a week, and I had a  dozen escalations in my inbox from customers that couldn't get their teams into the workshops." Then he told me, "Our marketing team asked me why we didn't add training to our conference sooner, because these workshops are driving conference ticket sales. Almost every singe person who purchased the workshop, also purchased the full conference pass." 

True story.

Then, I saw the Zendesk conference website and saw all of the training sessions listed as "SOLD OUT." I've kept this screen shot ever since, and I am sharing it now. It is a powerful visual reminder that learning technology is in great demand. 


People are being overrun with software tools at work, and they are hungry to learn what they can so that a) they can do their jobs, and b) they can be perceived as someone who knows what they are doing. People want to be known as the person in their organization who knows that software:

"Who knows how to configure our Jira instance for scrum?" 

"Joanna. She knows everything about that."

Lots of people want to be the Joanna for your product.

Software companies are adding training to conferences, selling out all the seats very quickly, and in the process discovering the demand for training is exceeding what they can deliver. 

This is a good problem to have. 

Granted, there are many fewer spots for training sessions at a conference than there are conference tickets. After all, a descent-sized conference will have perhaps 4,000 people attending. And for a conference that size, you may set up training workshops and spaces for at most 500 people. Naturally, it is easier to sell out 500 seats when 4000 people are signing up for the conference. 

However, it is very nice to sell anything out. 

In fact, that should be one of your goals...to sell out the training workshop. And one way to do it is to start small enough that selling out is reasonably achievable. This is especially important if you are adding training to you conference for the first time. Consider it a test. Rent one ball room at the conference. A small room. Let's say, 30 seats. 

Then get the training workshop on the conference website and sell it for some percentage of the conference price. Start with 25% of the conference price. See how many seats you sell. If it sells out quickly, then perhaps rent a second room and update the availability on the website. Ask your marketing team to send an email to all customers that says, "The training workshops sold out so fast, we rented another ball room and released 30 more seats."

Makes it easy to justify the trip

Why else add training to your conference? At a very practical level, training workshops make it much easier for your customers (and prospects ) to justify attending your conference. Think of this from your customer's perspective. They want to attend, but the conference costs $1200 (or more). Then they have to buy an airline ticket, book a hotel room, and budget for food. Not to mention spend nearly an entire week out of the office. 

Even for a three-day conference, there are are likely to be two travel days. And just to pile on, many employees will schedule a day off (or a few) after the conference. 

This is an expensive week and managers will be uneasy to approve it. 

Then, there is the need to overcome the perception that attending conferences is nothing more than a vacation; a time for saying you are working but really just having fun, skipping sessions, and going to the Wednesday night conference bash. 

This perception exists. 

If you have training (or better yet) a certification process at the conference, it is way easier for a customer to say to management....."I would like to go to this conference. While I am there, I can attend this workshop which teaches the functions that we have been struggling with. I will come back from the conference with the skills to clean up (or set up) the configuration so we can automate the..."

Ah, now that is valuable. If nothing else, they can finally set up the function they've been struggling with. 

That is worth $5,000 and a week out of the office. 

Go to the conference. 

Build a strong bond between your customers and your brand

In April 2019, I attended the Atlassian Summit. Atlassian has offered training at their Summit for many years. One thing they added this year was the ability for attendees to complete the certification process, take certification exams, and earn one of the new (and now) highly sought Atlassian Certified Professional (ACP) credentials. 

People who passed an exam and earned an ACP, also received a sweatshirt. Let me tell you something. People who got that hoodie wore it all over the conference. I bet some people didn't take it off for three days. That is how proud people were of their accomplishment. Those who did not do the certification and did not get the hoodie, would walk up to people with the hoodie and ask, "Where did you get that?"

I saw that happen.

OK small sample size but still. 

People who had the sweatshirt, wanted to wear it and show off. People who didn't have the sweatshirt, wanted to get one. It shows what a strong bond Atlassian has with their customers. People want to associate themselves with the Atlassian brand and say to the world, "I earned my third ACP at Summit." 

Slow down to speed up:
Make the time to design your customer education strategy

You may be an innovator or an early adopter, read this article, and want to go all in. I understand your impulse. My Kolbe A Index shows that I am a 9 on the Quick Start categories, which means I am "uniquely able to take on future-oriented challenged." And that I will "say 'Yes' before I even know the end of the question." You might be like that too. I urge you to take a deep breath and go through the process of designing your customer education strategy. Take that energy and direct it towards documenting your strategy. If you do that, it will make execution the easy part. 

For helping going through that design process, download The Learndot guide to customer education strategy design. It will not slow you down. It will speed you up.

Originally published Aug 27, 2019 9:32:14 PM, updated Aug 27, 2019