SaaS Conferences: Should You Still Attend Them in 2024?

May 16, 2024
SaaS Talks
Conferences have always been an obvious option for meeting potential customers and partners for any startup, and SaaS was no exception. While the COVID-19 pandemic brought a temporary halt to in-person events, leading many to question their value in a world that's increasingly shifting online, the SaaS industry saw a massive resurgence in post-COVID events in the past couple of years.  This recent boom in live events highlighted the human element of business — people crave interaction, connection, and the exchange of ideas in a way that virtual meetings can't fully replicate.

So with that sentiment whiplash, where does that leave us as SaaS founders looking to find our next deals? Are events worth their new-found hype? Is it worth shelling out the cash to sponsor, host, or even just attend them?  Let's dive in.

The Benefits of Attending SaaS Conferences

Networking Opportunities
SaaS conferences are theoretically a goldmine for networking. Attendees include a wide range of stakeholders: potential customers, partners, (at least according to conference organizers) investors, prospective employees, industry influencers, and media. Events offering structured networking sessions and informal gatherings are oftentimes better than just an endless day of presentations.

From a structured session to informal drop-in lounge areas, great conferences facilitate meaningful conversations and help nurture those serendipitous, chance encounters that would never happen virtually - these are what make it all worthwhile.
High Qualitly Lead Generation
SaaS conferences are not just about networking. Digital marketing efforts for lead generation can't provide the direct connection to prospects that SaaS conferences offer, especially if you purchase an exhibitor booth. Obviously the benefit is that potential customers can easily find your company, but the added bonus is that  typically serious prospective buyers will also show up with their schedule cleared, allowing you to book an in-person meeting for the next day or just demo straight away.

At conferences, attendees may be window shopping, but plenty of the folks coming by your booth will be actively looking for a solution (and are themselves the core decision maker) and in many cases will have already done some initial research, so the leads you do get are often highly qualified and have high buying intent.
Real-Time User Feedback
This direct interaction also offers immediate feedback from users, which can be invaluable for product development because of shorter development cycles. Whether they're just curious attendee-goers, qualified high-intent leads, prospective investors, active customers or otherwise, this can be an unparalleled venue to beta-test new features, or even to test core features among new types of audiences.

Because you'll have hundreds of live demos and conversations, this provides the invaluable, honest gut-level feedback that is simply hard to recreate by sending over Figma links or demo videos virtually. You can see a user's reaction to your feature live in real time - and this is one of the most valuable aspects of attending in-person events and conferences.
Team Building and Morale Boosting
Attending a SaaS conference isn't just a business development activity; it's also a team-building exercise. Especially those who work remotely or in technical roles with limited customer interaction, conferences can be an exciting change of pace, where they can talk to potential customers who are excited about your product, or maybe be able to meet your enterprise customers in person after knowing them for months of Zoom calls.

Regardless of whether you're a small early-stage team or a seasoned salesforce, experiencing a conference together as a team can strengthen bonds, enhance morale, and reinforce a shared mission, contributing to a positive company culture, especially if you combine the conference with a strategy offsite.
Insight into Competitor Strategies and Market Trends
Conferences can also serve as a valuable live snapshot of the latest trends within SaaS. With keynote speeches, panel discussions, and even just touring the expo floor, you can gain valuable insights into where the market is heading. This environment also offers a rare opportunity to observe competitors up close in a manner you otherwise wouldn't be able to - understanding their products, positioning, and customer interactions. These insights are critical for staying competitive and innovative in a fast-moving industry.
Educational Opportunities and Professional Development
This largely depends on the type of conference and who on your team may attend it, but some SaaS conferences can offer highly educational sessions that can help your team keep up to date with the latest best practices and how to implement them. This could be anything from having your technical team attend sessions about cybersecurity, to your sales team attending a panel debating various selling tactics. These are the kinds of topics they aren't necessarily going to have the time or capacity to engage with in a normal workday simply by reading an article or watching a YouTube video, but attending them live can be highly valuable and help keep your company on the cutting edge.
Brand Visibility and Industry Presence
Participating in SaaS conferences - whether as a speaker, exhibitor, sponsor, or even just as an attendee - raises your company's profile within your industry. People see your badge, logo, team, booth, and they talk to you in person. No matter how big or small your "show" is,  simply having a presence at a conference signals to your prospective and current customers, employees, competitors, and investors that your company is active, engaged, and committed to growth; after all, attending a conference isn't cheap. For startups, this visibility can be a major step in establishing credibility and attracting attention in a crowded marketplace.

The Downsides of Attending SaaS Conferences

We've all been there: You thought attending or exhibiting at a specific conference would be a great idea, but after the event, you come back with little in the way of tangible outcomes. Let's look at those challenges in more detail.
High Costs with Uncertain ROI
One of the most immediate challenges for sponsoring, or even just attending a SaaS conference, is the significant financial investment required. As anyone who's had to foot the bill is well aware, the costs here aren't limited to the ticket prices, which themselves are steep; they also encompass travel expenses, accommodations, booth setups, and promotional materials. Particularly for a highly sought after event, hotels and flights can book up fast, and can become prohibitively expensive. Prices have also generally increased post-COVID.

All this can make it even harder for early-stage SaaS startups to attend, let alone purchase a booth, whereas a large company might have ample budget to dedicate. Allocating thousands of dollars towards a few days at a conference is a gamble, especially when the return on investment remains uncertain and is oftentimes not immediately measurable.
Time and Resource Allocation
Beyond the financial considerations, there's the question of time and resources. Are you really going to send as many emails while traveling as usual? Are you really sending all the followups you would have sent otherwise? Preparing for a major SaaS event is no small feat—it requires planning, from designing booth displays to coordinating travel to preparing demos and pitches.

This can divert attention away from what really matters - product development, customer support, and digital marketing efforts. For a small team, the weeks spent preparing for and catch up after a conference can represent a substantial productivity dip.
The Right Fit: Choosing the Appropriate Conference
Not all conferences will be relevant to your particular SaaS product or target audience. If you sell software targeted towards a specific vertical, such as a CRM for real estate agents, you might be better off attending a real estate conference rather than attending a SaaS conference. Attending the wrong conference can result in wasted efforts, with few to no valuable leads or insights gained. But unfortunately, even with careful selection, there's no guarantee that the chosen conference will yield the desired outcomes.

In addition, online avenues often offer more precise targeting and analytics, enabling startups to engage with their audience more effectively and measure the results of their efforts. In contrast, the networking opportunities at conferences can be hit or miss, relying on chance encounters and the ability to stand out in a crowded field. Even some events that seem to be a slam dunk can end up being duds, while sometimes you find that events that seem irrelevant end up having a surprising number of qualified leads -- it's a game of luck.
Shifting Dynamics of Sales and Networking
Even if you succeed with customer discovery and find early fans, you will have to attract customers beyond your With the rise of social media platforms, content marketing, and digital networking tools, SaaS companies have more channels than ever to connect with potential customers and partners. Unfortunately, that means your target customers are already getting bombarded with hundreds of sales pitches per day even before they set foot on an expo floor. Will the free swag that you gave an enterprise customer talking to you at your booth really make the difference? Again, it's hard to be able to predict this with absolute certainty.
The Sheer Volume of People
Last but not least, the volume can be overwhelming. This can also be a benefit, but because conferences may attract tens of thousands of attendees, it's highly likely that a significant portion of the audience may not be the ideal fit for you, and you're essentially left to sift through the masses. Here again, online targeting may be more effective than leaving it to chance hoping that the right people happen to see your booth.

Our takeaways

  • Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Just like with any other channel, conferences have risks associated with them, and spreading this risk by diversifying your channels will help ensure that this is most successful.
  • Use conferences for what they're best at - chance encounters. Don't shell out too much time, money and effort aiming to meet a specific person. Instead, try to embrace the chaos and be open to meeting as many new, unexpected connections as you can.
  • Divide and conquer. You'll have to say yes to some and no to others, but to get the most out of the ones you do attend, try to ensure you have at least two team members attending, so you can tackle different sessions or areas at once.

Best SaaS Conferences to Consider

SaaStr Annual
Held in the San Francisco Bay Area, SaaStr Annual is one of the largest gatherings for the B2B SaaS community globally. It brings together SaaS founders, executives, and enthusiasts for a multi-day event filled with networking opportunities, insightful talks, and workshops led by industry leaders. The conference covers a wide range of topics, from scaling SaaS businesses and improving customer success strategies to mastering SaaS sales and marketing. Its comprehensive agenda makes it an invaluable event for SaaS companies at any growth stage looking to expand their knowledge and networks.
With iterations in cities across North America and Europe, including a notable presence in Dublin and New York City, SaaStock has established itself as a premier event for SaaS companies seeking to learn about scaling, product innovation, and entering new markets. SaaStock's agenda is meticulously designed to address the needs of SaaS founders and executives, offering insights into the latest industry trends, growth strategies, and funding opportunities. Its global footprint also provides a unique platform for networking with peers from various geographies, fostering valuable international connections.
SaaS North
Held in Ottawa, SaaS North is Canada's largest SaaS conference for scaling up. The event prides itself on bringing together the Canadian SaaS community—founders, investors, and industry experts—to share knowledge, discuss challenges, and explore growth opportunities. It's a must-attend for SaaS companies in North America looking to connect with the Canadian tech ecosystem and learn from successful SaaS entrepreneurs.
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