When I was at AWS re:Invent recently, I noticed in the expo hall that the people milling about the vendor booths were mainly developers (as you might expect). Most of the booths tried to cater to the developers, yet fell surprisingly short of creating a memorable experience, at least for me. This made me reflect on the different types of interactions I had.
Some companies had multiple booths in different areas of the expo, and were super aggressive about stopping people and trying to pull them in. I’m going to dub these “forced interactions.” These interactions were uncomfortable, not very engaging, and left everyone feeling awkward. I would sit it out if I really wanted the swag, or would politely excuse myself and walk away. If I were to guess, they probably talked to way more people but had a lower success rate because most of the people they talked to weren’t really there for their product.
Gathering a crowd for a demo with a raffle at the end was also a popular choice. These companies had you hang out and watch a video or live demo for the chance to win a major prize (like the new iPhone!). Let’s call these “lured interactions.” If the prize was good enough, this was an effective way to get people to watch the demo and get your product in front of customers. It also drew a crowd, and the larger the crowd got, the more people would stop to see what was going on. However, these demos weren’t necessarily aimed at developers, and were often sales-pitchy.
Now I understand this is an expo to drive leads and sales for your product, however most developers don’t typically have purchasing power. As a developer, I need to be so excited about a tool that I go home and try it (for free!) and start integrating it in my processes. Eventually, if we’re delighted with the product and enough people want to use it, we might look at purchasing a license.
Other companies held hackathon-style events multiple times a day where you could win prizes. Let’s call these “hands-on interactions.” These were effective at getting people to actually use the product for themselves and hopefully see the value in it. In my opinion, these booths were more engaging than the pure demo booths since you could actually test drive the product and potentially get excited about it.
These booths also drew a crowd; however, they also lost the developers who were shy, didn’t have time to join, or couldn’t wait for a station to become available. Some of these booths provided cards you could take which included a link to sign up for a free trial. This was a great accessible option and I found it really helpful when I was interested in exploring a product or company, but didn’t have time to join their hackathon, or wanted to do it at my own pace.
My favourite were companies who actively promoted their developer tools and spoke to developers on their level. When I last went to re:Invent in 2018, I went back to one booth multiple times with questions from our development team back home after I shared info about a tool they told me about in my first encounter. Thinking about it now, that’s pretty amazing! In our brief first interaction they were able to get me excited enough about a product that I told other developers.
The other developers in turn were so excited that they convinced me to spend more time on the floor speaking to the product team. This time, I specifically sought out their booth to see what was new! I also sought the booth of a company whose product I already use, who had recently launched new tools that interested me. I wanted to talk to them and understand how their new tools might fit in my flow. These are “engaging interactions” where there is an active dialogue, and the customer is choosing to be there and interact with the team.
Finally, there were what I’d call “passive interactions.” Some of these were good interactions, where the people at the booth were friendly and would gently approach after a few seconds to ask if you had questions. In these cases, I was more inclined to listen to their quick pitch. However, most passive interactions I had were the opposite. Either the person at the booth was distracted, didn’t seem to want to be there, or all the people at the booth were already engaged with other customers.
In these interactions, I relied on signage or demos that might already have started to give me an indication of whether or not I’d like to wait around to talk to someone. Most often, based on just their signage or a quick peek of their demo, I couldn’t figure out what their product did or how it might benefit me, so I walked away – even if they had cool swag.
Many companies also followed up after the conference with a phone call and/or email. For the most part each used a familiar tone, treating me as a friend, and almost all asked to book a time to chat more about their product. While this may work for some, I immediately hit unsubscribe. Not only do I not have the time, but I would also rather try out the product for free to see if it will meet my needs. I would much rather get an email with links to documentation for getting started with a free trial and encouraging me to reach out if I have questions. A select few did this, but overall the majority of the emails didn’t consider my needs and preferences as a developer.
Consider your audience
As an introvert it takes energy for me to interact with others, so I really dislike forced interactions because I don’t want to waste my energy on something I’m uninterested in. I would rather passive interactions where I can then choose to dive deeper and talk with an expert. However, passive interactions need to be well thought out so I can self-discover the product.
After I’ve decided to approach a booth, whether it’s the swag, signage, or demo that pulled me in, I’d like to speak to someone who can talk to the developer experience. In 2 minutes or less I’d like to know, “how does your product help me better achieve my goals as a developer?” Help me picture your product as part of my flow and understand how it will fit in my processes, and you’re halfway there!
Many booths did not use just one of the approaches I mentioned, but rather a combination of a few. There are many types of people and what works for some won’t work for all, so a combination might make sense. When setting up a booth, consider your audience and who will be attending the show.
- What do you want your attendees to take away from the booth?
- Why are you there in the first place?
- How do you want people to interact with your team?
- How do you want people to interact with your product?
Take the time to think it through and experiment with how you engage with customers, and they will thank you for it!
Did you attend AWS re:Invent? What are your favourite types of interactions? Sound off in the comments below!