Why you likely won’t see ToutApp at AA-ISP, Sales Hacker, Sales 2.0 or another Sales Conference in 2016

If you’re attending any of the Sales Conferences this year, you may notice a distinct absence of a ToutApp booth. Whether it’s AA-ISP, Sales Hacker, Sales Machine, Sales 2.0, or even Dreamforce, we’ve made a conscious decision to not spend our money on paid speaking spots, and booths crowded into a hallway clustered with 10 competitors. In this post, I’ll explain why.

ToutApp is embracing operational ruthlessness so we can better serve our customers

There’s a massive change happening here in Silicon Valley on how technology companies are built. Where before the name of the game was to grow at all costs with a limitless supply of venture capital money — founders, CEOs, and board rooms across the valley are starting to value and respect a different mantra: Profitability.

It’s not a novel concept, in fact it’s a concept we’ve always embraced here at ToutApp, it just happens to be in style now.

We’ve always wanted to run the company in an operationally ruthless way, but it’s even more true today as our space consolidates, and our customers need more from us than ever.

In a crowded market for sales software, we believe it takes three things to win and deliver for the customer and rise above the rest. You need to:

  1. Have the best product
  2. Have an excellent customer experience at every touch point
  3. And, you need to be an excellently run company

Each of those three things takes a uniquely talented team to execute on and are hard to do in unison. But if done effectively, you are able to compete and rise above the rest.

The thing I’ve spent a ton of time on this year is thinking about how to be an excellently run company—a cut above the rest and adopt what I call operational ruthlessness so that we can truly deliver for our customers both in the short term and for the next hundred years.

A key element in being an excellently run company is to embrace metrics. Every company tracks metrics, but tracking the right metrics, and establishing the right discipline around making decisions through both metrics and gut is what really puts a cut above the rest.

In fact, I’ve found it takes serious courage to make certain decisions that the data tells you to do, the gut tells you to do, but is completely contrarian to what the rest of the market is doing.

Personally, I absolutely love the contrarian play.

Sponsored Speaking Gigs & Crowded Booths Isn’t What Moved the Needle For Us

One such metric that glared out at us was the immense cost in participating in Sales Conferences today. Each of these conferences are multi-million dollar businesses that are fueled by paid tickets and paid speaking spots — it’s brilliant!

From AA-ISP, to Sales Hacker, to Sales 2.0, to SaaStr, and all the way to Dreamforce, as we looked back at our Marketing spend in the past year, we couldn’t help but notice how paid speaking arrangements, booths, sponsorships accounted for a lot of our spend but not a lot of attribution to closed business or real pipeline. There was some, there’s always some.

When we truly chased down closed won opportunities, and how event sponsorships (which is different from attending events) affected our sales pipeline, we didn’t find much correlation.

And so this year, we made the conscious decision to not do any more event sponsorships. As much as we’ll miss paying to be on stage at AA-ISP, Sales 2.0, Sales Hacker, and any other conference that crops up tomorrow, we’ve decided to take our countless hours of research, our insights, and our thought leadership, and take it to the distribution platform that costs nothing: the Internet.

As with a lot of things about being an excellently run company, you sometimes have to make decisions that are contrarian – but we feel good about this one.

What does this means for your customers, prospects and the broader space?

It’s simple. We’re diverting funds to more effective ways of delivering thought leadership to our customers and prospects. We’re diverting it to things that have worked 10x better, for us and for the people we care about: our customers and direct audience. The specifics are our own secret sauce to marketing so I won’t go into it here.

We’ll continue to share our knowledge and what we’ve learned about the future of sales on our blog, at our Tout Live events (in partnership with Sales Hacker and Enterprise Sales Meetups), and the countless Tout-owned events we host across the globe with our customers and prospects — but, we won’t be spending our money for paid speaking gigs and booths that crowd us into a corner.

Instead, with all the money we save, we’ll spend that money to invest back into our product, pay our employees at competitive rates, and net-net, be an operationally ruthless company.

Additionally, we’ll invest in our own events in association with people we love.


An event we hosted at our offices with Jon Miller (Co-Founder of Marketo) and Lars Nilsson (VPS of Cloudera) at a recent Tout Live + Sales Hacker event. Check out the video and event recap here.


An event we hosted at our offices with our own CRO Frank Swain (who took two companies from $0m to $30m+) and SVP of Commercial Sales at Box Lesley Young (who saw Box through tremendous growth and an IPO). Event recap coming soon.


  • Saeed

    good decision Tawheed…I have been to many conferences, I call them ‘Ra Ra events’….designed to make you feel important but has very little or no impact on your bottomline.

  • Interesting concept that I will do more research on for outro.com – we just did the AAISP sponsorship and have done a few others in the past – that are definitely hard to attribute real cash wins – some are directly correlated, but the value of being present, brand awareness, and in person face-to-face meetings seem to be valuable. but I will definitely think twice and plan our own approach. Thanks for sharing man.

    • TK

      The strategy is highly dependent on where your brand is in the awareness curve. If you’re just starting out, I would recommend doing a few – but pick ’em carefully.

      • Thanks for the reply – makes sense. We definitely are early enough that most haven’t heard about us or referral automation yet. So I will take your advice.

        • Jake Goates

          Everywhere I look there is @brandtpage:disqus growing businesses…Love it! Keep it up brotha!

  • Brian G. Burns

    TK, I completely agree. I work with most of the companies that go to those shows and no says that they get much of an ROI. How do you solve the what is a Toutapp problem? Are you getting much out the Facebook ads?

  • trishbertuzzi

    I love the stand you have taken TK and I love that you are sharing it. One of the things I got out of Dan Lyon’s book “Disrupted” was his ruthless take on the tech industry. The Scale – No Profit – Then IPO strategy that has been making founders and VCs rich while adding no value to the market or to employees who are just grist for the mill might be finally coming to a close. Our mantra needs to go old school and go back to profitability. Kudos to you for being ahead of that curve and for making decisions to support it!

  • High five @tawheedk:disqus.

    I’ve found that the industry conferences are great for learning about the industry itself. It’s taught our team a lot, and helped us get real time feedback about our product and message. But we weren’t impressed with the amount of deals that closed as a direct result of attending.

    Lots of talk and no action. I’ve noticed people get uncomfortable when I’d push for the close with a conference promotion. This wasn’t true 5+ years ago. People would use these conferences to make actual buying decisions. Not anymore. People have become more informed with free trials and live demos. I personally like it because it’s much more efficient for both sides. That drops the cost to deliver a product, therefore it costs less to buy a product. Everybody wins!

    We’ve been sending 1-2 people to select conferences without a booth. It allows us to get face time with our industry partners and catch up with our favorite customers. It’s a less expensive way of spreading the cost for customer visits.

  • Thanks TK for having the SF Enterprise Sales Meetup at your office. Looking forward to Thursday’s recap!

    I agree with your sentiments about events and ROI. Ultimately, who is the event for? I was going to write a longer response but I will save that for a separate post. Suffice it to say, I think the current model for events and conferences does not serve anyone well…except for the biggest of companies. Thus the rise of guerrilla marketing at events, something that I have been advocating for with my startups for quite some time. Be ruthless with your resources, your time & your dollars, you only have so much to go around.

  • Charles Studt

    Great insight TK– thanks for sharing. We definitely saw the same shift in market sentiment away from growth at all cost and can validate your experience. We made the same decision this year (pulling out of large IT-focused events like Interop and Gartner Conferences that had dubious impact on the funnel) and have relentlessly focused on unit economics– CAC payback, CLTV/CAC ratio, etc. while reinvesting the savings optimizing our web sales channel. By driving out those costs, we are on track to improve most metrics 50-100% in the first half of the year.

  • Lauren Bailey

    Cool perspective. TK – but we experience the opposite! Maybe it’s our industry or even the way we go about it. This year at AA-ISP we brought home over 30 qualifed “A or B” leads. That’s awesome.

    Our strategy was to offer 100% value on stage with no pitch, never to collect cards or scan badges, and use our booth for our current clients’ benefit (the hangover station, a charging station, etc.). Basically it was quality over quantity. It’s like an inbound queue for us. Add value / content, folks come who need you, we have a conversation and they opt in for follow up.

    This has served us better than treating it as an outbound queue and trying to maximizing contacts / emails to crowd the funnel. Hope this helps others out there (and you will be missed TK!)

  • TK – much respect for you. No doubt you stirred the pot with this one. Over many years of sponsoring the conferences you’ve mentioned, my companies have always received hard, attributable ROI on new clients, many of whom have turned into life long clients and friends. I typically see 5x the total spend including travel. We did not do an opportunity cost analysis. That said every business is different. I felt it important to chime in my two cents for other companies who read this and may be dissuaded. Those companies, depending on the unique factors of their situation like market maturity, concentration of ICP prospects, etc. may be missing out and a great business opportunity by not being present. Each company should evaluate the benefits and costs on their own seeking references from a variety of former sponsors.

  • Peter Poehle

    Thanks a lot TK for sharing this! Reading your blog, I’ve asked myself if there’s something fundamentally wrong with sponsorship OR if the way sponsorship is DONE is wrong?
    I’ve researched a lot on this over the past years and came to the conclusions (and not only me), that the old-fashioned way of sponsorship is clearly outdated and doesn’t worship anymore the excellent marketing-channel that is sponsorship. Inspired by the techniques of inbound marketing, I believe that the time has come for what I call “inbound sponsorship”, a way more interactive, content based way to sponsor events (here’s a blog post I’ve wrote about it: https://www.sponsormyevent.com/blog/inbound-marketing-and-sponsorship-a-dream-team/).
    It would be interesting to learn how far you went in exploring advanced techniques of sponsorship and if you really tried to shift from merely having a paid speaking slot to a way more interactive form of sponsorship.