Have B2B conferences jumped the shark? Q&A with Craig Rosenberg, the @funnelholic


2016 may very well be the year that we reach a saturation point with B2B marketing conferences.  More companies than ever are holding their own events this year.  Many of them truly look fantastic, but there’s only so many days most B2B marketers can be out of the office and not focused on work.

Increasingly, potential attendees will need to become more and more selective about where they attend, and why. That’s already true for sponsors and speakers as well, with finite budgets and finite time.

Many companies are simultaneously trying to build their own brand, reputation and following – while also driving butts in seats for a live event.  That is a very tall order.

Craig Rosenberg and the team at TOPO are taking the opposite approach.  Craig has been a mainstay in the B2B industry for years – generating a massive following via his Funnelholic blog and more recently via his company’s growth in helping organizations manage sales development and “account based everything” strategies.  When he announced TOPO’s first-ever sales summit, he already had a massive audience of followers ready to attend.

Craig spoke at the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals (AA-ISP) Seattle chapter meeting earlier this week, and I asked him to talk more about his own event in April – why now, how is it different, and how TOPO managed to grow so quickly.

There are SO. MANY. CONFERENCES, especially in the first half of 2016. How is yours going to be different? Who should prioritize it and why?

Who should prioritize the Summit and why? Sales and marketing professionals who are interested in high growth including sales leaders, sales development managers, sales operations, marketing leaders, and individual contributors.

The TOPO Sales Summit has 4 major differentiators:

1. The best sales leaders in the world will be speaking and attending. TOPO’s mission is to research the fastest growing companies in the world and provide those insights to others so they can grow their business. The Summit is an extension of that philosophy. We have invited revenue leaders from high growth companies to speak and attend. You will literally be able to learn from the world’s best sales leaders.

2. Specificity wins – That is the motto for TOPO. When we started TOPO, we realized that there was a glut of information on the market from blogs, whitepapers, etc. However, this content exposed high level concepts and trends, but not the specifics of how to actually execute. The specificity motto is part of our core philosophy in how we run our business and as such, is the guiding principle for the content at the Summit. We ask all of our speakers to provide specific details on how to operationalize their recommendations. The result is valuable content that attendees can go execute on right away.

3. Topics that matter – In order to deliver on that specificity, we built an agenda of topics that you can’t find anywhere else. In other words, we didn’t just want “10 Ways to Make a Cold Call”, we developed topics like “Growing and Managing a Global Sales Development Organization” or “The Account Based Sales Technology Stack”. These are topics that can help you change your business, delivered with depth and specificity.

4. And it will be fun as hell – It’s not like we haven’t been to a conference before. Great conferences offer actionable content and fun, memorable networking and frankly, parties. As we planned the event, we made sure that it was fun. And it will be.

You have a strict rule about who’s speaking at your Summit, talk about what that is and why it’s so important to delivering value for attendees?

The speakers are all actual practitioners in sales, sales ops, sales development, inside sales at high growth companies. Of course, TOPO’s analysts are speaking as well and their presentations are based on our research of best practitioners in the world. One exception to the rule is a good one – our keynote, Jeff Ma, isn’t a sales leader but he is famous for being the leader of the MIT Card-Counting Crew featured in the book, Bringing Down the House. He will be amazing. Otherwise, the majority of the speakers are actually DOING what they are presenting. There won’t be any thought leaders, bloggers, internet personalities, or vendor speakers.

Why is this important? Because we want our attendees to truly walk away with ideas that will lift results in their organization and for that to happen, we need real practitioners providing specific strategies and tactics that are actually in production and providing real ROI. Our event methodology has proven to provide the most valuable content for attendees. We have heard multiple stories of attendees to our smaller events, TOPO Councils, who have taken ideas and implemented them in their organization. Just last week, one of our attendees told us how they designed their entire sales stack based on the information he gathered at the event.

Topo has very quickly become a benchmark in B2B sales & marketing circles for sales development thought leadership in particular. How have you done that, and what lessons does that imply for other companies or start-ups as they grow?

First of all, thank you for the compliment. As I reflect on how far we have come, I can point to a couple key lessons for others:

1. Build the Brand – Our CEO and Founder, Scott Albro, was maniacal about the brand from day one. Truthfully, I was not. My background is in sales and demand generation so I am more inclined to focus on things that deliver immediate quantifiable metrics. I don’t think I am alone. As entprepeneurs, we often just start running 100 miles an hour and focus on short term results. Scott had a vision for the brand and enforces the brand in everything from small seemingly innocuous things like the computers we use to the big things like the website. Actually, the website is a great example. We work with the fastest growing companies on earth to help them grow faster. Our website has to look like theirs or better. I was debriefing a customer on why he bought. He said: “I knew the minute I saw your website, that you could help.” That’s good.

2. Take some of your best ideas and let it fly. All of it. – We have written some blog posts that most people would not give away unless they got something in return like a completed reg form or a contract. We put it out there. You mentioned that TOPO has built strong thought leadership status in sales development. We can point directly to a 4000+ word blog post we wrote called Sales Development: A Proven Framework for Success as one of the reasons for that. We have gone on sales calls and that post is on the decision maker’s screen. When you are starting your business, you need lots of people to know you are smart. Let it fly.

3. Meet everyone you can – Scott and I made a pact that we would talk to ten people per work no matter what. We would meet people anywhere (including virtually) to tell them our story. It’s actually a long play. We are getting intros to potential buyers from meetings we had two years ago.

How has your own experience as a seller helped you provide better council to your clients?

That’s a great question. I think the answer is: we are empathetic to the day-in-the-life of sales. I think that empathy forces us to be practical. When advising clients, there are a million things they could fix, but you have to identify the things that can actually get done. For example, in a recent advisory session with a customer, we identified 5 strategic recommendations for them. I presented them all and then told them to do one.
The other thing we have is the utmost respect for the sales craft. I think most consultants and advisors are, but when you aren’t in the day-to-day grind, you forget. We remind ourselves every day to love the player AND the game.

You balance a busy work schedule with a growing family. How do you do that?

It’s not easy.  Before I answer that, I want to say that I admire single moms and single parents in general more than ever before. It’s hard enough for my wife and I.

By the way, I am not sure I manage my work-family life very well. I am learning as I go that ‘s for sure. I have learned to prioritize (I used to do everything on the list), ask for help (“Mom, can you watch the kids tonight?”), hire amazing people and ask those people to own their jobs, and always get home to be with my wife and kids from 5.30-8pm. Does that help anyone? I’ll keep you in the loop as I learn more…(:

About the summit: The first annual TOPO Sales Summit will take place April 7-8 at Pier 27 in San Francisco. We will bring together over 600 sales leaders responsible for more than $50B in revenue. We’ve recruited an amazing lineup of speakers from companies like Google, LinkedIn, and Box. These sales leaders will be sharing exactly what they do to achieve scalable revenue growth.

The event is designed for:

– Sales leaders
– Sales development
– Sales operations (or marketing operations)
– Sales enablement
– Individual sales reps and SDRs

You can learn more about the Summit here – TOPO Sales Summit.