Unplugged: How Gainsight Turned Its Pulse Conference Into the Center of Gravity for Customer Success

“The Dreamforce of Oakland.”

That’s how Anthony Kennada, VP of marketing at customer success management platform Gainsight, describes his company’s ambitions for its rapidly growing industry conference, Pulse.

At our first-ever “Unplugged” event at DoubleDutch HQ, a new interview series with the pros behind top industry events, Kennada and his production partners revealed what it really took to pull off an event that drove over 3,000 plus attendees and grew nearly 30 percent from 2015 to 2016 — the good, the bad, and the 1 million emails.

Kennada emphasized that Gainsight approaches events by acknowledging that people’s work and personal lives are no longer separate. They want to learn, but they also want to socialize. They want to network, but they also want to be entertained. The business challenge, whether selling software or promoting an event, is to strike that balance, Kennada said, citing a quote from Box CEO Aaron Levie:

“Your job is to make [customers] be heroes. Make them feel like they are transforming their business in the role that they have, internalizing that there is a company out there that cares about me, cares about my role.”
How did the Gainsight team meet those competing goals in pursuit of growing its event into the industry standard?

Hustle to Get People Through the Door

Gainsight used a variety of tactics to promote the event, as any good marketer would. Some of the highlights from their promotion strategy included:

  • Offered economic benefit and conference experience benefits for companies that sent teams
  • Gave a limited number of free tickets to sales reps to encourage attendance (but not too many!)
  • Sent 1 million conference promotion emails, of which the emails that created a sense of urgency performed best

Unchain Event From Corporate Branding

Pulse started before Gainsight rebranded to its current name, but the conference name stuck. While the Gainsight and Pulse logos share similar colors, creating a subtle connection between the company and its event, Kennada said that Gainsight protected against excessive overlap to protect Pulse’s cred as an industry conference, and thus a “safe place” for anybody interested in customer success.

This approach has yielded some astounding results and turned Pulse into the undisputed leader of customer success conferences. In his presentation, Kennada highlighted some of the key results:

  • 41 percent of Gainsight’s new business revenue was influenced by Pulse in 2015
  • 63 percent of all attendees were prospective clients in 2015
  • 56 percent increase in growth projected for 2017

Work With (Not Against) the Host City

With that rapid growth, Gainsight wanted to set its sights on taking over an entire city block —without disrupting the small businesses and culture of the city. So, Kennada and his team worked with the City of Oakland to include local businesses in the event. One strategy: Gainsight gave attendees food vouchers to spend at local restaurants for their lunch breaks.

Pulse is one example of how embracing a different approach can help vault an event into the big leagues. As Kennada said, “You just need to be fearlessly ambitious.” This was a theme that carried throughout the conversation as well where every panelist discussed the importance of thinking big from day one. It’s about creating an experience that sticks with your attendees — whether that’s hiring a Taylor Swift impersonator or staging an a cappella flash mob during your keynote — to build lasting ties with your event.

Check back soon to view the video and to hear more from Kennada about how the team pulled it all off, what they learned — and what surprises are in store for next year.