Web Summit 2019: Highlights, Lessons and Experiences

This past November, I found myself in the beautiful city of Lisbon, Portugal for this year’s edition of Web Summit, described by Forbes as “the best technology conference on the planet”. After an incredibly informative and inspirational experience at last year’s conference, I was very much looking forward to returning. And by the end of it, I can tell you that I did not leave disappointed.

Here, you’ll find my takeaway from Web Summit 2019, the things that had the whole arena buzzing and what were, in my opinion, the most important lessons to be learned about the future of tech marketing.

What got everyone talking

Edward Snowden’s talk, via video chat from Russia, was bound to make an impact and was the obvious choice for the main event on opening night of the conference. Even if he hadn’t had anything remarkable to say, the controversy surrounding him would have been enough of a draw to get some 70,000 attendees to gather to listen to the NSA whistleblower. In today’s data-driven tech world, though, his message on consumer privacy and security was an important one. “The problem isn’t data protection; the problem is data collection… The collection of data is fine, so long as it never leaks. It always leaks eventually.”

From a marketing perspective, co-founder of Intercom Des Traynor’s presentation was the highlight of Day 2. Those of us who are involved in the world of SaaS are already familiar with the overall premise of his talk—that customer retention is the new conversion—but his detailed explanation of what this means for marketers made for a very valuable 20-minute experience.

Big lessons from this year’s Web Summit 2019

One of the most interesting things I witnessed at this year’s conference was how receptive these huge tech companies were to Snowden’s warnings about the need to protect user data. Considering that they essentially deal in data these days, you might expect them to balk at the idea of strict, enforceable legislation to limit data collection. But in general, most people were on board with the spirit of his talk, recognizing that “regulation follows innovation”.

Echoing that sentiment in the closing of the conference was the EU Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager. Between her and Snowden, the event was bookended with talk of regulations and the ethical duties that tech companies have to society.

We also learned that the cloud is making innovation more accessible to everyone, rather than having technological advancements limited to major hubs like Silicon Valley. It’s also increasing employee productivity by offering them more flexibility in their work; happier employees are more productive employees, after all.

SaaS marketing for retention 

But the most relevant lesson for me, as a marketer, came from the talk by Des Traynor that I mentioned earlier. He argues that because the general business model in the software industry has radically changed, everything else about it must also change, including how we market it to customers. 

The old way to sell software was a one-and-done thing; customers signed up for your product once, and that was the end of the story. But nowadays, software is mostly sold as a subscription or license—it’s SaaS. So, what does that mean for software companies? It means that success depends more on keeping your existing customers than on converting new ones. It’s no longer impressive for a new mobile app, for example, to say that they got a million downloads in their first week; what’s impressive is if they still have a million active users six months later and continue to grow.

Des Traynor, Co-Founder of Intercom.

Traynor jokes that, in the old model, it was important for us to fuss over details like what color the call-to-action button was, because that was how we maximized customer conversion. But with SaaS now, our whole approach needs to change. We need to show customers that the service conserves what they liked about their old service from a different provider, meets needs that the previous service did not, and is easy for them to transition to and implement. In short, customers who feel like they can’t figure out how to use your software aren’t going to stick around and pay next month’s subscription.

The goal now is to maximize loyalty to your product, and that starts with onboarding. Focusing on getting your customers set up and running smoothly is key to ensuring they stay with you and keep paying their renewal month after month. Traynor describes this as the overlap between the Marketing team and the Product team: someone needs to make sure that you are “building what you sell” and “selling what you build”.

Part of that involves identifying which prospective customers are even able to be successfully onboarded. There are three criteria to meet: Need, Desire, Capability. If a person doesn’t meet all three criteria, they’re not going to stick around, even if they do sign up in initially.

Final thoughts about Web Summit 2019

There was so much to see and so many inspirational speakers to listen to at this year’s Web Summit 2019 tech conference that it was a really enriching experience. It was also a great way to network with some of the most forward-thinking, solution-focused people in the technology industry today—people with the vision, courage and skills to create startup companies and lead them into the future. I wouldn’t hesitate to return for a third year, and I would encourage anyone in the world of SaaS to attend in 2020, too.