INBOUND 2020: Could It Have Been Better?

I engaged with dozens of attendees during INBOUND 2020 and in the days that followed, to gauge people’s reaction to INBOUND 2020. This is their and my feedback on this year’s amazing INBOUND 2020 Virtual Conference.

Topics covered are:

Changes for INBOUND 2020

Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic that has hit the USA particularly hard, we applaud HubSpot for making the relevant changes not to cancel the event but instead put on an amazing virtual conference. Bring on the now virtual conference: Inbound 2020! What was a 3 day live event, became a 2 day virtual event, which consisted of LIVE Q&A’s, pre recorded sessions and online networking meetups.

Surprisingly, in these circumstances HubSpot took the unusual route of not using an existing Virtual Conference Platform, and instead built one themselves. Which resulted in some interesting differences to your normal virtual conference. 

HubSpot’s Virtual Conference Platform

As mentioned earlier, HubSpot built their own platform for INBOUND 2020 instead of using an off-the-shelf option. Once logged in, you were able to create a profile and an avatar that could be used to chat and connect to others. The platform had a bit of a SIMS feel that included a slightly interactive map, which was really cool, but unfortunately very heavy on the processing/graphics ability of your computer. 

This also meant that the conference was not accessible via mobile phone and only laptops or computers. Though I didn’t realize there were system preferences at the time, after some research it was clear that this was not built for just any computer. Check out the specifications here.

INBOUND 202 Avatars

Why was this an issue?

This definitely caused a lot of frustration and pain for many of the participants, especially those outside of the US. It was the biggest negative I came across during INBOUND 2020. When your device is used regularly for streaming and conference/Zoom calls, one didn’t think to check that it would be compatible. For me personally, I did suffer from some technical issues and thought it was my Internet. Turns out it was not that, but rather the graphics/processing power of my good old MacBook Air.

While scrolling through INBOUND2020’s Facebook group, I came across some comments where a laptop was compared to an airplane taking off. So clearly this was not just an issue I faced! So yes, it could have been better in this sense.

However, most people were blown away by the interactive platform. The UI was very clean and well organized. The content was laid out nicely and easy to find. The agenda could have opened at the current time to avoid having to scroll down every time you went and had a look at it, but overall, the experience and design was fantastic.

The Overall Experience

The excitement building up to INBOUND 2020 was huge. Once you got over the fact that you couldn’t attend a physical conference thanks to COVID-19, it was easy to look forward to enjoying the conference from the comfort of your own home. The ability to schedule your events beforehand was great. There were so many great sessions to choose from, that my schedule had overlapping sessions. How do you choose?

Choosing became a bit easier with the knowledge that the sessions would be available on demand through 2021 if you have a PowerPass. This allowed me and others to focus on the networking side of things and calm down the schedule a little. Another great call by HubSpot.

“Brilliant use of virtual event staging from HubSpot going on today during INBOUND Day 1. At one point 6,892 people were online together, watching an interview by Morgan DeBaun with Chrissy Teigen and John Legend. It’s a new era, folks, and in a good way! Lots of free presentations too.”

Deborah grant

Variety is the Spice of Life

This brings us to the actual sessions, such variety! The Agenda was broken down into 6 “stages”: Main Stage, Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, HubSpot Academy and Meetups. So pretty, much no matter if and how you use HubSpot, or even if you’re just interested in INBOUND, there were sessions for you. But no matter how great the topic, it all depends on the speaker and how it’s presented.

As mentioned, HubSpot has given PowerPass holders access to the sessions for the next year. Access to all sessions, meaning you can effectively attend every session over time. Less pressure on finding the perfect session every time, which once again allowed for freedom of choice. Thank you HubSpot!

My Favorite Sessions

The Speakers, at least the ones who’s sessions I watched, were all amazing. I was particularly blown away by the following sessions: Mathew Howells-Barby’s Live Q & A on SEO and Acquisition Marketing, 747 Club’s Gratitude Dinner by Chris Schembra, Jay Schwedelson’s Critical Email Marketing Techniques to Crush the Competition, AJ Wilcox’s Advanced LinkedIn Ads, just to name a few. 

The speakers also included some celebrities. I watched John Legend, Chrissy Teigen and Jesse Williams’ sessions. The sessions were also really good. Really encouraging to hear all three of them speak about rights and issues that they take a stand for or against. Using their status for good!

One thing that cannot be missed in the sessions was the emphasis on race and gender diversity. This was greatly appreciated and we received a lot of positive comments on it. In the current social climate, this is needed and is another aspect that was not overlooked by HubSpot.

Takeaways Anyone?

The amount of actionable knowledge attained from INBOUND 2020 is huge. You can’t sit through any session without coming across something that you could implement. The takeaways from this conference were amazing. I’ve never attended a conference, especially not a virtual one, where you walked away feeling like you got your money’s worth and more, in knowledge.

Was the Price Right?

Which brings us back to the cost, the free passes were ok but you really wanted access to the networking and on demand sessions afterwards which were only included in the PowerPass. The price varied depending on when you bought the tickets. They originally started at $29 and ended at $119 for the 2 day event, plus the sessions on demand. I’d say it’s worth it.

Another aspect to the cost was the INBOUND 2020 package that some of the attendees received. Though it was unclear that these were only for a limited few, which caused some unhappy participants, especially when they received an envelope thinking it was a box. Never mind those that received absolutely nothing. This was definitely not a “Delight” moment for those participants.

For what you got in value, the price was completely worth it. I walked away feeling inspired. The value was definitely more than the price.

Networking INBOUND 2020 Style

One of the key reasons many attend INBOUND, is to network. On day one I was a little discouraged as any links in the chats of the sessions were not clickable. On top of that, the LinkedIn button was missing on the profiles. However, these issues were fixed on Day 2. Something that we must congratulate HubSpot for is the speediness in which they fixed known errors throughout the duration of the conference.

If you would like to network with other attendees, check out these two resources: LinkedIn Inbound Networking Group and Inbound Contacts Spreadsheet.

Another big plus to INBOUND 2020 was the fact that you got to network with an international audience. The diversity of thought and culture that was present was astounding. This created an opportunity to connect with people on a global scale that we would never have been able to connect with at an in-person conference. Hopefully at INBOUND 2021 there will be the digital equivalent of handing someone your business card in person.

Sponsors’ Booths

What about from a sponsor’s point of view? Though there were virtual booths, there was no incentive to check them out. I only looked at two booths after connecting with a lovely lady from Porsche who told me about their booth. Their specific booth was interactive and I enjoyed it but the other booth I looked at was not. 

So to better answer my question, I ran a poll on LinkedIn asking fellow attendees if they visited the sponsor booths or not. Out of 76 votes, 72% said that they did not visit the booths. This really was not great for those sponsors that paid for their virtual booth. However, I did see a digital billboard, on the sessions not on the main stage, which I thought was quite effective.

A Win or A Fail

So back to my initial question: Could INBOUND 2020 have been better? I asked my LinkedIn Connections that attended INBOUND 2020 whether it was a win or a fail for them personally? Out of 77 votes, 95% said it was a win, which is no surprise, as the conference was great. When I asked the 5% why it was a fail, this is where things got interesting. 

One of the answers I received when I looked for further information from everyone who said it was a fail, was a simple pitfall of any virtual conference. This is simply the fact that there are external distractions that one would not have if you were physically at a conference. You would fill in your calendar for the two – three days and not have to attend to certain aspects of work. You wouldn’t be able to answer your phone nor would that be expected from you if you were present at a conference. This caused some of the voters and their colleagues to not have the best experience they could have had.

As I mentioned, I had some technical issues and I definitely was not the only one. This was also a reason some did not call the conference a success for them. Other than the fact that a few wished the platform was a bit more polished, the overwhelming consensus was hugely positive. Everyone I spoke to, who had negative experiences, all still said HubSpot did a great job, but didn’t quite live up to their expectations in a few minor ways.

In Conclusion

So yes, INBOUND 2020 had room for improvement, but it’s clear that the vast majority of the attendees loved it! That includes me. Though hopefully it will be an in-person event in 2021, I look forward to a more hybrid approach as I would not want to exclude the international audience that were present this year.

Thank you to HubSpot and INBOUND 2020 for yet another great event and raising the bar for virtual conferences world wide.

I’d love to hear your experience and thoughts on INBOUND 2020, please leave some comments!

ABOUT Amy-Louise: Amy-Louise is a Senior Business Analyst at MethodData. She is passionate about CRMs, HubSpot and helping businesses succeed.

ABOUT METHODDATA: MethodData is a data and reporting product for HubSpot Sales and Marketing users. Our product allows deep analytical insight and reporting of trends and opportunities in HubSpot CRM and Marketing data.  MethodData is a robust and flexible reporting tool which can help answer complex business questions.

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