Do away with “Steak & Commercial”

July 09, 2015

For anyone that’s been in sales, tech or otherwise, a frequently used demand generation tactic is something that a colleague of mine once called the “Steak & Commercial”. Customers and prospects are invited to a free steak lunch in exchange for listening to the latest sales and marketing pitch. Ultimately the goal is to uncover new sales opportunities by exposing a product’s value propositions to potential influencers and decision-makers.

Over the course of my career I have participated in, and presented at a number of these type of events. While the reception of the events tend to be positive, certainly from a vanity metrics point of view, I question how much real value is generated by these events.


Let’s first determine what “value” means. For the vendor, the value is in the number of new opportunities that are generated and the resulting growth of the pipeline. One might argue that there is “soft” value to be gained, such as increasing customer touch points and thus increasing customer intimacy. However I would contend that the purpose behind relationship-building activities is to drive sales, now or in the future, and therefore only hard metrics matter.

For the participants, the value is in gaining insights that can be applied to the challenges they may be facing in their line of work. Even more importantly, how the vendor’s capabilities can be leveraged to address those challenges and accelerate the execution of initiatives that drive the underlying business.

Steak or no steak, for the qualified attendee, a well-devised, well-developed content in itself should be the only incentive needed to attract his/her attendance.


The rule of thumb for participant turnout at vendor-sponsored events is 50% of those invited. This creates a certain level of pressure when it comes to driving attendance due to the fixed costs associated with organizing events.

When registering for events, participants self-select based on the value that they’ll get out of the event. I surmise that participants may even be willing to pay for events that have a high perceived value, such as those that offer relevant insights applicable to their business or networking opportunities.

Ideally, the content of the event will be so valuable that participants would pay to come. In contrast, the “steak & commercial” approach is a form of paying people to participate. Potential participants intuitively know this, and are understandably wary of the content value of these events. The result: the event is devalued, and there is often a disappointingly low turn out rate.

↑ Value = ↑ Willingness to pay = ↑ Participant turnout


To me, the biggest impact that a marketing event has is in its ability to uncovering new opportunities and potentially accelerate the deal. Therefore, I look for how a marketing event impacts the 3 key elements in every sales opportunity: Awareness, Consideration, & Budget. Therefore, every event should look to:

Attract attendees that hold influence or decision power relevant to the vendor’s solutions
Increase the awareness of the problem that the vendor’s solutions look to address
*Provide guidance on how to evaluate solutions, including considerations from a budgetary point of view

Post-event surveys are a great way to capture those data points and determine impact. If an event is unsuccessful in attracting relevant influencers or decision-makers, it’s likely that the content or format of the event should be restructured.

The value of a marketing event is maximized when:

  • Participants feel that the time spent attending the event was worthwhile, and that they gained insights that are relevant and applicable.
  • One or more opportunities are uncovered and subsequently converted into sales. The cost of acquisition should be equal to, if not lower than comparable marketing channels.

There is zero value to an event when the participants are there only for the free steak.