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Tips, Tricks, & Advice

The Best DTC Conference: SubSummit

The Best DTC Conference: SubSummit

by john roman

A year ago

I go to a lot of conferences.  The majority are eCommerce centric and the remaining are industry specific.  Many times I will go to a conference because I am speaking at it but sometimes I just go because I want to check it out. 

After attending a conference, I put it into 1 of 3 buckets:

  • Absolutely keep attending each year, plan around attending
  • Potentially attend if my schedule allows, but do not plan around it
  • Do NOT go again

I would say that unfortunately most fall into the middle bucket.  Now, to be clear, I always look for a positive ROI (Return on Investment) when going to a conference.  In fact, that is the only way I put something into the top category.

The cost of travel and accommodations + the cost of the conference itself + the cost of being away from my family + the cost of my time.  You read that right, I am not just taking the actual dollar cost into the equation.  I also put a high value on my time and being away from my family.

When I breakdown the ROI portion, I have 4 categories:

  • Partner / Vendor Sourcing
  • Vendor Management
  • Network Management
  • Actionable insights

Next I am going to better explain these categories and review the SubSummit conference as an example.  SubSummit is one of the conferences I attend that I place in the top bucket (Absolutely keep attending each year, plan around attending).

Partner / Vendor Sourcing:

This one is quite simple.  Can I find a new partner / vendor at the conference?  Typically, this the easiest way to move the needle for most people when it comes to finding an ROI at a conference.  Just to clarify, I view some vendors as partners, you can read about that here.


  • Finding a new piece of tech that will provide an uplift of revenue 
  • Finding a new vendor that can replace an existing vendor and in turn provide cost savings
  • Finding an agency that can replace an existing and provide cost savings and/or better results than the existing is providing.

Review of SubSummit:  

There is no shortage of both established vendors and new / emerging vendors at the conference.  They have a Hosted Buyer Program that you can enroll in which sets up several planned meetings with potential vendors.  Each meeting is only 15 minutes, which is just enough time to figure out if they are a fit and to determine if you should continue conversations later.  We always have multiple team members participating in this program given it’s track record.  They also have a traditional exhibitor hall that I always make sure I walk through completely.  I will often look at the map prior and make notes on the ones that intrigue me or that I want to talk to so I am most efficient.  The attending vendors are diverse enough mix that you can load of your “vendor funnel” pretty quickly.  SubSummit consistently meets our ROI threshold in this category alone.

Vendor Management:

It’s great to put a name with a face.  In today’s world, many of our interactions with vendors are via email.  We do have the occasional video conference, but it’s just NOT the same as in person interactions.  Getting to spend time with your partners / vendors in person has value.  When technology has an issue, when something breaks or goes wrong, or when you really need help ASAP… it is quite beneficial to actually have a relationship with your partners / vendors.

Review of SubSummit:

The vast majority of the partners / vendors we use actually attend SubSummit.  Many have events one of the nights after the conference ends for the day.  Almost all also have booths so you can always stop by if you have something you want to discuss.  

Network Management:

A lot of people network incorrectly.  They have superficial quick conversations with people and move on.  If you network correctly, the ROI that can be obtained will rival any new vendor you can find.  Forming relationships with peers that are mutually beneficial can pay dividends.  Maybe you just want to talk about what’s working and what’s not working.  Maybe you know they use a vendor you are talking to and want the unbiased truth.  Maybe you are both at a crossroads and want to plan the ‘next big thing.  I could go on but I am hoping you get the point. 

Review of SubSummit:

SubSummit shines in this category.  The uber-majority of attendees (maybe 97 out of every 100) are amazing people.  You don’t see this sort of ratio normally at conferences.  SubSummit has done an exceptional job at building a community.  You really do not see community building of any sort at conferences, but you do here.  It’s refreshing.  The conversations I have with complete strangers (they often become friends afterwards) at this conference is mind blowing.  People want to help, people want to share both the wins and the losses, people simply care at SubSummit.  Oftentimes, attendees and even speakers at other conferences are guarded in their discussions.  They don’t want to share what they view as secrets, even when you don’t compete directly with them.  It’s the complete opposite at SubSummit and it is such a breath of fresh air.  I am a firm believer that other’s dont have to lose for me to win and it seems most SubSummit attendees feel the same way.

Actionable insights:

That ‘aha moment’.  As a personal goal of mine, I look for at least one of these at every conference I attend.  Sometimes it’s from a speaker and sometimes it’s simply from a conversation.  When you come across it you know very quickly you have.  Sometimes it’s a simple change you can make to an existing process.  Occasionally it’s that you are looking at a problem the wrong way.  It’s that thing you write down and put a giant STAR by it in your notes.  Sometimes I don’t get one at a conference.  Sometimes I have multiple at a conference.  As I look at my current businesses, it is mind-blowing how many of my ‘aha moments’ are now business rules or implemented by default in all of the business units I am involved with

Review of SubSummit:

Because of the community that has been built at SubSummit and the eagerness of both the attendees and speakers to share information, this is another category that puts SubSummit at the top.  I know personally when I speak at any conference, I always try to leave the audience with some actional insights.  I feel like all of the speakers at SubSummit do this as well.  My team and I normally leave SubSummit with several actional insights.  Normally the list is big enough that we have to stack rank it afterwards so that we can actually implement it all.   

In summary, in case you haven't picked up on it yet, SubSummit is an amazing conference.

With a diverse speaker lineup AND a diverse attendee list, SubSummit makes sense for both small and large companies.  You will have speakers you will want to hear and you will have peers you will want to network with.  It is unusual for a conference to have something for both small and large companies but this one does.  If you have not attended SubSummit previously, I highly recommend it.  In 2023, it’s going to be in Dallas and I will 100% be there.  If you read this and are attending next year be sure to come up and say hello while we are there.


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