Event Marketing Makes a Comeback

I have never met a sales person that did not like an event.Clean_showfloor2

In fact, every sales person I know seeks out these types of opportunities because they can get face time with many prospects in a short period of time. Strategic marketers also find industry events productive. It gives them a forum to keep up-to-date with their competitors and make initial contact with potential partners.

In-person events will never become obsolete.

Having prospects and potential partners under one roof is still a valuable approach to customer relationship marketing.  The alternatives, virtual events, webinars or even content marketing complement your overall marketing plan however they cannot take the place of a real face-to-face meeting. The personal interaction that occurs can never fully be duplicated virtually.
Like many companies, tight marketing budgets over the past five years have forced marketers to scrutinize each event they participate in. As a result, events that did not evolve with the times have disappeared, others have merged, or the event has morphed into something completely different. Some huge annual events have become more focused and regional, attracting smaller but more qualified audiences.

As the marketing dollars have tightened up, we have seen content marketing agencies advise their clients to shift the event dollars to content marketing and other virtual tactics claiming the trade show is dead.

I couldn’t disagree more.

I would advise marketers to align themselves with sales, get their input and discuss the tradeoffs of participating in less events versus moving all the dollars into online marketing. Online marketing is necessary and works quite well but it takes longer to move the lead from a soft lead to a sales qualified lead even with a solid nurturing program. During face-to-face events, a sales rep is able to qualify a prospect in one short conversation. All stakeholders, including sales, marketing and executive management (including the CFO) should be aware of the trade-offs before budgets are reallocated from events to content marketing.

As you begin to scrutinize your event budget, here are five things to keep in mind.

Attend some large industry events

If your company is missing from the big annual industry conference/tradeshow, what message will it send to the market? Recently I had a client (let’s call them Company A) that initially decided not to attend their largest industry event due to budgetary constraints. The sales team pushed back, claiming that “everyone who was anyone” in their industry would be attending the event. The company ended up attending the show just 60 days prior to the event. They ended up going “all in” with a new booth staffed by 20 people and they hosted a fabulous party. 60 days is barely enough time to pull off an event like this, it was a focused effort with all hands on deck.

Develop a specific objective and goal for each event

Company A decided that their objective and focus at the big industry event was to sign up channel partners with the goal of signing 30 new partners. Every tactic and every decision was focused on recruiting the channel – nothing else. They also decided to put an unpublished, show special “try and buy” promotion in place which gave new end user customers a very big discount for just trying their product. Their effort paid off - Company A killed it signing more than 60 new channel partners and selling 10+ deals on the show floor. They then passed these 10+ deals to their new partners in an effort to get them up and productive. Boom!

Consider smaller, more intimate events

Company B on the other hand decided to forgo large industry events and focus on a more personalized relationship building activities. Company B sells services and their buying process is much more consultative. Company B decided to hold golf outings in each sales region inviting current customers as well as qualified prospects. Company B leveraged their success with their customers to help cultivate prospects by pairing them with two prospects as well as a sales rep or executive from Company B for each foursome. After the golf, Company B sponsored cocktails, dinner and a short but lively talk from an industry pundit. These outings have been a huge success for Company B. The ROI has been outstanding for they have been able to trace several big, referencable deals that were initiated at these outings. Happy customers tell great stories.

Can’t go all in?

Sometimes budgets are tight, the event doesn’t warrant a big presence, or you just may want to test an event to see if it is worth a bigger investment. Consider participating by securing a speaking slot or hosting a hospitality suite in a neighboring hotel.

Use integrated marketing tactics to drive awareness and anticipation

Marketers need to use all of their tools to drive traffic to their booth, attendance to their event, attendance to their speaking opportunity or hospitality suite. In the case of Company B discussed earlier, they used a very direct touch approach combining phone calls, sending out personalized golf balls, and email reminders to cultivate anticipation for their golf outings. The word is out and now invitations to these events are coveted. Company A used a combination of tactics including email, direct mail, social media, public relations, and blog posts to drive traffic and awareness to their booth. It was unbelievably successful, people came into the booth saying I saw your email or I read an article….and had to actually wait in line to speak to a sales rep. Even with 20 people staffing the booth (with barely a break) there were not enough sales people at times to handle the crowd. Nice problem to have!

So, just remember, in most companies, marketing’s role is to support the sales force and drive revenue. Make sure you align marketing with sales objectives before you opt-out of events. Events are not dead…in fact they are making a huge comeback because face-to-face personal interaction can never fully be duplicated virtually.

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Tags: Marketing tactics, Marketing Budgets, Events