Do Virtual Events Actually Deliver Sales?

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By Eric Sugar

My colleague Olivia Allan leads our Conferences and Events business at Landmark Ventures. She recently published a piece about how we’ve successfully pivoted our physical events to virtual events (large summits, custom roundtables, thought leadership webinars, etc).

While it’s hard to be totally objective when evaluating services from my own company, I wanted to give an honest take on these virtual events from a sales and business development perspective: do these virtual marketing events actually generate real sales opportunities?

As you may know, our BD group at Landmark focuses on helping our portfolio identify real sales prospects and close deals with large enterprise customers. I’d argue that after 1000+ engagements, we have a strong sense of what works (and what doesn’t) from a sales perspective, across a broad range of solutions and industries.

Our clients on the Advisory and Business Development side of our business often leverage our events to drive more leads and prospects into the funnel. While these events tend to be a bit more customized (as a result of deeper engagement as both an Advisory client + event sponsor, where we assist more directly with follow up efforts), they do provide a clear picture into both the quantitative (number of attendees, attrition rate, conversion rate, etc) and qualitative metrics (thought leadership, branding, engagement, etc).

So let’s look at our own event data (thanks @Ariella!) from the previous year:

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I’m a firm believer that you can tell any story you want with any given dataset, but there are 3 key things that pop out to me: 1) it’s harder to get execs to sign up for virtual events than to come to a free dinner (shocking, I know), 2) execs regularly no-show larger events in general (despite the assumption that online events would have much higher attrition), and 3) from a marketing perspective, the goalpost seems to be about 15-20% conversion from MQL ( = marketing qualified lead, in this case, defined as a registered event attendee) to SQL ( = sales qualified lead) via an event (slightly less for the virtual ones, but I think that’s a result of a much smaller sample size and limited to converting during a global pandemic). It’s also important to note that our SQL data isn’t a “click-through” conversion – this is a marketing lead that converts to a viable sales opportunity (qualification criteria vary by client, but these are real prospects, typically C-level executives with a defined interest / pain-point).

For more qualitative feedback, I reached out to Tomer Azenkot, Chief Revenue Officer of our client WEVO — an innovative (and very successful) website optimization technology company, for his thoughts (thanks Tomer!), and he shared the following:

“Losing event-based lead generation since March, in its entirety, is obviously not an option for us.

Having run virtual events in partnership with Landmark Ventures, we have experienced tremendous value. I attribute the successful engagement with Landmark to two key driving factors:

1. Creating a highly targeted group of executives that (virtually) arrive at the event with a preconceived impression of our credibility

2. The ability to tag-team with Landmark as part of a structured post-event follow up plan dramatically increases the chances of engagement”

Sidestepping the self-promotion, I do think Tomer nails the key objectives of any marketing event (digital or physical): highly targeted attendees and dedicated follow up efforts. If you maximize both of these elements, you also maximize your conversion rate. Higher quality event à more engagement à more sales opportunities à more deals = real marketing ROI.

2020 benchmark study from Demand Gen Report listed event marketing as the #1 most effective way to convert sales leads, ahead of big ticket digital channels (eg: email, white papers, demos, and websites). In the absence of physical events, it seems like virtual events are trending fairly closely to the same conversion rates and engagement quality. Forbes actually put together a nice checklist from their Communications Council that captures many of the key strategies that we try to incorporate in our own virtual content (if any of you are planning a virtual event, this is a great starting playbook).

In summary, physical events are still the gold standard for sales-focused marketing spend, but a highly targeted virtual event with committed sales follow-through can generate similar results (and generally at a lower overall cost, without the venue, food + beverage, travel, signage, etc).

Check out our team’s virtual event offerings and let me know if we can help!