What Makes an Event Worth Attending?
By Eric Sugar
I just found out that Yuval Noah Harari will be speaking at Landmark Ventures’ upcoming NEXUS: ISRAEL Dealmakers Summit on March 23-24th (register online here), it’s complimentary!) and to be honest, I totally geeked out. I’m a huge fan of his books (especially Sapiens) and despite the fact that I’m kind of obligated to attend our own company events, I went and immediately registered myself anyway to make sure it was on my calendar.
Which got me thinking… I register for events and webinars all the time (although I don’t always attend, or wear pants), and I’m generally not that excited about the content. I’m signing up because 1) I want to learn about something (like this one about Cryptocurrency, or some of the interactive content on Clubhouse — let me know if you need an invite!), 2) there is excellent networking (I always seem to meet quality people at CES, AWS re:Invent, and in a more focused way, at RSA), or 3) I want to support/promote a friend or client. Even if the event content or theme isn’t exactly riveting, if it checks one or more of these boxes, I’ll show up.
This kind of customer-centric thinking (me playing the role of customer, in this case), often provides a nice opportunity to do a little 180 and re-evaluate, and possibly reorient, the strategy, incentives, and objectives of hosting an event.
So, let’s take a look at why B2B companies host events in the first place:
Management is committed to running events: Almost all (85%) of leadership (Senior Managers, Executives, and Board Members) believe in-person events are essential to their company’s success (Bizzabo)
Marketers believe that events are superior to other marketing channels: A remarkable (61%) of marketers believe that in-person events are the most critical marketing channel—a 20% increase from last year (Bizzabo)
Events generate sales: 93% of senior-level business managers believe face-to-face meetings improve their ability to close deals (MMB) with 79% of marketers generating sales through event marketing (Statista)
Event attendees are more likely to buy: Just about every customer (98%) felt more inclined to purchase a product after attending an activation (EventTrack)
Management is committed to events, marketers think they represent their best channel (with the clearest ROI in sales) and attendees are more receptive to buying after attending. So why are so many companies so bad at running (so many) events?
To answer this, we have to dig a bit deeper into the psychology of the marketing organization and the shift from old-school marketing (TV ads, billboards, broad-reach modes) to new school digital marketing (aka performance marketing, with data driven attribution).
Events are notoriously difficult to fit into a data-driven marketing strategy. Events are expensive, and the information is fragmented and sloppy… (Did we get his card? Did she bring her VP with her or was that a friend? I have this person registered in the system but she lists at a different company? Who was that guy I spoke with for an hour about 90’s heavy metal bands?). At the end of the day, my clients often attribute increases in sales to events (including ours) but that’s more likely confusing correlation for causation.
I’d argue the best way to host a sales-focused event is to focus entirely around relationship building.
The goal of marketing analytics should be to provide context on the specific interactions that drive revenue – regardless of how tough those interactions are to measure. According to HBR, in-person meetings and phone calls are notoriously tough to measure and contain a ton of valuable insight, especially regarding complex sales (= emotionally fraught, and at a high price point). With the ever-expanding set of digital marketing tools to augment and enhance these meetings with more data, I would imagine each of these customer touch points to be even more valuable to both the old-school and new-school marketing folks, despite the fact that less than 50% of marketers seem to have a standardized process to measure event sponsorship ROI (via Marketing Profs).
This all ties back to the importance of establishing and growing relationships. The great marketer and entrepreneur Seth Godin puts it nicely: “People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories, and magic.” If hosting an event provides a meaningful (perhaps magical?) way to drive in-person meetings and tell a compelling story, then it only makes sense to invest heavily in that area (approx. $512 billion in annual spend according to Bizzabo).
So how should a company run a great event designed to bring the best people, tell the best story, and build meaningful relationships? I think the secret is back at the beginning of this post: you need to give the attendees what they wanted when they signed up in the first place! Teach them something interesting (make it engaging and interactive, have an interesting unique perspective, share something new), provide A+ networking (and make it really easy for the attendees to network among themselves!), and build the attendees into a community where they’re supporting each other (as new friends).
Taking it one step further, I’d argue the best way to host a sales-focused event is to focus entirely around relationship building. Don’t worry too much about showcasing a new product, giving industry perspective or trying (and usually failing) to ask sales-qualifying questions over dinner. Instead, create a great environment for everyone to socialize around a common interest (nothing too generic like “IT”, think more like Industrial Sensors or Website Optimization). Encourage the attendees to do what they came to do anyway, and have your team focus on facilitating as many direct connections as possible. If it all works out, you’ll establish credibility through these conversations and the attendees will feel a lot more brand affinity for not having to sit through a long presentation or be sold to all night (and will be more likely to take your call the next day – and join your next event).
B2B Marketing events are a crucial way to build brand awareness, establish thought leadership and build relationships that drive sales (which I wrote about in more detail here). I believe this will be amplified later this year (once COVID is under some degree of control), as people are desperate for more social, face to face interaction. Reorienting your event planning strategy from what you want to achieve as the host to what the attendees hope to gain by attending, is an important reframing that makes it easier to design and execute a better event for everyone.