Should you allocate budget in 2013 for sponsoring virtual trade shows? It’s a question B2B marketers will have to ask themselves as they finalize their plans for 2013.

Virtual trade shows seemed like a gimmick 5 years ago, but for many B2B marketers they have become an important strategy for lead generation. The benefits of virtual show sponsorship compared to traditional trade shows are well understood:

  • No expensive or tedious travel plans required
  • You can engage with leads from the comfort of your own office
  • Attendees can join from anywhere in the world, and often for free
  • You automatically receive contact information for everyone who clicks on your booth
  • The show can live on for weeks after as an on-demand event

Detractors might argue that virtual show attendees aren’t as engaged as those who attend traditional shows. The virtual interaction with attendees via chat might not be as rich or as meaningful as in-person dialogue, and you can’t take a virtual attendee to lunch or into a private meeting room for an in-depth conversation.

Lessons Learned from Sponsoring the BtoB Digital Edge Virtual Show

To help you decide if sponsoring virtual shows is right for you, let me share a few lessons learned from our recent sponsorship of the BtoB Digital Edge Virtual Trade Show.

virtual-booth

One less obvious, but extremely valuable, benefit of sponsoring virtual shows is the ability to make your content go viral. When you sponsor a traditional trade show, you usually have a few physical pieces of collateral to hand out. But most attendees don’t want to carry all that material home, so chances are most of the collateral you distribute ends up in a hotel trashcan.

But with virtual shows all of the content is electronic and extremely simple for attendees to download. At the BtoB show, Ifbyphone was able to share hundreds of case studies, white papers, videos, and research reports with attendees, who can then forward the content on to colleagues who weren’t there. It can be a very powerful tool for spreading your content.

Measure CPL and ROI More Accurately with Call Tracking

The immediate measure of success from an online trade show is the number of leads you generated. But the ultimate goal is how many of those leads convert to opportunities over time. That’s why at Ifbyphone we use call tracking to tell exactly which inbound phone leads are generated from the online trade show.

Here’s how it works: We use our own voice-based marketing automation solution to generate unique phone numbers that we place on all our collateral at the event. So in the future if someone calls us using one of those numbers, we’ll know that they came from the BtoB show and will be able to attribute the opportunity accordingly. It helps you accurately track cost per lead and ROI from the event, and gives us data that helps us decide if it’s worth our while to sponsor again next year.

We also used our solution to generate unique phone numbers to share with participants who were ready to talk to a sales person right away. When engaged in a chat, we shared this number with the participant and using our routing applications, we ensured that a sales person was available for their phone call right away. Also, using the whisper feature, the sales representative was informed of the lead source (virtual trade show) before starting a conversation. Using these features, it was easy to move into a private conversation – just like at a live trade show.

Gather Invaluable Prospect Data with A Survey

Virtual shows are a great opportunity to survey your leads to gain valuable insight. And if you want people to really engage with you, it’s a good idea to give them some kind of incentive to take your survey. We offered visitors to our online booth the opportunity to win a $250 American Express gift card by participating in a five-question survey. An impressive 40% of our booth visitors completed our marketing automation and CRM survey.

Have you sponsored any virtual trade shows? Did you find that this was a helpful strategy for sharing your content? Please let us know in the comments section below.