8 Ways to Maximize the Value of Online and In-Person Events

In an age of impersonal communications, real and virtual “face time” stands out as an effective way to reach people and connect with them. Helping to build and cement relationships, human contact in the form of in-person or online events is a critical part of any B2B marketing plan.

According to a 2013 survey from the CMO Council and Exhibit & Event Marketers Association (E2MA):

  • 31% of respondents believe that trade shows, conventions, conferences, and channel events are essential to doing business in their target customer markets, and another 42% believe them to be very valuable;
  • 51% say these interactions can help achieve business goals and create a significant competitive advantage;
  • 54% report that positioning the brand among industry leaders was a key benefit; and
  • 47% say these events provide valuable opportunities to engage with multiple customers and prospects.

What’s more, according to the Content Marketing Institute, 81% of trade show attendees have buying authority. Clearly, events provide B2B marketers with great opportunities to connect and sell.

Whether you’re planning a conference, trade show, webinar, or group chat, an event can be an excellent way to reach your customers and prospects in meaningful ways. And, no matter what kind of gathering you envision, the right approach to data management and marketing automation can eliminate potential issues while maximizing your event ROI.

Before taking an automated, data-driven approach to your event, consider these eight tips:

1 ‒ Establish your event marketing goals.

Whether you’re planning a webinar for 500 attendees or an executive dinner for a dozen, you need to start with a clear picture of what you’d like to accomplish by the end of the process. Examples of event marketing goals include:

  • Generate qualified leads: This is a common objective for webinars and trade shows, where registration data can provide important indicators about buying intent.
  • Identify key decision-makers: Small-scale, in-person panel discussions, dinners, and other events can build rapport with C-level executives who are often hard to reach by other means.
  • Build brand awareness or thought leadership: These “soft” event marketing goals are often very useful – although it can be challenging to measure ROI from events.

2 ‒ Decide how, where, and when to distribute invitations.

The nature of your event, its time frame, and your target audience will all play a role in the invitation process. If your objective is to generate new leads, then you’ll want to take advantage of email marketing, social media, online advertising, and perhaps even direct mail to distribute invitations automatically against your prospect database.

It’s important to use a system that allows your organization to track precisely when and how it distributes event invitations ‒ otherwise, you risk spamming potential attendees with multiple invitations and conflicting messages. A “save the date” social media campaign, for example, should be timed to occur before you launch an email marketing campaign with specific registration or speaker information.

3 ‒ Manage the registration process.

Most event registrations take place online – and those that don’t probably should. When you set up landing pages for your event registrations, be sure to have a system in place for tracking the source of each registration. You should know, for example, whether an attendee is responding to a social media post, email, ad, direct mail, or some other event marketing channel. Custom landing pages and tracking codes are ideal for this sort of task.

Be sure to use a system that allows you to close the registration process automatically. This lets you enforce registration deadlines and prevent misunderstandings with attendees. For those who fail to register in time, consider offering an asset they’re likely to be interested in, such as a recording of the session.

Also, establish a plan for sending event confirmations and reminders. These are useful for any live event because they allow you to keep your brand front-and-center. They also give you a chance to engage in personalized communications with each attendee and to extend other content or product offers. Here, too, it’s important to use tools that automate this process, so that your team isn’t overwhelmed by the task of tracking and sending reminders.

4 ‒ Establish your lead capture process.

Event registrations and on-site activity (such as scanning business cards or badges) can be a source of robust and accurate lead data. It can also be a colossal waste of time and effort unless you focus on two important tasks:

  • Move quickly: Whether you’re gathering data from an online registration form or scanning business cards, your lead data should enter a marketing automation or CRM system in a matter of hours or even minutes – rather than days or weeks.
  • Put the pieces together: It’s vital that your system can keep prospect data accurate and up-to-date. This includes, for example, the ability to append incoming lead-capture data to existing prospect records in a CRM system.

5 ‒ Be prepared to score and prioritize the registrants from each event.

Every B2B marketer knows that the leads generated at live events can run the spectrum from red hot to ice cold. That’s why it’s important to implement a system that can evaluate leads based on key business criteria ‒ including job title, company name, industry, and indicated interests ‒ and then prioritize them for follow up. Better still, a robust lead-scoring system can compare incoming leads against an existing database and, if you already have their name, identify other relevant behavior (such as content downloads or website activity). Such a system can then decide whether to route a lead directly to sales, place it into a nurturing campaign, or discard it as irrelevant.

6 ‒ Plan a nurturing strategy for the contacts you connect with during events.

Lead scoring, of course, also yields data that feeds lead-nurturing campaigns. Specifically, leads generated from online or in-person live events should be tended with appropriate content and well-timed touches. A webinar attendee, for example, could be offered additional webinars or white papers in a follow-up email, while a CEO attending a trade show could receive an invitation to an exclusive executive dinner or panel discussion.

Keep in mind that it’s important to identify and honor a lead’s communication preferences for a nurturing campaign. If a registration form allows an attendee to request information by email rather than by phone, for example, that preference data should be applied to all of your applicable campaigns.

7 ‒ Select your metrics and analyze your results.

Establishing your event marketing goals in the first step makes it easier to choose useful metrics. If the objective of an event is to generate leads, for example, then the number of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) compared to the total number of attendees is an important metric to track.

Using metrics effectively, however, requires establishing a system to analyze them. Simply identifying MQLs isn’t enough. You also need to know how many of these leads convert in the sales pipeline, how long they take to convert, and how much revenue they generate – all key metrics for establishing ROI for your live events. The more you do to integrate all of your marketing activities, and to employ closed-loop reporting with your sales team, the more insight you’ll have into your ROI.

8 ‒ Gather feedback from your attendees.

Finally, always look for ways to gather feedback from attendees at your live events. This is easier in some cases than others. Many webinar platforms, for example, automatically generate attendee feedback forms at the end of each event. For smaller events, capturing feedback by email, phone, or even in person may be useful – especially if you identify ways to improve your event content and, ultimately, ROI.

Don’t forget to monitor social media both during and after all of your live events, and to supply Twitter hashtags for each event. This will give you an important real- time source of feedback on your live events, and in many cases you might even be able to respond during the event to address complaints or requests from your attendees. This isn’t just good marketing, it’s good customer service – and your attendees will take notice.

Following these eight tips should help you smoothly plan events that bring people together in a positive way and yield a wealth of useful information, solid leads, and bright prospects for the future.