It’s dark days indeed for those of us who include events and in-person meetings in our B2B marketing and sales portfolios. Each year, revenue teams count on meetings and events to make connections, build relationships, and bring teams together — not to mention the big pipeline boosts these events bring. So what happens when that’s just not an option?
The answer is that we make the best of it. Now is 100% the time to think in motivational cliches. Remember: We make lemonade out of lemons. We see a door close and we open a window. You get the idea. It’s time to think positively and creatively about what an event- and travel-free Spring can be, and see if we don’t come out on the other side smarter and more innovative as a result.
Let’s start with a few suggestions for replacing events in a literal sense. People are motivated to go to events for many different reasons, but a lot of those reasons can still be replicated outside the traditional event format. For each opportunity events offer, we have suggestions for options to create similar experiences or outcomes without having to leave home. Feel free to add your own ideas to help our B2B community stay together as we manage an uncertain time.
What event attendees love: Learning from the community.
Create a way for people to find others with similar interests or challenges, since they won’t be making those connections at events.
Option: Virtual meet-ups.
Small events for groups of customers or prospects (or both!) on a topic that is of common interest. The goal is to curate the audience and create a structure that requires interaction, so it’s harder for people to just join and listen. This type of event is a moderated conversation, not a presentation, though starting with some ideas to spark interaction works well. Just set things up, then help keep the conversation flowing.
For your participants, consider different ways to curate your audience. For example, you could bring together customers who’ve just finished onboarding to talk about what they want to do next, what challenges they’re having, and what early wins they’ve experienced. Or make it an all-star meet up for your most advanced clients who may be geographically distant from each other and unable to meet in person easily. There are many ways to make these conversations a great perk of being part of your company family.
For your moderator, look to involve a team member who’s good at picking up on social cues on the phone and deciding when the conversation needs to be refreshed or redirected. They should also be ok with (politely) helping the conversation move on when an overzealous participant is dominating the call. Avoid inviting folks on your team who will want to dominate the conversation themselves. Keep in mind that this is meant to be like a great meet-up at a live event, not a lecture from you. It’s also a chance for customers to meet more members of your team: Consider folks from customer success, customer support or professional services, sales, or marketing with moderating skills.
Option: Virtual events.
This isn’t a novel suggestion since a lot of companies are already planning to turn their live events into virtual ones, so the opportunity comes from creative execution. What are best practices for making these more than a marathon webcast? How can you keep people engaged, focused on the content, and asking questions in the same way they would at a live event? We expect to see some great innovation around how virtual events are executed in the wake of so many companies being forced to go this route.
If your events usually involve product launches, product roadmap overviews or general updates on what’s happening from executives, that can translate well to an online session! (But make sure to promote this differently to customers and prospects.) Also don’t forget to work with your sponsors and partners; they’re having to deal with the lack of events too, and they’ll be targeting the same audiences that you are. One example of how this can work: Engagio recently held a virtual event where we invited partners to join us and share their content and customer stories, just the way it happens at a live event. We had great attendance and content quality in part because we provided the partners with a theme and guidance around what content would resonate with the audience. Partners helped with recruiting attendees, which expanded overall interest in the event and acted as a force multiplier for everyone who was part of it.
Option: Customer connections.
Do some matchmaking within your customer base. Have your customer success and account management teams review contacts and think about the top interest areas, successes, challenges or questions they’ve had. Match up contacts and offer to make introductions (get permission!) so they can connect and have a great conversation. It’s as close as you can get to making personal introductions at an event. And don’t forget to follow up with customers to hear how it went and ask if they’d like to do more! This can create a strong community of customers around your brand, and help them get more value from their investment with you and from their peers. Keep in mind this is different from a reference call — there should be value to both customers from the conversation.
Option: Virtual user group.
If user groups are a key element of your customer community engagement strategy, look for ways to empower user group leaders to conduct virtual meetings. Provide guidelines (and access to conferencing or other tech resources if needed) for how to hold an online meeting and include suggestions for topics. Offer to have speakers from your product, service or customer success teams join as guest speakers to answer questions, share product roadmaps, or even to get feedback from the user community on product features or messaging.
What event attendees love: Hearing about the state of the art.
So that customers learn about the very best of how their peers execute today, similar to what event attendees see when they go to case studies, awards presentations and other peer-based “best practice” content.
Option: Create and share more customer stories in more ways.
Event attendees always say one of their favorite parts of any gathering is hearing stories from other customers. They’re looking for inspiration from peers to see what other people have done, and then how to go do it themselves. This is an easy one to help with outside of a live event, especially if you can redirect time and budget away from events to produce more content than usual.
The easiest thing to do is ask any customers who were planning to speak at your event to tell you their story instead. You can document it in whatever forms your audiences like best or, even better, multiple forms. Think blog posts, webcasts, podcasts, videos, infographics, one-page case study examples, long form case studies, interview recordings… and the list doesn’t stop there. Tap into your customer marketing or customer advocacy team for help with existing resources, but also be creative. Bonus points for using this exercise to double-down on capturing customer stories and building up your advocacy and engagement in general. That is always a great idea and perhaps with funding re-directed from events, it will be possible to expand this area of marketing. You’ll be glad you did.
Option: Hold a virtual awards ceremony and promote the winners like crazy.
If you normally give out awards at an event, don’t skip it: just let it happen online! Create a set to host the video, provide backgrounds for winners to have on their videos, encourage people to dress for the occasion, and have your executives join in to present the awards.
Once the show is over, let the social sharing begin! Give your winners badges to include on their profiles and website. Create individual posts with photos to share. Have blog posts or a summary infographic to highlight the winners and what they did. Consider doing this as an interview, since it will allow you to emphasize the most interesting elements of their story at a level of detail people wouldn’t normally hear at an awards ceremony. A common complaint about awards ceremonies and sessions focused on winning stories is that they are too high level and seem too good to be true. Let your customers talk about what was challenging and how they overcame those setbacks, in addition to the amazing results they achieved. And don’t forget to send your winners a direct-mail treat commensurate with the prestige of their award.
What event attendees love: Party time!
Event attendees (and sponsors) love to have fun, hear great music, hear celebrity speakers, enjoy good food, and just spend time with teams and peers in a relaxed setting. So it’s time to think about ways to create some unexpected and entertaining moments for your customers and prospects while they’re stuck at home or in the office!
Option: Host a just-for-fun webcast.
If your event would normally have an outside speaker or other fun content, why not hold an online version, or even create a podcast with the same thing? Whether inspirational or informative, consider this a gift to customers and prospects.
Option: Hold a virtual happy hour.
Ask an executive, product management leader, or other appropriate person from your company to invite key prospects and/or customers to an online happy hour. Think of this as a way to foster informal conversations like the ones people enjoy after the event day has ended. You can even send the attendees a direct mail package with snacks or drinks to enjoy during the meeting. Keep it small enough to promote conversation, and offer to cover a topic the group you’re inviting will want to discuss. Also make sure to include some fun ice-breakers!
Option: Send a “stay safe out there” package.
Why not help the cause of health and safety with a direct mail package that includes general hygiene products such as hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes, cleaning products and the like? Even if we’re not traveling, we’re still going out into the world and want to stay healthy. Everyone will appreciate some extras, especially in travel sizes.
It’s always been the case that when times are uncertain, marketers and sales pros are among the most creative about how to get to a good outcome. The coming days will certainly be different, but I have no doubt that we’ll come out of this with new ideas for how to take advantage of the resources at our disposal to make it easier to engage with the audiences we care about.