Come Together: Aligning Marketing with Sales to Maximize ROI from Events
When the International Legal Technology Association announced that they will hold their annual ILTACON trade show as a hybrid event—with both virtual and Las Vegas onsite components—it signaled the return of the in-person events in the legal industry.
As rollouts of vaccines to combat COVID-19 accelerate across the country, the calendar of live events will follow. In a recent survey, we found that more than 70% of respondents are planning to attend an in-person event this year. The question is: Is your organization ready for the renewed opportunity to leverage these events to generate leads, create deals and close sales?
We recently discussed the pain points that need to be addressed in planning events. Yet with the post-pandemic horizon becoming clearer, it’s more crucial than ever to realize that planning an event is as much of a sales process as it is a marketing process.
Here is a breakdown of the stages of planning a conference, symposium or tradeshow with a focus on ROI by bringing sales and marketing teams together before, during and after an event.
Stage 1: Selecting the most profitable events
Marketing executives need to clearly understand the company’s business objectives with their sales counterparts and establish the needs and goals of the sales team. It’s no longer enough to hang your banner and be seen where the cool kids play. Marketing should collaborate and strategize with sales executives for real engagement. Otherwise, you risk wasting time and money on planning for an event, then missing opportunities to connect and follow up with qualified attendees.
Once you have that buy-in, then marketing and sales stakeholders can build the events calendar together, review event debriefs and opportunity reports from the previous years and base attendance decisions on where the collective efforts are likely to be most targeted. During this stage, you will want to determine which members of the sales team will take the lead on specific events and own the pre-show and post-show follow-up plans.
Stage 2: Preparing and Planning
With your event calendar set, preparations to maximize your return on investment from participating in those events can begin.
Make sure to give yourself enough time to properly prepare and plan for a successful program and benefit from branding opportunities leading up to the event. That could mean a full 12 months for a larger industry tradeshow or 6 to 8 weeks for a smaller regional event. Follow this optimal pre-event project roadmap:
- Curate and segment the available attendee lists. See which of your existing clients have attended previously or plan to attend this go-around. Cross-reference and highlight the sales team’s “target account” list with the pre-attendee list Then start prospecting: Identify potential buyers and eliminate attendees that are unlikely to buy.
- Invite unlisted targets. If the event supplies you comp passes to use, treat them like batons in an Olympic relay and hand them off quickly to the right prospects. Invite some of your prime targets not on the attendee list to join the affair. This is a good way to perpetuate a conversation with a potential qualified lead.
- Staff each event with the ideal people. Early in the planning process choose representatives from the marketing and sales team who will have the appropriate bandwidth before the event to conduct outreach and have the time to spend at the event. More importantly, ensure the people chosen best fit the format, subject matter, region or main market segment in attendance. This way, you will give yourself the best chance to educate attendees, build new networks and create energy and excitement.
- Coordinate the scheduling of one-on-one meetings. This is the most important sales step. Do NOT wait until showtime to text contacts or flag down booth visitors for onsite meetings. Time can and will slip away once the event begins and schedules fill up quickly You want to book meetings well in advance whenever possible. Connect private meeting invitations with coveted social event invitations to get the most attention.
- Schedule and conduct pre-show planning meetings with your event staff and executive team. You need to teach, review and reinforce procedures, processes and messaging. Go over the basics: how everyone will scan badges, collect business cards and otherwise capture lead information from visitors. During these calls, monitor the progress of booking private meetings and special event invitations and make sure sales has everything they need (email copy, attendee lists, speaking details, etc.) to do their outreach. Everyone staffing the event should have all the details prior to arriving onsite so they feel confident and can focus on networking and selling.
- Conduct outreach prior to the event. Salespeople should reach out to their respective prospects and other listed attendees before the event to remind them they will be there. Consider providing details on the booth and any speaking slots or special events in which the prospect may be interested.
Stage 3: Executing the event to perfection.
You’ve held meetings. You’ve prepared everything. The staff has their marching orders. Everything looks good. Now, like good football coaches, it is time to manage game day:
- Hold a kickoff meeting onsite. Go over messaging, remind everyone of the target sales account list and go over all the details that will make this venture successful. Sales leadership should help run this meeting and help set expectations for the event.
- Be ready for impromptu meetings. Here’s where you trust your instincts as marketers and salespeople. If you start a conversation with a booth visitor and you feel interest building or chemistry brewing, don’t be afraid to pull that person aside to engage, or to ask to meet up privately during the event, when you can both focus on each other and step away from a noisy exhibit hall. Have a centralized schedule available in the cloud for real-time bookings and schedule changes.
- Lean on lead-capture technology. Whether it’s through a lead scanner, your CRM’s mobile app, a business-card scanning tool or other savvy means, collect the information of anyone you engage with that could be a lead or an influencer. Don’t rely on memory, take clear notes and highlight the specific products or services they are interested in.
- Manage your private meeting schedule. Make sure these meetings are staffed, comfortable and running on time. Also, double check that all the technology is working properly. Have someone responsible for checking in the meetings and noting any no-shows. Also, ask that sales provide short recaps for each meeting with follow up actions.
- Communicate consistently. Be sure to meet up to debrief at the end of each day and discuss the lead highlights and conversations. .If you identify any urgent lead during the course of the show, plan your follow-ups as soon as you can. Tip: Create an e-mail or text group for all staff so that you can communicate to the onsite group quickly and effectively. Send out a daily update with the staff and meeting schedule included along with any networking or speaking events.
Stage 4: Guiding post-show conversions and plans for next year.
If you’ve prepared and executed your event seamlessly, your marketing and sales point people will likely come home with several warm leads and loads of market insight.
Afterward, follow these steps:
- Debrief everything in a meeting. Discuss and distribute the leads and any and all strategies for converting them. Also, be sure to conduct a post-mortem: What worked? What didn’t? What surprised you the most? What market trends did you hear? What new customer insights did you gain; anything that evolved your buyer personas? What changes should be implemented next year?
- Upload your lead list(s) quickly. The best practice is to get everything loaded and ready to distribute and report to the wider teams within 48 hours. Make sure to include all new onsite leads and any leads you learn of in the debrief meetings in the list. If your lead scanner is providing real-time access to your list, designate someone in the office to start uploading during the event.
- Follow-up! Within 72 hours! Conduct research on your leads to learn more about them and their organizations’ pain points. Marketing should have a post-show thank you email ready to send following the event, and sales should send personalized “thank you” e-mails and set up follow-up meetings.
- Execute your follow-up activities. For instance, will you plan and schedule a webinar and invite everyone on your list? Is there content, such as user-friendly templates or case studies, that would be good resources for people that attended the event?
- Prepare follow-up messaging for sales. Take what you’ve learned and equip salespeople with the pertinent information and elevator-pitch material they will need to draft terrific follow-up e-mail sequences that address pain points and create interest in follow-up meetings.
- Measure your event success. Determine which metrics matter the most and focus on the post-event engagement with the most engaged leads, including enthusiastic booth visitors and attendees of any speaking events you sponsored. Metrics like CPL (cost per lead) can easily be calculated once the budget and leads are uploaded. Be ready to pull reports from your CRM to see how the event is influencing new sales opportunities. You should try and hit a 15x ROI on the cost of the event in potential opportunities. Use consistent metrics for events year-to-year when possible so that you can compare apples to apples and spot trends in your data.
- Let the timeline and the sales cycle tell the ultimate story. After three months, see which leads have entered the sales pipeline. After six months, see if any of those deals have become Closed-Wins. Do the same after nine months and twelve months.
When it comes to building a revenue-driven events process, sales buy-in at the beginning begets sales success in the end, which drives even more buy-in for future events. On that note, welcome back to the events world, but remember: These are not just dog-and-pony shows. They are real battlegrounds for qualified lead generation, and places where buyers and sellers can form real, lasting relationships and business partnerships.