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What’s the killer app for B2B marketing? Face-to-face events

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Posted by , 10th April 2018

Of all tactics in the B2B marketing toolkit, the most valued, the most used and the most effective is face-to-face events. It’s not digital, except tangentially as explained in this post from Exhibitors Only

While teaching a B2B digital marketing course in Buenos Aires last month, I found some of my students dismayed by one data point. In fact, it came up again and again in the course:

Of all tactics in the B2B marketing toolkit, the most valued, the most used and the most effective is face-to-face events. It’s not digital, except tangentially. 

Why is that?

Year after year, events like conferences and trade shows consistently show up at the top of the “most effective” list.  Why, and what does that mean for us marketers?

Interestingly, my savvier students got it immediately.  They intuitively understood the power of face to face in B2B marketing.  “Business buying is done through relationships,” said one. Bingo.

You can’t beat personal connectivity

Events stimulate personal connections.  Business buyers buy from people they know and trust. Business buying is based on people as much as it is on specifications and product requirements.

Even when we are buying on behalf of our companies, we are social animals, and we want to look the seller in the eye before signing a big contract.

We need a conversation

Events are very efficient at facilitating conversations.  Hundreds of qualified prospects have travelled, to talk with you, under one roof, in an intensely productive series of days.

Some people argue that business events are dead, or dying.  Trade shows in the United States certainly suffered after 9/11, and the comeback has been slow. But to paraphrase Mark Twain, “Reports of my death are exaggerated.”  This is still a $12.2 billion industry in the U.S. alone (£11 billion in the UK).

As an element of the B2B marketing toolkit, business events are actually thriving, even in a digital era.  Let’s look at some numbers.

  • Year after year, events and trade shows clock-in as the single largest line item in B2B budgets. 20% on average, according to Forrester.  I’ve seen companies that devote as much as 60% of their spend to face to face.
  • Events are also at the top of the heap based on lead generation effectiveness.
  • A 2015 study showed events way ahead of other media channels—online or offline—at 84%.  Events ranked higher than even the company website, at 81%.
  • Even in content marketing, where digital and social are the darlings, events are named the most effective content tactic in this year’s study from Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs. It was the same for the last two studies, too.

For more statistics on the UK exhibition and event marketplace, read Introduction To The UK Event Industry In Numbers published by Eventbrite.

Three ways to improve your event marketing results

Okay, so you are convinced.  But how do you get the most value from business events?

I have three ideas about where applying some extra focus can drive vast improvements in the productivity of your event marketing spend.

  1. Put the event to its best use—meaning a place to have efficient and productive interactions. Know why you are there.  Select metrics consistent with your objectives, and put them in writing, so you can’t cheat.   And don’t forget: If your objective is to have lots of conversations with prospects—which for most people it is—encourage your teammates to make appointments in advance.  This extremely effective technique is often overlooked.
  2. In face to face, your teammates are the medium at the event. And the message.  So make sure your people are trained-up on how to engage—and disengage with visitors.  These are not sales conversations.  But they can be learned.  A bit of pre-event training can dramatically improve your productivity at the event.
  3. Put the event in its larger context. Post-event is where the real revenue-driving activity happens. Make sure you focus on how you will capture contact information. Ensure that there is a way to record the keys points of each conversation, and what your team should be doing in the follow-up.

PS.  If you don’t have a solid lead management process in your company, my advice is, don’t spend a penny on events. Much of the money that you spend on your participation costs will be wasted if you don’t have a lead management process in place. If you do, then go all in with this killer app.

The advantages of adding corporate events to your marketing programme

About the Author

Ruth Stevens is one of the “100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing” as named by Crain’s New York Business magazine.

Ruth teaches marketing at business schools in the US and internationally and is guest blogger and contributor to trade magazines.

She is the author of “Trade Show And Event Marketing” and “B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results.” She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner: Ziff-Davis and IBM and holds an MBA from Columbia University.  Learn more at www.ruthstevens.com

Posted in B2B Marketing  /  Events  /  Trade show advice  /  Trade show marketing

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