How to get more ROI out of B2B Events

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If you are in B2B marketing, chances are that a significant percentage of your budget is going to B2B events; especially if you are in the Field Marketing department. In fact, a recent study by Gartner shows that CMOs that work at enterprise B2B organizations spend 6.5% of their total marketing budget on events. Today, I’ll help you to get more ROI out of B2B events.

Event Marketing Budget Allocation.

The above chart includes B2C and B2B organizations, if you’d look at purely B2B organizations, you will notice that a larger percentage of the marketing budget is spent on B2B events, approximately 10% of the total global marketing budget. 

However, if you are in Field Marketing and you are organizing and sponsoring B2B events, a larger portion of our budget will be devoted to B2B events. In fact, last year I spent 37.5% of my Field Marketing budget on events.

If you are unfamiliar with B2B events, I wrote an article on what are B2B events and why they are important.

Why is so much money spent on B2B events?

Events are important for B2B organizations to get in front of their target audience and build a meaningful relationship with prospective customers. B2B sales cycles are often complicated and with a lot of competition.

A successful Account Executive is generally excellent at building relationships. Therefore, it is important to get Account Executives in front of prospective customers since they will be able to do their job and build a relationship much faster. People buy from people at the end of the day.

In any B2B demand generation strategy, there should be a healthy mix between digital demand generation and lead generation through events and trade shows. A healthy balance would be to spend 35% of your field marketing budget on events and 35% on digital marketing. The remaining 30% is spent on miscellaneous things including PR and Partner Marketing Development Funds (MDF).

One way to get more ROI out of events is to combine digital marketing and events. More on that later.

In-person events are great for B2B lead generation. In fact, 68% of B2B marketers agree that in-person events contribute to s to get qualified leads.

In fact, 68% of B2B marketers say that events are an effective demand generation strategy to acquire qualified top-of-funnel leads.

Event Effectiveness in B2B Demand Generation.

What do you gain through B2B events?

The main goal of B2B events is to generate revenue. Growth targets in B2B markets are steep, especially in SaaS companies.

I work for a SaaS company and our year-over-year growth targets are over 40%!

With such growth targets, it is important to maximize ROI out of every marketing activity, including trade shows. Nine out of ten times, if you can’t prove event ROI, you won’t be doing that event again next year.

Of course, revenue is not the only thing you gain from trade shows. With every trade show, you will increase the brand awareness of your company. You might be able to meet new prospective business partners and build up your channel ecosystem.

When sponsoring larger trade shows such as Gartner IT Symposium, you will also improve your relationship with industry analysts, which is key to growing SaaS companies.

Attending analyst trade shows will also increase your knowledge of the market which in turn makes you a better professional and that is hugely beneficial to any company.

So, there are a lot of things you gain from B2B events, but to prove event ROI, you better be bringing in revenue. When measuring event ROI, take into consideration marketing attribution models. I like the W-shaped model.

W-Shared Marketing ROI Attribution Model.

Here is a great resource by Bizzaboo on different types of Marketing Attribution Models

What is the average ROI for B2B Events?

The average ROI for events at B2B enterprise organizations is 5:1. This means that for every dollar you invest, you should receive 5 dollars in return on average.

However, 44% of marketers only experience a 3:1 event ROI. If your event ROI in a B2B environment is 3:1, then you need to figure out ways to improve your event marketing plan. A good start is to continue reading this post. 🙂 

From my professional experience, the average ROI of B2B events that I’ve hosted is more like 7:1. This is very realistic to achieve, especially in SaaS companies.

An average B2B trade show will cost me about $25.000 dollars to sponsor. In SaaS organizations, the average deal size often exceeds $100.000 dollars. Investing 25k and closing 2 deals of 100k each, you already have an event ROI of 8:1.

Of course, not every event will be successful. You will generate more revenue from certain B2B trade shows and less from others. Let’s say you do a couple of events and your total investment in $100k. If you can generate $500k revenue in total from all events, your event ROI is already better than average.

So let’s get started!

How to get more ROI out of B2B events

Reading time: 6 minutes.

Here are 6 steps to get more ROI out of B2B events!

  1. Select the right events and sponsorship package

    By selecting the right events and sponsorship package, you will significantly improve your chances to get a positive return on your investment. This sounds obvious but I’ve seen companies selecting events that are totally irrelevant to their market.

    First, you need to know what your ideal target audience is. Let’s say you are working for a SaaS company; Most likely your ideal target audiences are CIOs and Senior IT Directors.

    If you are sponsoring a trade show with only CMOs attending, then you are unlikely to get enough revenue out of that event.

    Before signing any sponsorship agreement, ask the vendor for an attendee list. If you are like me, and you live in Europe and have to deal with GDPR, don’t worry.

    I always ask my vendors for an attendee list and they can legally send you an attendee list that includes company names and job roles. This should give you enough information.

    That brings me to my next point: company names. If you are looking at the attendee list and you see companies that are not relevant for you, don’t sponsor that event.

    Enterprise organizations often have a named account or target account strategy. With every event that I sponsor, I make sure that our named accounts will be attending that event.

    This way, I know for sure that the relevant companies are there. Even if we speak to the wrong people from that company, that person can still do introductions to the right people.

    Next is the sponsorship package. I always make sure that I have at least one of two things at every event that I sponsor.

    1. A keynote presentation or;
    2. Guaranteed one-to-one meetings.

    With a keynote, I can optimize our brand awareness and that makes it easier for our sales team to talk to people. With one-to-one meetings, I can make sure our sales team is meeting the right people at the event, guaranteed.

  2. Optimize your pre-event strategy

    At the core of your event marketing plan should be your pre-event strategy. What are you going to do pre-event to ensure you will maximize ROI post-event?

    B2B lead generation is tough and without a pre-event plan, I will ensure you that the event is either going to be a hit or miss. With a pre-event strategy, you will increase your chances significantly to have a favorable event ROI.

    You need to have a growth marketing mindset. You should constantly be thinking of ways to maximize impact at your company.

    Prior to the event, you should be working closely with your (inside) sales team to create a mutually agreed plan. The event marketing plan should include how your team will schedule one-to-one meetings with your target audience at the event. These meetings, that are not part of your sponsorship package, should be scheduled pre-event.

    You also need to be including social media in your pre-event plan. Through social media, you will create awareness that your company is attending the event. Generally, event vendors have hashtags that you can use. Attendees will generally follow these hashtags and will see your posts.

    Maybe you’ve sponsored an event before and you are going to sponsor the same event this year. This means that you already have an attendee list from the previous year. Often times, companies are attending the same event year-over-year. Use these attendee lists of the previous year to get in contact with your target companies.

    There is a lot you can do pre-event to get more ROI out of B2B events. However, if you do nothing, you won’t get enough revenue.

  3. Aim for one-to-one meetings

    I’ve mentioned one-to-one meetings a couple of times in this article, and for good reason. I do not sponsor trade shows if I don’t have guaranteed one-to-one meetings in my sponsorship package. The only exception is large analyst events such as Gartner IT Symposium, which I’ve mentioned before.

    Why?

    At trade shows, there are many keynote presentations that attendees want to see. Attendees come to these trade shows to learn and network. However, if you sponsor an event, there are many other solution providers that also sponsor that event. Even if they are not your organic competitors, at a trade show, they are your competitors.

    Every solution provider at a tradeshow is trying to talk to people. The same people that you want to talk to. Therefore, the longer your prospects are talking with other solution providers, the less time you have to talk to them.

    One-to-one meetings provide guaranteed time with the people you want to talk to the most. So, even if your target audience is talking to other solution providers, you will still have a chance to talk to them in your one-to-one meeting.

    Another benefit of a one-to-one meeting is that you know who you are going to be talking with prior to the event.

    Why is this important?

    The answer is preparation. If you know exactly who you are going to be talking with, you can do research and prepare the conversation. This will ensure you will get the most out of a conversation. This is crucial as a one-to-one meeting is often no longer than 15 minutes.

    When your sales team is in a one-to-one meeting, please tell them to not do a sales pitch. As mentioned, the one-to-one meetings are often very short. If your sales are going to waste the time pitching, then they are not able to listen to the prospects and identify their pain points. Let the prospects do the talking and your sales do the listening.

    Your pre-event strategy must include ways to make sure that your prospects from the one-to-one meeting know your company prior to the event. This saves time during your one-to-one meeting and allows your sales team to get the most out of a meeting.

  4. Maximize on-site awareness and lead generation

    As mentioned in point 3, at trade shows you are in competition with other solution providers.

    Every company wants to generate leads and are pulling out all the stops to do so.

    How are you going to ensure that your on-site team is able to talk to as many relevant people as possible?

    To ensure event lead generation, you need to maximize awareness at the event. People need to know that your company is there.

    As I mentioned before, I always look at two things in an event sponsorship package.

    1. One-to-one meetings;
    2. A keynote presentation.

    A keynote presentation will allow your company to stand on stage and do a presentation for a large number of people. My advice is to always let your customers do the talking. Presenting a relevant case study will speak much louder than when your employees are doing the talking.

    You need to ensure your customer case study is relevant to the audience. So let’s say you are sponsoring an industry-specific event. Let’s say a finance event. It would make no sense at all to have a customer presenting a case study about the agricultural market. 

    If you don’t have a customer that is able to present, do not worry. Your team can also do a presentation, but you need to ensure that your team is not doing a sales pitch. You need to be seen as a thought leader in the market. If you do a sales pitch, people will be bored and it will negatively impact your on-site awareness.

    A growth hacking trick that I often do in a keynote presentation is to include a poll. At the end of the presentation, we ask people to get their phones and participate in a quick poll. We use Mentimeter for this.

    What’s in it for them? Well, if they participate, they can win a nice prize such as Apple Airpods. What’s in it for us? We get contact details are the ability to ask qualification questions!

    We often agree with event vendors that we can reveal the winner on the main stage of the event, at the end of the day. Guess what: almost free double exposure.

  5. Integrate B2B event and digital marketing

    Combining events and digital marketing requires tools and process change. Marketing teams need to stop treating events and online marketing in siloes. To get more ROI out of B2B events, you need to treat an event and digital marketing as one campaign.

    Often, an event is considered a campaign and digital marketing as another campaign channel.

    However, if you merge those together, and treat it as one campaign, you will maximize results. By treating it as one campaign, you will improve customer experience and you create an omnichannel approach to get your target audience to engage with you.

    Especially, in the follow-up stage of the event, it is crucial that you include digital marketing in your event marketing plan. Of course, you need to have an email marketing plan. Consider B2B demand generation strategies such as content binging.

    A resource by Forrester, Increase B2B In-Person Event Payoff With Digital Immersion, explains this very well. 

    What if the people that you spoke to at the event visit your website? Well, that’s great. You now have the opportunity to plant a cookie and remarket them on social media and the Google Display Network.

    In addition, you can use a chatbot to drive them to relevant content on your website. There are many growth marketing tools that will help you with this.

    If event attendees visit your website, use this opportunity and get the most out of it. If they don’t come to your website, apply digital marketing to get them to visit.

  6. Reduce the follow-up time

    When I was working on a large event (sponsorship package over $200k) with mostly CIOs attending, I attended a briefing where CIOs stated what they expect from solution providers in terms of follow up.

    Do you think CIOs want to be follow-up after they attended an event?

    The answer is yes; And fast!

    The CIOs at the briefing actually said that after they attend an event, they make time available in their busy agendas 1-2 days after the event to handle solution providers that are following up. The ideal follow-up time for the CIOs at the briefing was 1 or 2 days after the event.

    The caveat is that they will only talk to solution providers that are able to talk in business value. So take this into consideration.

    Similar to dating, when meeting new people, sometimes people feel that they shouldn’t call the person they just met because they don’t want to seem needy.

    Well, when following up senior people, you need to take into consideration that they are extremely busy and if you don’t follow up fast enough, they will have moved on and started working on other things.

    Reduce the time that your sales teams need to follow-up. Follow-up preferably primarily through phone calls, but of course, send emails too.

Conclusion

B2B events are costly and it’s easy to not get enough ROI out of them if you are not careful. With a successful event marketing plan, you should be looking to get on average 5:1 event ROI.

To get more ROI out of B2B events, make sure that:

  1. You select the right events are sponsorship package;
  2. Optimize your pre-event marketing strategy;
  3. Aim for one-to-one meetings
  4. Maximize on-site awareness
  5. Integrate Events and Digital Marketing
  6. Reduce the follow-up time

On average, how much ROI do you get out of B2B events? Let me know in the comments.

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Written by:
Ricky Wolff
Ricky's North Star is growth. He is the founder of Markletic, a blog about growth hacking and demand generation in marketing.
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