What is B2B Event Marketing and why is it important?

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People buy from people. The best salespersons are people who excel at networking and building relationships. B2B event marketing is a proven method to accelerate pipeline generation and shorten sales cycles. The caveat is that you must have a well-defined B2B event marketing strategy because is not cheap!

What is B2B event marketing?

B2B event marketing is an offline marketing channel designed to facilitate in-person interactions that result in relationship building, B2B lead generation, sales pipeline generation and acceleration, customer retention, and brand awareness.

Knowledge sharing is a critical part of why people attend B2B conferences. The ability to share and gain knowledge from peers at other companies in the same industry is invaluable.

Vendors attend these conferences to show attendees that they are thought leaders and can help companies overcome business challenges with their solutions or products. The ultimate goal is, of course, to drive business

Why is B2B event marketing important?

B2B event marketing is important because decision-makers are often very hard to reach through digital channels. B2B events offer a unique setting that brings together many decision-makers at the same location; A goldmine for the sales team. The possibility to build many relationships in such a short period of time is hard to achieve through other marketing channels.

To illustrate the importance, here are some event marketing statistics:

An overwhelming majority of C-Suite executives (87%) believe in the power of live events and plan on investing in them more in the future.

(Endless Events, 2018)

Studies suggest that over 90% of CEOs believe the events channel is an effective way to create brand awareness, deepen relationships and accelerate opportunities.

(ZiffDavisB2B)

95% of marketers agree that live events provide attendees with a valuable opportunity to form in-person connections in an increasingly digital world.

(Aventri, 2018)

The need for personal connections and interactions in our digital world is clear. This is also the reason why we see such an increase in chat functionalities on websites. Using chatbots and chat tools is a great growth hacking technique. You can use tools such as Intercom and Drift

Companies often set targets for the marketing department in terms of the generation of Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs). Leads coming in through digital channels such as organic or paid search and social, take much longer to warm up until they reach the MQL stage. Note, I’m not saying digital is a bad marketing channel because it’s one of the most important channels. However, each marketing channel has its unique benefits. Implementing the complete marketing mix makes a company successful.

At an event, you are able to build the relationship straight away, talk about business challenges and how your solution can help them add more value to their business. Consequently, you are skipping a few steps in the early marketing funnel. The leads you gather are B2B events are much warmer and therefore, sales cycles are reduced in time.

The Power of in-person B2B events

41% of the respondents said that in-person events are the single most effective B2B marketing channel.

Most Effective B2B Marketing Channels – Source

What are the various types of B2B events?

There is a number of different ways that companies can include B2B event marketing in their strategy. There are some extremely costly options, but also cheaper variations. Your options vary on your marketing budget and at the stage of your company.

Generally speaking, you have two options. Either you attend an event, or you host an event.

1. Trade Show marketing

Trade Show Marketing


A trade show is an exhibition at which businesses in a particular industry come together to promote their products, services, and network with peers.

I’ve personally managed over 100 tradeshows and they can be great! The caveat is that you need to have a proper event strategy. Trade shows are costly to attend but the potential for (quick) ROI is amazing. Trade shows managed improperly will make you burn through your marketing budget without good results.

My advice is to always opt for a speaking session when attending a trade show. This gives you a good platform to promote your product or services to the majority of the audience. I don’t recommend going on stage with a sales pitch. You must be a thought leader and a good alternative is to ask one of your customers to do the presentation.

Generally, you will have a booth. Your trade show booth design should reflect your overall branding strategy. Your company must be clearly identifiable on all platforms, whether that be your booth design, your website or your marketing collateral.

I always recommend having your trade show giveaways in line with your overall company messaging. If you are working for a tech company, your giveaways should be tech-related. Don’t cheap out on giveaways and ensure they are proper quality. The last thing you want is that people associated your brand with cheap and low-quality.

Some trade show giveaway ideas:

  • Powerbanks;
  • Webcam covers;
  • High-quality water bottles;
  • Phone holders for in the car;

The most important thing is to have giveaways related to your brand in high-quality. Try to be unique and creative. Just please promise me to not give away USB sticks. Nobody trusts those anymore.

When I select trade shows to attend for my company, I always look at the possibility to schedule one-to-one meetings with people attending the event. Generally, you are able to schedule 20-minute meetings which give you time to research how your company can help them to increase business value. This is tremendously valuable.

Gartner IT Symposium /Xpo

Gartner IT Symposium /Xpo in Barcelona is the biggest trade show that I’ve attended as an exhibitor. To maximize our investments, we started 7 months prior to the event with all the preparations and defining our event marketing strategies.

To illustrate, the investment of being an exhibitor is over 6 figures. As you can imagine, there is a lot of pressure from senior management to prove ROI.

Me, on the right, at Gartner IT Symposium / Xpo in Barcelona.

At trade shows of this size, you need a proper event marketing plan. You need to think about trade show booth designs, giveaways, demand generation strategies, follow-up strategies and everything related to delivering as much impact as possible. My advice is to always get at least 2 trade show displays where you can loop presentations and give product demos.

At Gartner IT Symposium /Xpo, 80% of the audience are CIOs. These people are incredibly difficult to reach through other channels. This is truly a unique opportunity to network with these people. You might think: 80% of the attendees are CIOs so it must be easy to talk to a lot of them.

Wrong. They are extremely busy people with tight agendas so you need to have a proper demand generation strategy to drive them to your booth and schedule one-to-one meetings.

Organizing an event of this size is extremely resource-intensive. However, when having a proper event marketing plan, this event is very fruitfull. Every time we attend, it drives us millions in sales pipeline and heaps of B2B marketing leads.

2. User conferences

Once the customer base of your company has grown, you can consider creating your own large scale events. Hosting a successful user conference will establish and cement your presence in the market. This is also your chance to make your customers feel like they are part of a community.

I’ve set up a few user conferences, the first one had about 600 attendees. Fast forward a few years and the last user conference I set up with my team had over 2000 attendees. Existing customers also saw this tremendous growth and felt like they made the right investment decision for long term business benefits. Consequently, this reduced customer churn.

With the user conferences I set up, I always try to have the following audience division:

  • 40% customers;
  • 30% partners;
  • 30% prospects.

It’s always a good idea to invite as much press as you can. This will give your share of voice a huge boost and it will generate tremendous brand awareness. You’ll also need to have a video marketing strategy.

You can decide to charge ticket prices for the user conference. However, I recommend to give your customers free tickets and sell sponsorship packages to your partners. Once you grow and are able to create events such as Dreamforce by Salesforce, then you’ll be able to charge for tickets. Starting too early with charging for tickets will result in very poor registration numbers. In addition, you first need to prove that your user conference is worth attending. Once you’ve built trust and people value your user conference, you can start charging for tickets.

Something that mustn’t be overlooked is that setting up a user conference takes a lot of time. You need to have an event marketing plan and it is advised to hire outside help such as an event planner, especially when it is the first time your company is setting up a user conference. 

Conference marketing is a huge investment, money-wise and time-wise but it will help with demand generation, brand awareness, accelerating sales cycles and upselling at existing customers. 

3. VIP Dinners

People desire special treatment and to feel important. This is exactly how your prospects and customers should feel. After all, without them, you would be out of business.

Exhibiting at events are great for generating new B2B marketing leads and generate new sales pipeline. On the contrary, VIP dinners are great for warming up existing leads and move them through the sales funnel faster.

You should probably invite no more than 10 people. It must be an exclusive setting and you’re ought to make attendees feel important.

Organizations often invite some customers to these VIP dinners to mingle with the prospects. I often set up VIP dinners and invite people from the same industry. This makes it super relevant when prospects talk to your existing customers about how they successfully implemented your services or products. 

Your target audience will be C-level individuals. Therefore, it is extremely powerful to invite senior executives from your organization. This allows the conversation to partake at the same level. A table with 70% seniors and 30% juniors will not work since people aren’t talking at the same level.

You must offer an exclusive experience with VIP dinners. This is your opportunity to wow your prospects and customers. If senior executives from your company are attending, this also helps to prove to them that you’re a great B2B marketer and you understand the game.

I often host my VIP dinners in castles or similar unique locations. This seems to work well for me. 

4. Lunch and Learn

A lunch and learn is similar to a VIP dinner but generally for people a layer below C-level. A lunch and learn can be a slightly larger setting with a target attendee number of around 20 people.

The goal must always be to provide as much value as you can to the attendees. People don’t want to come there to hear your sales pitch. They want to learn from people in the market and listen to solutions with regards to their business challenges.

When you’re designing the invitations, always think about: What’s in it for them? Why should they attend the lunch and learn?

Similar to VIP dinners, it is a good idea to invite some of your customers to attend. Happy customers are way more convincing than your best salespeople!

At a lunch and learn it is alright to give a short presentation about your solutions and the goal of the lunch. Just make sure to stick to a maximum of 15 minutes. The most powerful aspect of a lunch and learn is the ability to network. You want to create a dialogue.

5. Roadshows

Roadshow are one-day events at multiple locations to promote your solutions or products while building brand awareness. It is always a good idea to invite the press to these roadshows. Roadshows are extremely effective in immature or new markets. Basically, you bring the event to the people rather than people having to travel to attend your events.

Note that similar to user conferences, roadshows are very resource-intensive to organize. You need a solid event marketing plan to make it a success.

Your plan should not be limited to event logistics, but the most critical part of your plan must be your demand generation strategy. Especially in immature markets, it can be challenging to drive the number of attendees that you are targeting. Generally, roadshows are free to enter and therefore you must take into account a no-show percentage of 40. This means that if you want 50 attendees, you must aim for 83 registrations.

Again, it is powerful to have customers speaking at these roadshows. Definitely use your partner network to help drive registrations. Partners usually have local networks that your company doesn’t have yet. You can even create sponsorship packages to help offset the costs.

With a roadshow, do create plenty of networking opportunities and aim to deliver as much business value to your attendees as possible. With a proper plan, roadshows will generate loads of B2B marketing leads. You will want to create a lasting first impression!

B2B Event Marketing Best Practices

B2B event marketing will generate fewer Marketing Qualified Leads than for example digital channels. From my experience, the quality of event leads is much greater than those from digital channels. The caveat is that you need to have a solid event marketing strategy.

Offline and online marketing should always go hand-in-hand. Offline B2B marketing leads will generally be of higher quality. Online B2B marketing leads will supply you with the quantity you need to meet sales and pipeline generation targets. Generally, at a healthy company, marketing needs to supply 30% of the sales pipeline.

I often see marketing teams trying to do everything at the same time, 20 events in a quarter. However, with offline marketing, I believe in doing less but with greater quality and reporting.

Here are some B2B Event Marketing best practices:

  • Create an aligned post-event marketing plan, including all stakeholders such as the sales team and partners. Define all the roles clearly.
  • Take the time to create a framework for reporting. Events are expensive and you need to prove ROI. Consider reporting on MQLs, pipeline generated and closed business.
  • Customers speak louder than your sales team. Always try to invite customers to do the talking for you.
  • Try to schedule as many one-to-one meetings at events as possible. This is a unique experience that digital channels can’t provide.
  • Don’t cheap out on giveaways.
  • C-level prospects want to be follow-up fast. Make sure your sales team follow up all the leads within a week.

B2B Event Marketing Conclusion

B2B event marketing is an offline marketing channel where human interaction is key. The networking possibilities provide the most value.

People attend events to learn from their peers and to soak up business strategies. Always aim to deliver as much value as possible.

Customers speak louder than your sales team. Always invite your customers to events. Your story will be a lot stronger compared to when you tell it yourself.

Events are very resource-intensive. Therefore, it is only worthwhile when you have a crystalized event marketing plan.

People buy from people, this is something very important to remember in B2B marketing. Events are a wonderful platform to facilitate interaction, build relationships, create trust.

What role does event marketing play at your organization?

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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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