Image courtesy of CSG London
Direct marketers are adept at trade show marketing. We know how to select the shows that our prospects are likely to attend.
We set up plenty of meetings with customers and prospects. And we know how to conduct pre-show marketing campaigns that will drive stand traffic. Post-event, we follow up religiously to keep the sales process moving.
Given all of the above, I am always surprised at how few direct marketers take advantage of one very powerful tool in the B2B marketing toolkit: The proprietary or corporate event.
Corporate events deliver exclusive access to customers and prospects
Using events, you can really get down to delivering your message in a way that cuts through the usual noise and clutter. Opportunities for client conferences, user groups, executive briefings and road shows, can be used to great advantage.
Some of the big advantages of corporate events
- Creating your own corporate events provides almost complete control of a customer’s experience with your company
- You can shape the event to suit the needs of your audience and meet your own corporate sales and marketing objectives
- Corporate events are excellent for relationship building with key customers: End-users, technical personnel, purchasing officials and senior executives can all be catered for with content that relates to each group
- Events boost the deepening of relationships on both sides. They provide more focused selling time
- Customers provide you with deeper insights into their needs and business problems
- Corporate events are designed to encourage higher-level conversations than those that take place in the hustle and bustle of a trade show
- Best of all, customers and prospects can focus on your message, without distractions from your competitors
Corporate events tend to work best when marketing to current clients
It’s easier to persuade a person with whom you already have a business relationship to come to your corporate event. Also, the future value of an active client or hot sales lead is much higher than that of the average unknown prospect.
This fact justifies the expense of creating and running a dedicated event. It makes reaching your client base an efficient and cost-effective process.
To get the best value from a corporate event, keep these principles in mind
- Consult with your target audience. In order to attract and influence, you must first find out what works for them. Let the preferences and needs of your audience guide all of your planning
- Seek opportunities to reduce your costs: Ask business partners to take sponsorships. Ask clients to pay their own travel and hotel expenses
- Some conferences charge attendees a fee. Doing so both qualifies serious interest and supports the budget
- Corporate event management is complicated and requires expertise and resources from multiple parties. You may require external specialists to assist you.
- Focusing on project management and team-building will enhance your likelihood of success
- Proprietary corporate events share many characteristics of trade shows
- They are akin to marketing strategy, planning, and execution
- And in setting objectives, running promotions and following-up post-event
- Treat a corporate event like a full-fledged marketing campaign and not a one-off execution
Types of event
It’s not easy to categorize events, as there is so much overlap in function and activity. Here I list some of the more common types. Most of these are focused on current customers, but the last, road shows, are designed for prospecting.
1. User Groups
The User Group meeting has taken centre stage in the information technology arena but is also widely used in other industries. Typically a company’s objective with a user group meeting is multi-purpose.
- Education: Relate to current products in use with account holders
- Identify problems and troubleshoot solutions
- Discuss customer needs for additional products or features
- Deepen relationships with customers
For attendees, the opportunity to network with other product users is one of the key benefits of attending these meetings.
2. Client conferences
User Group meetings target engineers or middle managers who actually use a product day-to-day. Education and troubleshooting are the primary goals.
A client conference, on the other hand, is designed to engage at a more senior, managerial level. These events address strategic issues, and are often, in some respects, more orientated towards sales.
The typical client conference pursues the following objectives:
- The deepening of customer relationships
- Communication of a company vision, culture, or strategy
- Cross-selling and up-selling
- Encouraging networking among peers
To support these objectives, a client conference may have any of the following components:
- Keynote speeches and breakout sessions
- An exhibition hall
- A meetings schedule for salespeople and senior executives
- A sports event of some kind; a golf outing for example
- A client appreciation dinner
- Entertainment of some kind
3. Single-customer events
Events that focus on a single customer can also be extremely useful.
Aimed at top customers, these events can be as simple as an expanded client meeting. The agenda flows on into ancillary activities like dinners or outings. Or there could be workshops or facilitated sessions. Whatever best meets sales and marketing objectives.
One common type of single-customer event is the “vendor day.” This is when a large company arranges for suppliers to come to their premises and show their wares. Effectively, an in-house exhibition.
4. Educational seminars
Educational seminars work well when delivering product information to larger businesses. They add credibility and also increase access to hard-to-reach customers. Most common are day-long or half-day seminars.
These sessions should be taught by a credible third party on a subject of strong business interest to your clients.
If you include speakers from your own company, it’s ultra important to keep the tone of their presentations on solving problems or sharing ideas. A blatant sales pitch will be received negatively by your audience.
Balancing good content with amenities
Consider this wisdom from Mark Amtower, a specialist in marketing to government buyers. Amtower conducts seminars all over the United States for clients and prospects as part of his sales development work.
The seminar content is important,” says Amtower. “But the food is how they’ll judge the seminar overall. I have learned to provide great food, and plenty of it, and I get rave reviews, and new business, from my seminars.
5. Executive seminars
Executive seminars are intended to bring senior-level customers together. In this environment education, peer interaction, and face time with senior company representatives work well. Meetings are usually kept fairly small. They are repeated at regular intervals and held in desirable locations.
The primary hook needed to attract attendees is content. Topics must be of strategic interest to senior managers.
Events like these position the hosting company as a partner as opposed to being a vendor. The host is seen as a trusted resource who can be relied upon to help solve pressing business problems. Attendees appreciate the chance to learn about solutions and to network with their peers from other organisations.
6. Entertainment events
Events designed around social outings are most successful when linked to a specific sales objective.
The attendees need to be carefully selected and qualified. You don’t want to be investing in entertaining people who have no direct interaction with your company. Entertainment events work best when they are driven by a sales team with Marketing assisting with logistics and event strategy.
Roadshows consist of a series of multi-city meetings. They are designed to deliver a deeper product briefing than is possible by mail or by phone. And they are more efficient than solo sales calls.
They take your event to the market sparing customers and prospects the need to travel. Typically, your business bears all expenses and no fee is charged to attendees.
Roadshow venues are usually hotel meeting rooms. They can be half-day or all-day sessions that include breakfast or lunch.
The cost per contact of a road show is fairly high. Prices per head range from £25 to £100 per head or more. For this reason, road shows are typically reserved for clients or prospects who are far along the buying cycle. And most events target customers based within driving distance of the venue.
Case study: Structural Graphics using educational seminars successfully
Structural Graphics, is a print promotions company based in Essex, Connecticut in the US. It has made good use of educational seminars as part of its account-building sales and marketing strategy.
Structural use seminars for account penetration. They help them to win bigger sales with existing clients. Seminars also work extremely well in developing cross-promotion sales. This is where existing clients buy additional services from Structural. The seminars serve to alert existing clients to the other things that the company offers.
Structural’s first seminar highlighted the sales opportunity
Structural Graphics’ first foray into seminars was with a large tobacco company. Structural already handled a lot of magazine insert and direct mail work with this client. Mike Maguire, president of Structural Graphics, felt that there was an opportunity to develop more business with this client.
Our primary sales contacts for the magazine and mail work worked in advertising agencies. Our objective was to figure out ways to develop more direct contact with the client. We wanted to make the client aware of the other areas where we could help them, especially given our expertise in point-of-purchase promotions.
Accompanying his sales rep on a visit to the head of the tobacco company’s production department, Maguire asked the client about her needs and the ways that Structural Graphics could add value to the client’s business.
Content that helps the customer is the key
The client was looking for new ideas and ways to lower costs. Generally, ways to do things more efficiently.. Maguire offered to come in and run a seminar for her team on project management, an area where Structural Graphics excels.
Mike put together the content, and on the appointed day, delivered a 1-hour seminar to 12 people in the department. The session got rave reviews.
While you usually expect to pick up a couple of ideas at a session like this, the attendees told their boss they had picked up five or six. The department head was very pleased, and we now have several pieces of point-of-purchase business with them, says Maguire.
Maguire believes that the cardinal rule of seminar marketing is credibility. “The fact that I was president helped. If I were too overtly involved in the selling process, the audience would not have reacted as they did.”
The other key to success is relevant content. Maguire recommends that you probe carefully about client needs, and shape your content very specifically towards helping them. “This is not about what you want to talk about,” he says. “It is all about what is of real value to the client.”
Problems that can arise in corporate event marketing
Compared with trade shows, corporate events sound like a dream. You can control the message, there’s no competition, and you set the agenda. If you impress your customers they will buy more of your product or service and they will do so more frequently. But like any marketing opportunity, events can have problems to contend with.
Here are some pitfalls to watch out for:
- Can you attract the audience? Without sufficient numbers, you don’t have an event
- As events have gained in popularity, the competition for customer time and attention has intensified
- Much of the event cost structure is fixed, if attendance falls, the cost advantages you planned for can disappear
- Beware of dissatisfied customers. If customer gripes get out of control, the atmosphere at your event may be ruined
- Have a plan for speedy, discreet resolution of complaints before they escalate
- Customers may compare their terms and conditions with those of other attendees and that’s another source of potential dissatisfaction
- One way to avoid this is by assigning handlers, dedicated reps who will shepherd particular clients throughout the event
Consider some of these other ways you can keep in touch with your customers and prospects using proprietary events
Company tours: These are particularly suitable if you have a manufacturing process, laboratories, or assembly plants that would appeal to visitors
Executive breakfasts or lunches: Include a speech by the CEO or an outside expert or thought leader
Advisory councils: Made up of key customers or business partners, who meet several times a year to air problems and provide insight into customer needs
Executive briefing centres: A dedicated space at your site where products are on display and key customers can visit for education and information
Mobile marketing: A tractor-trailer is decked out with demo stations and exhibits, and driven to the parking lots of key customers and prospects. This is a targeted strategy that is increasingly used by business marketers
Very high-end hospitality: This would include trips to the Olympics or similar top-level events. For senior executives at your biggest accounts
About the Author
Ruth P. Stevens is a consultant specialising in customer acquisition and retention. She teaches marketing at business schools in the United States and internationally and is a guest blogger at Biznology and Target Marketing Magazine. Ruth is also a contributing writer at AdAge magazine.
Crain’s New York Business magazine named Ruth one of the “100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing.”
Ruth 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 she holds an MBA from Columbia University. Learn more at www.ruthstevens.com