6 Strategies Behind the Trend in B-to-B Client Conferences

Producing an event is expensive and risky. What’s the benefit? Should you launch a client conference of your own? In conversations with several marketers, I have identified six reasons to consider it.

Have you noticed how so many B-to-B companies seem to be running their own proprietary conferences these days? I can’t turn around without another customer event popping up on the radar. AppNexus has its Summit, three years now. Quad/Graphics relaunched its Camp Quad last year. MeritDirect celebrated its 16th Co-op this year. This got me wondering: Producing an event is expensive and risky. What’s the benefit? Should you launch a client conference of your own? In conversations with several marketers, I have identified six reasons to consider it.

Customer events are especially popular in the tech world. Kathleen Schaub, vice president of IDG’s CMO Advisory Service, reports that customer events are twice as common (at 48 percent) as participation in trade shows (27 percent) among tech marketers. But the trend appears in financial services, manufacturing and business services as well. Here’s why B-to-B companies are jumping into proprietary events.

  • Uninterrupted Face Time: What a great way to get your customer’s full attention, especially compared with a trade show, where you have to compete with zillions of others. SiriusDecisions, the marketing consulting firm, views its popular Summit as a place to deliver fresh research to its clients, as part of its paid advisory service. The Summit brought a capacity crowd of 2,300 attendees to Nashville’s Opryland complex for three and a half days, with 150 sessions. No distractions, just 100 percent client attention.
  • Efficient Prospecting: Although primarily for clients, many of these conferences are designed to include prospects, as well. Who better to sell for you than happy current customers? NewsCred deliberately added an extra day to its #ThinkContent Summit that would be open to non-customers, by invitation. “We worked with the sales team to identify target accounts, and we invited marketing leaders from those companies to bring their teams,” says Jasmine Cortez, event marketing manager. These attendees were treated like leads, with post-event nurturing communications and sales follow-up.
  • Customer Retention:Events that are perceived as valuable translate into customer good will and loyalty. For NewsCred, the primary objective is to deepen customer relationships, says Melissa Blazejewski, B-to-B events manager. Client conferences also serve to deepen the host company’s understanding of its customer needs and stimulate account penetration. Says Brad Gillespie, head of global marketing at SiriusDecisions, “Sifting through data about Summit attendees makes us smarter as marketers. But the primary benefit is in cross-buying. Attending the Summit is clearly associated with clients’ subscribing to new service lines.”
  • Brand Value Expansion: Quad/Graphics cleverly positioned its Camp Quad event to serve senior marketing people, although the typical day-to-day customer for the large printing company is a production specialist. The Camp Quad event was located near its network of Wisconsin printing plants, which showcase for their newer technologies and service offerings. So the attendees not only picked up new marketing ideas, they broadened their understanding of Quad’s capabilities. Says Maura Packham, marketing and communications VP, “The post-event feedback shows that people feel differently about Quad’s value proposition. This was our goal.”
  • Content Production:Conference programming serves as a valuable source of new content for various uses throughout the year. “We advise our clients that the best B-to-B campaigns are centrally themed and extend over time. We practice what we preach, by using the Summit as the launch event for a year’s communications,” says Gillespie. For Quad/Graphics, the client event becomes a useful reason to call for the sales team, who follow up with non-attendees saying “Here’s what you missed.”
  • Make Money: Many client events, like Camp Quad, are hosted entirely by the organizer, with attendees paying only travel expenses. But some, like SiriusDecisions, are run like a profit center, with sponsors and exhibitors paying the freight. “Our value proposition is convenient access to useful information,” says Gillespie. “Our sponsors deliver over 100 case studies, which are highly valued by attendees. We run the event as a business, but its main purpose is to educate and enrich our customers’ experience.”

Convinced? It’s a challenge to organize your own event, but the payoff can be huge.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Author: Ruth P. Stevens

Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, and teaches marketing at companies and business schools around the world. She is past chair of the DMA Business-to-Business Council, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain's BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She is the author of Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, and Trade Show and Event Marketing. Ruth serves as a director of Edmund Optics, Inc. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff-Davis, and IBM and holds an MBA from Columbia University.

Ruth is a guest blogger at Biznology, the digital marketing blog. Email Ruth at ruth@ruthstevens.com, follow her on Twitter at @RuthPStevens, or visit her website, www.ruthstevens.com.

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