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.

Push vs. Pull Marketing: In B-to-B, You Need Both

The other day, a marketing colleague told me she was feeling under pressure to move all her efforts to inbound, or “pull,” marketing. “Outbound is bad,” she said. What? Well, I guess her feeling is understandable. Inbound marketing is all the rage today. Hubspot promotes it. Marketo promotes it. Seth Godin promotes it. With the new popularity of pull marketing, B-to-B marketers may be under the mistaken impression that push marketing is dead—or should be. How wrong they are. And here’s why

The other day, a marketing colleague told me she was feeling under pressure to move all her efforts to inbound, or “pull,” marketing. “Outbound is bad,” she said. What? Well, I guess her feeling is understandable. Inbound marketing is all the rage today. Hubspot promotes it. Marketo promotes it. Seth Godin promotes it. With the new popularity of pull marketing, B-to-B marketers may be under the mistaken impression that push marketing is dead—or should be. How wrong they are. And here’s why.

Simply put, B-to-B marketers need a mix of push and pull. Limiting your strategy to pull alone will reduce your market, and limit your ability to identify all the prospective buyers who might need your solution to their problems.

In B-to-B, pull marketing generally means making yourself visible, or being helpful, and hoping that people will get the idea that they should visit your website or otherwise reach out to find out more about you and your offerings. The theory is a good one. And it works great for luring prospects at various stages of the buying cycle, especially when they have already identified a need and are researching potential solutions. Bingo, with pull marketing tactics like providing educational content, you have a good chance of snagging a fairly qualified prospect.

Typical pull tactics in B-to-B include:

  • Developing informative, non-salesy content, to educate all comers on how to solve their problems, and what a great partner you can be in helping them. This can be in the form of blogging, downloadable white papers, videos, infographics and others.
  • SEO and SEM, which will pull prospects to your site and your content when they are looking for particular information.
  • PR, or media relations, to persuade others to write interesting and favorable things about your products, or highlight your expertise and experience.
  • Social media, for distributing your content to followers, and inviting them to share it with their networks.
  • Speaking engagements, whether online or in person, where your expertise is on vivid display.

But what about prospects who don’t even know they have a problem? Or who haven’t defined the problem yet, not to mention considered a solution? Or maybe you have a solution that is so new, prospects don’t even know how to research it. To get all the business you deserve, this is where push marketing is essential.

In B-to-B, push marketing includes all the outbound messaging that have proven themselves for decades, most notably:

  • Direct mail, including dimensional mail. Keep in mind that the list business in the U.S. is so mature, and so sophisticated, you can find just about every prospect using mailing lists, no matter how narrowly you target.
  • Telephone calls, using the same lists, when the list owner gives you permission to call.
  • Advertising, online and offline, with a strong call to action to generate a response.
  • Event marketing, such as trade shows and conferences, where you can not only kick off relationships with new prospects, but also convey your expertise through speaking engagements.

Sure, these methods may be intrusive and unfashionable. But this is what we marketers do. To fulfill our mission of market coverage, scalable lead generation, and profitable sales growth, the modern B-to-B marketer must pull—and push—every possible lever.

Anyone want to argue about this? Let’s discuss!

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

Digital Developments in B-to-B Event Marketing

Event marketing has long been a staple in B-to-B, where the face-to-face conversation enabled by a trade show or corporate event plays a valuable role in launching or deepening a business relationship. But these days, business events are taking off in new directions, empowered by advancements in digital technology. I’ve been keeping an eye on some of the new developments, and happily share a few here.

Event marketing has long been a staple in B-to-B, where the face-to-face conversation enabled by a trade show or corporate event plays a valuable role in launching or deepening a business relationship. But these days, business events are taking off in new directions, empowered by advancements in digital technology. I’ve been keeping an eye on some of the new developments, and happily share a few here.

Harnessing attendee word of mouth. Event organizers can help registered attendees spread the word about upcoming shows with tools like Plancast, where members share news of their plans-both consumer and business-with friends and fellow social network members.

A private social network for attendees. Both Pathable and CrowdVine offer tools to help show organizers create a private social network, where event attendees can post their photos and profiles, search for connections and make appointments with people they’d like to meet at the event. This takes a lot of the randomness out of networking and lets attendees use their time more efficiently. A boon for exhibitors, who can interact with attendees in advance and follow up with them later, in a dynamic virtual environment.

Events designed for both virtual and live audiences. Some companies are moving in the exciting direction of “hybrid meetings,” where live content is concurrently streamed online, engaging both attendees on site and people at their desks. To pull this off, considerable advance planning is essential, says Pat Ahaesy, of P&V Enterprises, a NY-based event agency. “The hybrid event needs to be rehearsed and staged, with high definition video cameras. Speakers must be trained on how to engage with both audiences. And the content has to be terrific.” But the benefit is huge. You get double the audience, plus an archive of content that can be repurposed for years of additional value.

“Smart card” badges for richer data capture. Show badges built with “near field communication” (NFC) technology are gaining attention from organizers and exhibitors alike. Instead of scanning, exhibitors tap visitor badges using a mobile device, and the data uploads to the cloud in real time. So the post-visit message stream can begin right away. The attendee badges can even be loaded with money (remember, this is the technology behind Google Wallet) and followed up with a message like, “Thanks for coming to our booth. Have a macchiato on us!”

Bob James, head of marketing at ITN International, shares another interesting application of the technology: The satellite manufacturer Harris Corporation knew they’d have a busy booth at a recent show, and they were concerned that they might miss connecting with some important prospects. So they set up 22 self-serve kiosks around the booth, where visitors could tap their badges, request a case study or video, and indicate what kind of follow-up they’d like. A neat way to expand the reach of the booth staff.

Program book on your smartphone. I am always vexed at being handed a heavy conference guide to lug around, so I really appreciate the ShowGuide technology from RiverMatrix, which moves the entire show program off my shoulder and onto my phone. That’s including sessions, speaker bios, maps, the works.

Virtual events. After years of experimentation, virtual events still struggle to enter the mainstream. A study by the Event Marketing Institute says 93 percent of senior executives polled find value in virtual events. But Exhibitor Magazine’s survey suggests that 60 percent of businesses have yet to try a virtual event, even a webinar. Making the trade-off between the value of face-to-face contact and the cost savings of online interactions remains a challenge for B-to-B marketers.

Digital is making events faster, cheaper, better. What new digital developments are you seeing as part of the business event marketing mix?

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