7 Event Planning Tips and Tricks From the Pros

Event planning is an eloquent art that can leave a lasting impression on attendees. Strategic event planning can be used to create new relationships, promote a product and increase employee participation. When done right, an event will leave a positive lasting impression long after it has passed. Follow this easy to use, step-by-step guide to plan an event like the pros.

Event planning is an eloquent art that can leave a lasting impression on attendees. Strategic event planning can be used to create new relationships, promote a product and increase employee participation. When done right, an event will leave a positive lasting impression long after it has passed.

Follow this easy to use, step-by-step guide to plan an event like the pros.

1. Event Planning with a Purpose

The beginning stages of event planning can never start too early. The first thing you should focus on is the purpose of your event. Are you fundraising, holding an informational workshop or corporate event? Or maybe your event is a celebration like a birthday party, wedding or anniversary. Whatever the occasion, once you clearly define your purpose, other things will fall into place, including who will be attending, the décor and how the occasion will be organized.

2. Gather Volunteers

Event planning is hard work and it can be difficult to go it alone. If you know people who are willing to volunteer, you can start delegating specific tasks to them. Sending invites, welcoming guests and cleaning are things you should think about when considering who is going to do what. If you are unable to find people who can help you for free, consider hiring a crew.

3. Create an Event Budget

If you don’t create a budget, you run the risk of spending way more than you had anticipated. Think about the cost of location, staff, food and whatever other expenses will be incurred. Try to save money wherever possible.  This can be done by finding inexpensive venues and using volunteers rather than a hired staff.

4. Decide on the Event Time and Place

Before deciding on a date, think about what else might be happening around that time. If there are other events that are similar to yours happening on the same date, it may hurt your attendance. Also, consider working around holidays and school or work schedules.

When thinking about location, find something that will be easily accessible for your guests. Also, note that your venue should be booked in advance, so you can be sure it will be available on the date you are requesting. If you are planning an event in Detroit, Brooklyn Outdoor can provide an industrial chic loft with panoramic views of the city. Use of this space includes an attentive staff that can see to every last detail.

6. Other Logistics

Other logistics to be considered include parking, what items and equipment you will need, whether you want to provide giveaways for your guests to take home and whether you want to have a photographer present to document the event.

7. The Countdown

As the event gets closer, you will realize there is a lot of be done to make everything run smoothly. When you are about two weeks out from the event, you will want to think about meeting with your team, visiting the venue and confirming your guest list to make sure everyone is on the same page.

During this time, it is easy to become stressed out so do your best to keep calm. Careful planning in the early stages can help to eliminate some of the stress. Planning an event is a lot of work, but if you are well organized, it can go relatively smoothly.

A Better Meeting Follow-Up Email

You just had a good meeting with a client or potential new client. Now you’re challenged to move the conversation forward. It’s time to send the meeting follow-up email.

You just had a good meeting with a client or potential new client. Now you’re challenged to move the conversation forward. It’s time to send the meeting follow-up email.

The three biggest mistakes I see sellers making are:

  1. Failing to secure key details & commitments before the meeting ends
  2. Recounting what happened in the meeting
  3. Sending follow up emails that don’t hold customers accountable to the next step

Remember, business email is transactional. Not conversational.

Beware: Trying to converse within the message may be sabotaging you. Clients don’t have time for “thank you so much” type conversation, especially follow-up email messages. Your follow-up is, by nature, highly deletable because most are simply a recount of what happened during the meeting.

Clients have been trained to delete follow ups because they’re just not important!

Here’s a better way to keep clients committed to moving forward with you.

Get These 5 Details Before the Meeting Ends

As the meeting unfolds, in your head (or on a piece of paper) summarize these points:

Current situation: In simple terms, describe the client’s decision-making environment.

Business priorities: How this discussion fits into the strategic (not functional) picture.

Priorities when making this decision: Jot down what the client says they are.

Timeline and process: How much time the client needs to make decisions, what are they and who is involved.

Next steps: Any suggested next steps you or your client discuss during the meeting.

This is an excellent way to conclude your meeting. Ask your client to confirm your current understanding before the meeting ends. This takes all the work out of writing your pithy follow up email.

Get commitments before the meeting ends

It sound obvious. But are you doing it? Are you earning a commitment for the next meeting before the first one ends?

My hero and sales trainer, John Barrows, likes to point out how we tend to give … and give … and give … and give … until the very end when we finally get (the sale).

But here’s the problem: By giving clients everything they ask for we’re conditioning them to treat us poorly.

Barrows says, “Because we’ve given so much, clients feel like they can do whatever they want. So what we need to do is make sure we get something all the time in return for what we’re giving away.”

In the case of your first meeting or demo that something is the next scheduled meeting date.

Barrows says this has to do with human instinct, reciprocity. And he’s right.

When your prospect asks for something there’s a fleeting moment where they feel obligated to give you something in return.

“And if you ask for it right then-and-there it’s actually easy for them to give you,” says Barrows.

So when they ask you for something, toward the end of the meeting, there’s that moment right after you gave them something … where they’re open to giving something back.

For example, it might go like this:

Your client says, “Great. Love it. Thanks for that. Send me some information and we’ll get back to you soon.”

You reply, “Sure, I can do that. But first what information would you like … and second when can we schedule fifteen minutes to go over that information … and see if it makes sense to take the next steps?”

A Proven, Effective Template Example

Remember, email templates don’t work unless you customize them. Without personalization of your messages you’ll end up deleted. Bank on it.

Remember to avoid “thank you for taking the time to meet with me” type of chit-chat. They should be thanking you, right? Right. Keep it transactional, not conversational. Help them do their job — hit reply and confirm you are on track.

Get them to re-commit to moving forward!

The below meeting follow up template gives you specific advantages. It:

  1. holds clients accountable for what they are telling you without being rude
  2. gauges their interest
  3. maintains a sense of urgency
  4. helps you re-engage strongly if/when the prospect goes dark

Subject line: Please confirm?

John,

Please review the below — confirm I’m accurate on these?

Business Priorities:

  • Priority one
  • Priority two
  • Priority three

Statement of Work requirements: (your customer’s priorities when making this decision)

  • Requirement one
  • Requirement two
  • Requirement three

Time line: (things that must happen in order for the final decision to transact)

  • Milestone / project one
  • Milestone / project two
  • Milestone / project three

Next steps: (be sure to include commitments made, if any)

  • Step you mentioned during meeting
  • Step they mentioned during meeting

Please confirm the above is accurate—and guide me if not?

Thanks, John

[your signature]

The idea here is to earn a response that is, in effect, a confirmation and further commitment. If you ran a proper meeting the prospect gave you time on their calendar. Put this commitment in writing. You may need it later — if and when they “go dark” on you (don’t respond).

My students do better with this kind of technique. However, this doesn’t mean you cannot improve on it. What can you add or subtract from the above template — to make it stronger in your specific selling context?

Are there other key meeting takeaways that are not included here — or can be added to strengthen it?

Let me know in comments!

Why You Aren’t Getting Appointments on LinkedIn

Ninety-five percent of sales reps using LinkedIn are getting few—if any—appointments. They’re using premium services, Sales Navigator, sending InMail, joining groups, spiffing up their profiles. And yet they’re chronically underperforming. All because they’re making three easily correctable mistakes when firing up their Web browsers each day.

Ninety-five percent of sales reps using LinkedIn are getting few—if any—appointments. They’re using premium services, Sales Navigator, sending InMail, joining groups, spiffing up their profiles. And yet they’re chronically underperforming. All because they’re making three easily correctable mistakes when firing up their Web browsers each day.

Mistake No. 1: Asking for Connections First
The most deadly—and common—mistake most reps make comes right at the beginning: asking prospects for connection requests. Being connected is useful for nurturing leads—not effective for earning near-term meetings or starting discussions.

Stop asking for connections as a first step.

Outside of InMail or Group messages, don’t try to make initial contact with prospects on LinkedIn. You may get connections accepted sometimes, but you’ll rarely spark conversations after the connection is accepted.

Connecting first is not an effective practice. It’s also against LinkedIn’s terms of use and is punishable. You can be banned. Wait until the prospect knows you, and they will be more likely to accept your connection request.

Initiate contact first—then connect on LinkedIn to nurture the conversation forward. This takes full advantage of what connections give you (and avoids the risk of being restricted).

Mistake No. 2: Forgetting to Slow Prospects Down
Customers are busy and getting busier. So our first job is to help them take a breath for a second. Literally. That’s where your first couple of email or InMail messages come into play.

These very brief, blunt and basic messages should disarm the customer—not ask them for an appointment. Don’t ask them to direct you to the right decision makers. Don’t ask them to have a demo with you. These are all extremely common mistakes. Don’t ask them for anything other than a reply!

Get out of the ninety-five percent of underperformers and into the top 5 percent of LinkedIn users.

Yes, you must grab a prospect’s attention and hold it. But your first message must shock the prospect by putting them in control of the contact with you. Because once prospects feel control the good ones will in a better position to discover something:

They want to talk to you. Or, they want to take action on making a change.

Mistake No. 3: Not Letting Them Ask You for the Meeting
Most likely, you are asking for the meeting too often and too early. Instead, let them ask you.

“When do we succeed? When we don’t need the sale,” says sales trainer Mia Doucet of CrackTheSalesCode.com. She would know. She’s helped her clients generate hundreds of millions in new customer sales.

Doucet says our instinctual need for validation (as humans) often causes confusion. We often let our weak, selfish need to get the deal sabotage our own effort.

For example, we sometimes ask for a meeting too soon. Instead, we should be more confident: “attracting” the meeting to us.

Let’s assume you can grab a prospect’s attention and hold it with your first email or InMail message. Reality is, you have a chance to earn their request for a meeting. Sure, you can ask them for the meeting. But what you really want is for them to ask you for it.

Don’t act like you need the sale so badly. You want the prospect to be attracted to you. They already know you are attracted to them. You just sent them an email, after all!

It’s Like a Date
At one time, you were probably on a hot date. Maybe you had one last night. Either way, when you’ve decided “I want to attract this person to me” you can go about getting what you want (the next step, the next date or phone call) in one of two ways: Asking for it or being asked.

Which do you like better? We all like being asked for the next step; it signals attraction on the other side.

Do you have prospects who are not yet aware that your solution exists? If so, they are probably happy with what they have in place. Or maybe your prospects are too scared to abandon or switch from what they have in place.

Or they may just plain not care about making any change whatsoever. It’s not worth the risk. In these cases you’re forced to attract customers in a “pull” manner.

Plan for What You Want: Curiosity
Attracting clients to you is mostly about deciding in advance what details to hold back (that the other side wants the most). Then, alluding to it in a seductive or provocative (yet credible) way. It’s this structuring of how you “say what you say” that sparks customers’ curiosity.

Often times clients want “the how.” So by letting out just a little of your very best stuff each time it’s your turn to speak you create more questions about yourself … or your thing (what you sell).

This keeps the other side asking you rather than the other way around. This ultimately creates a moment in time where the potential buyer realizes, hey, you are worth a larger time investment.

Just like that first date: You’ll get asked for your phone number or to meet again. But none of this happens without having a plan.

What do you think? What’s your plan?

Is It Time for a True Goodbye?

As I reflected on a client interaction I had this week, I thought about how helpful it is for organizations to learn from the past and then also to let go. I had facilitated a meeting where we tried to embrace failure not as life-over, but simply as feedback—to have a more positive outlook on the unplanned learning lessons that failure brings a brand. It was a tough sell. These young, smart, good-hearted brand builders were perfectionists. They only ever saw A+ on their report cards. Red Fs would have been scarring.

This morning we woke up to our first snow in the foothills of the Rockies. Even though it was only a light sprinkling—like powdered sugar on our lawn—it seemed entirely way too soon. We were not ready to say a goodbye to summer. We assumed we had a couple more weeks to enjoy patio dinners, the window boxes in full bloom and the hummingbirds on the feeders. We had to readjust.

Later in the day, I read this from Jeffrey McDaniel: “I realize there’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go.” I appreciated this advance lesson about winter … it helped me set my favorite season aside and anticipate the cozy fires in the woodstove, cross-country skiing and holiday family gatherings.

Many of my clients are multichannel retailers who introduce hundreds of new products in a season. Very few of these new rollouts become brand rockstars (as I call their bestsellers); many more end up in the middle of the performance pack and the rest trickle towards the bottom. This is a repeat pattern. I believe there is as much value in the bottom learnings as there are in the top-of-chart learnings. The conversations about the bestsellers are just more fun.

As I reflected on a client interaction I had this week, I thought about how helpful it is for organizations to learn from the past and then also to let go. I had facilitated a meeting where we tried to embrace failure not as life-over, but simply as feedback—to have a more positive outlook on the unplanned learning lessons that failure brings a brand. It was a tough sell. These young, smart, good-hearted brand builders were perfectionists. They only ever saw A+ on their report cards. Red Fs would have been scarring.

But, here’s the thing: Unplanned lessons are the exact opposite of lesson plans … those neat and tidy curriculum plans teachers try to follow until the students show up and things go awry. We often learn more from things that don’t quite go the way we hoped than things that do. If we dare to review our actions.

In a BusinessWeek article entitled “Radio Flyer Learns from a Crash,” Thomas Schlegel, VP for product development at Radio Flyer shared his thoughts on a product launch that was halted. After months of development and lots of production time and dollars, Schlegel scrapped it. “It didn’t live up to Radio Flyer standard,” he said. According to the article, “his boss, Robert Pasin, CEO, told Schlegel failure was OK as long as the company learned from it. Pasin now holds a regular breakfast for new employees at which he impresses upon them the idea that failure is inevitable if you want to innovate and valuable if you can learn from it. And after every project ends—whether the project has been shipped or been killed—Radio Flyer is developing what Schlegel describes as an ‘autopsy without blame,’ in which everyone involved in the development of a product discusses four questions: What went well on the project? What didn’t go well on the project? What did we learn? And, what are we going to do next?”

Author James Joyce gives us a new perspective on unplanned lessons: “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” Bravo to Radio Flyer. They made discoveries and acted on their volitional errors!

So, I switched gears in my client meeting and described to these Type A risk-averse professionals how another client actually embraces failures—publicly and light-heartedly. This company even had more than 300,000 customers take a tour of its flops: Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard. It’s a real live collection of 31 ice cream mistakes and missteps over the years memorialized for all to see.

Ellen Kresky, Creative Director for Ben & Jerry’s shares this: “One of my favorite things about Ben & Jerry’s is that we’re not afraid to acknowledge our shortcomings or failures to consumers. Take our Flavor Graveyard for example. We use it on our website, and you can actually go visit real tombstones at our Waterbury tour. The Flavor Graveyard features limericks to eulogize our flavor bombs. We even sell Flavor Graveyard t shirts. A few years ago we had a contest to bring consumers’ favorite flavor back from the dead for a limited time in scoop shops. A lot of us were secretly hoping that a flavor with a low gross margin would win so that consumers would benefit in more ways than one. And our wish came true. For me, this is an example of contrarian brand management. Projects like this help continue to build consumer love and trust, and manage to do that in an un-contrived way that stays true to our roots.”

I know it used to be a common practice for many multichannelers to take the time to have strategic post-mortem conversations evaluating a season’s results by sales channels (retail, on-line and catalog) and by customer segments. Product visual boards would be created and the nuances of what worked and what didn’t would be discussed along with promotional strategies and competitive tactics and offerings. In today’s attention deficit business culture where every one is chasing the next new thing, I’m afraid these important cross-departmental meetings have morphed into line item reports read individually and acted upon in silos. The subtle underlying threads of what didn’t work do not get fully analyzed and the real failure of this short cut practice is that similar mistakes get made again (and possibly again).

I am a proponent of serious, slow talk (like the Slow Food, Slow Travel and Slow Christmas movements!) post mortems where true learning and insights can occur. I have both led and participated in these with my clients and they work and are worth it. Stop and think time. Concentrated focus on the previous season’s happenings both for your brand and your customers’ experience with your brand. Free flow of information. Open agenda. Robust conversations. Potential surprise endings.

So, have you dared to slow down and look back with your brand team? Why not take time to better understand and collaboratively converse about your brand faux paus openly and then, and only then, bid them a true goodbye!

B-to-B Marketing Is Falling Down on the Job

I heard a horror story the other day—a consumer packaged goods executive ranting about a meeting with a vendor. “I gave the guy an appointment, and he spent the whole time presenting his product,” she said. “Never asked me a thing about my situation, and what I needed.” Another exec chimed in, “Yeah, when I hear about an interesting new solution, what I need most is to sell it internally. I’m not getting the help I need from the vendors these days.” I am cringing. What is going wrong here?

I heard a horror story the other day—a consumer packaged goods executive ranting about a meeting with a vendor. “I gave the guy an appointment, and he spent the whole time presenting his product,” she said. “Never asked me a thing about my situation, and what I needed.” Another exec chimed in, “Yeah, when I hear about an interesting new solution, what I need most is to sell it internally. I’m not getting the help I need from the vendors these days.” I am cringing. What is going wrong here?

Of course, my first thought was sales training. Clearly the reps in these situations need a training refresher—and stronger management, and possibly an improved incentive compensation plan—to handle the engagement more effectively.

But I also cringed at the marketing failure. We marketers should be helping with these sales opportunities, to increase their chance of success.

So, herewith, I set down a list of oft-forgotten B-to-B marketing imperatives.

  1. Marketing’s Role Is to Provide Sales Support
    Unlike consumer-facing companies (where marketing owns the P&L and sales is one of its levers) in B-to-B, sales typically owns revenue responsibility. Our job in marketing is to make sales more productive. It’s a mindset that doesn’t come naturally to marketers. And some would debate this interpretation of marketing’s role. But when a sales rep goes in to a meeting without the tools needed to close, it’s marketing’s failure as much as anyone’s.
  2. Provide Sales With the Tools They Need
    This means presentations that can be easily tailored to target industries, and particular target accounts. It means pre-call preparation documents—company history, personnel backgrounders, installed technology analyses. And a library of content assets the sales rep can choose from, filled with white papers, research reports, case studies, infographics, videos and e-books.
  3. Prove the ROI on Your Solution
    Marketing must gather the data—and the stories—to prove the value of the product or service to the prospect. This might mean independent third-party research. It also means case studies, ROI calculators—whatever points can help the internal advocate represent the project inside the firm.
  4. Resist the Plea From Sales to Pass Unqualified Leads
    I’ve made this point before. But it bears repeating. Some sales people will claim that everything going on in their territory is their business, and there’s logic to that. But if you let them know that a mere inquiry came in from an account in their territory, and they pounce, only to find it unworkable, you know darn well what you’ll hear from sales: “The leads marketing gives me are useless.” A legitimate complaint. But the even more important consequence here: Marketing has failed to enhance sales productivity.
  5. Be Careful How You Promote Marketing Success
    If marketing is heard in meetings to claim responsibility for a certain level of revenue, watch out. Sales is making the same claim. So you might want to couch it in ice hockey terms, like an “assist.” And take full responsibility for interim metrics like cost per lead, and lead-to-sales conversion rates, which are more in the direct control of marketing.

I hope readers will comment on other imperatives for successful B-to-B marketing today.

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