2020 was on track to being the best year yet for most businesses. Buyer confidence was high, and the proven methods of sales and marketing were working. However, the COVID-19 pandemic brought that to a screeching halt. Buyer confidence plummeted, and most companies are in survival mode.
The important question, really, is what does survival mode mean? Does it mean that your business shuts down all efforts for expansion, or does it mean you fight even harder to grow your business with more creativity?
The “proven method” of hosting events is perhaps the sales and marketing effort that has been hit the hardest. Hosting events, whether it is trade show or a national sales meeting, has become not only difficult but illegal in some cases. For smart and nimble sales and marketing professionals, this is an obstacle that can be overcome.
In a time where most internal meetings are had over video chat (see: the endless stream of Zoom memes), why can’t we turn trade shows and national sales meetings into virtual conferences? What are the keys to making every virtual event successful?
One of the most under-planned and underestimated aspects of in-person events is the social component. The person-to-person connections that are made at events often produce more solid relationships than any sales pitch. How can those be replicated virtually?
The real key to this is that it needs to be natural. How are you connecting with the people in your personal life? What methods of communication seem organic? Pre- and post-event communication facilitation is key.
Start a Slack channel for attendees, or a LinkedIn group, and post and engage often. Share helpful content, but also content that makes your participants feel at ease with the process, like industry-related memes or funny (and SFW!) videos that deal with the common experience of working from home. Make it easy for people to engage and feel included!
Make virtual real.
More often than not, your participants fall into one of two categories: they are ordering so many things from Amazon that they are forgetting what is showing up to their house every day, or they are strictly not ordering anything unnecessary at all.
Either way, receiving a gift, unprompted, from the sales or marketing team that is excited to include them in an upcoming event will be welcomed and appreciated. And, likely, posted on social media (free press!).
Sending all attendees a pre-show package (like this one from Microsoft) allows people to enter into the virtual event feeling confident about the experience. Bonus points for including a branded badge like the one in that package!
Choose the right event platform for hosting a virtual event.
It’s important to reach people how they want to be reached, to speak to them the way they want to be spoken to. Is your event going to be mostly older C-Level Executives? Providing a WhatsApp group is probably not the best way to engage with them, and planning networking events during the time when they are trying to have dinner with their families is not going to be successful.
Trying to engage with Millennials and Gen Z? Providing them with a mobile-first experience with a lot of opportunities to navigate independently is probably your best bet for engagement. Send them a cocktail kit for a virtual happy hour to encourage social interaction! Use event technology that provides a platform for smaller group chats to really get the networking started.
If you don’t want to invest too heavily in the technological platform to facilitate your virtual event before actually hosting one, you can pull most of this off with free or low-cost programs. A combination of Zoom, Houseparty, Slack, and LinkedIn can accomplish most of these goals. Bonus points for a Netflix watch party!
Follow up and follow through.
What is the goal or marketing strategy of your event? Is it a virtual trade show designed for lead generation? Is it a company-wide meeting designed to build company culture and disseminate new information? Is it a strategic planning session for your top-level executives?
No matter what the goal is, follow up is key to pushing that agenda forward.
Often, events are so jam-packed with information that attendees leave feeling energized, but without a specific direction. Provide recordings of sessions and message board highlights so that the information gleaned from the event is easy to find and easy to reference.
Building a post-virtual event landing page is a great way to keep people engaged and coming back for the valuable information that you provided. Hubspot does a great job of this with their Inbound Event.
If you have made some valuable connections, don’t be afraid to send them a follow-up gift! Swag.com has some great ideas for ready-made gifts for high-value clients that you can use throughout the year.
The bottom line is that each new obstacle that the pandemic presents to sales and marketing professionals is an opportunity to flex our creative muscles and find opportunities where there were none before. Focusing on the attendee experience for online conferences and virtual events is the best way to get some real time ROI. With the right attitude and focus, this can be a great chance for growth!