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What to do when your event is failing to attract delegates – part two

Categories: Best Practice

Emergency event turnaround… OK, so you’re reading this a little late (see part one of this post on getting events right first time) and you’ve sent out email blasts and mailers in the thousand to your event about version′s new grey button and the takers aren’t exactly flooding in. Or, you think you’ve done everything right and you honestly can’t understand why things are just not going your way. Your sales team needs the leads and all eyes are on you; what to do?

Appraise your event very critically. What’s not working? Is the timing a challenge (it could be school holidays). Is the content not chiming well (did the last big industry conference already cover your topic in the same way?) Ideally you don’t want to second guess this – call a few of the non-takers and ask them honestly why they don’t want to attend. Focus on the area they are outlining: it’s normally to do with content (interest factor), speakers (authority/scarcity) or convenience (they can’t get there, or it’s too much effort to get there). Download this free event countdown tool to help you with timings.

B2B events: tip sheet 2. Rescue rangers

  1. Boost the interest factor
    Unless you’ve booked your event on a remote island, the primary reason for poor take up is likely to be poor content. Any business event featuring Richard Branson or Derren Brown is going to be full. Why? Yes, the cachet of their names and fame, but they are famous because of the quality of their content. Branson on his life story and business approach, Derren for psychological tricks and persuasion techniques. It doesn’t matter if your speakers aren’t known but you need to market their interest factor and reason for having authority in the field just as much as you need to stress the quality of the content. Plus, on the day, the speakers need to live up to the hype otherwise you’ll have a full event but not a great one that makes people keep coming back. Seth Godin makes a great point in his blog about ensuring if you are going to get people to come, the event’s really worthwhile.Be deliberately provocative in the communications if you can. You might consider retitling the event. The B2B IT industry loves its long words. To engage interest, think tabloid headlines for your event title and presentation titles. “Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster” is infinitely better than “Previously Little-Known British Comedian Digests Small Captive Rodent”. Our last event was called “The Naked Decision Maker” (but we could easily have called it “How The Recipients of Your Marketing Activity Perceive It.” You can look to TV formats for inspiration; Dragon’s Den, Big Brother, The Weakest Link.
  2. Swap out the speakers
    Add a new speaker, or change the one(s) you have. If any of the presentations look like a pitch, take them out or refocus them. Use the change as an opportunity to recommunicate with the audience. “New speaker added, the author of the book “Killer Outsourcing” Bob Peters, who also writes the #1 blog on outsourcing.”
  3. Make it more convenient
    If the event date, timing or location is an issue for everyone, or the majority, change it. You can change the date if you need to, but often simply switching from morning to evening or a full day to a half day can really help. Change the format, condense the timing into a rapid-fire learning session. People prefer punchy 20 minute presentations over 1 hour marathons every time. Can you shorten it? Consider offering two places/bring a colleague; some people don’t want to attend on their own. If it’s a high profile event and you can afford it, consider offering free transport to and/or from the event. If you can’t change the date but some key contacts can’t make it, give them a call and ask (a) whether you can bring the content to them (b) whether the content would be of interest to anyone in the company.
  4. Make it sound unmissable
    People are insecure at heart. Give them reasons they can’t afford to miss it. The “No FT, No Comment” approach. Tell them that they will hear something for the first time at the event. Explain what tools they will be given that will help them do their jobs better. Create a list of other organisations who are already attending the event ie, if it’s a retail focused event say, “Senior representatives from Tesco, Boots and Starbucks have already secured their places.” Consider adding job titles too, if seniority is an issue.
  5. Make it easier to sign up
    Amazing how many invitations demand the recipient to make a phone call to book a space at the event. Add more response mechanisms to the emails. Fax backs still get a great response from a senior audience in the UK; it’s easy for the exec to tick “yes” or “no” and get the PA to fax it back. Give your sales team a quota to bring a couple of people each.

If all else fails, don’t fret. Some excellent events are run with few delegates; it does encourage better debate. Relook at the format to add further opportunity for debate and questions. If you’re worried about the room looking too empty and you can’t change it, think of creative uses for the other half of the room and make it look like you meant to do that all along. (Exhibition area, demos, TV room, breakout area, coffee and Wifi areas for example)

If you only have one or two signed up the a few days before, cancel the event and make appointments to see signed up delegates individually to run in house events for them and their teams. These appointments can often be extremely fruitful. At The Marketing Practice, we often find that we gather as many sales-ready leads among people that can’t attend an event as from registered delegates but only with a well thought-through offer as part of a complete strategy wider than any specific event.

No comments | Posted by Lindsay Willott | August 29, 2008

What to do when your event is failing to attract delegates – part one

Categories: Best Practice

Ahhh, the joy of being Steve Jobs. You mention that you’ll be launching your latest ithing at an upcoming event and there isn’t a seat left in the house (or a dry eye). No worries here about delegate numbers or drop out rates. But what about the rest of us in B2B marketing, organising our own events selling the latest middleware or systems integration services? Recent research shows that IT decision makers only attend about 5 events per year (download the research paper here for free). How are you going to convince them to come to yours?

But I love a good event. Events are great galvanisers of marketing action. Where direct campaigns can slip and lose traction, there’s nothing like a deadline at which people have to stand up in public to ensure the marketing gets out there. And they generate great leads and relationships.

I’ll cover two things this week. Today some thoughts on stopping the “there’s two weeks left to go and we’ve got 6 people signed up” from happening in the first place. Tomorrow, what to do if this is happening to you right now. If you’re thinking about organising an event, try this simple event countdown tool. (Event Countdown Tool)

Getting events right first time, every time

If you believe that your proposition alone won’t cut the mustard to get the right people along, something else needs to do it. Don’t think about marketing the event in terms of drilling home what your latest widget can do, think about what will make it a truly compelling and interesting event for the audience and go from there. Put on a show.

If version of your product isn’t going to materially change their world (or more importantly, if it’s impossible to genuinely convince them it’s going to via direct marketing) don’t make it the focus of your event.

B2B events: tip sheet 1. Right first time

  1. People first, not product
    Think about the audience. What kind of people are they? Do they like networking or not? Do they want to play with the latest technology or learn about global business themes? What’s preoccupying them? What’s their biggest challenge? What do they want to learn? Who do they want to meet? What’s been written in their market recently that they want to understand more about? Find up-and-coming authors or bloggers in your field, they can cost a lot less in speakers’ fees than you think.
  2. Think Amex Black card
    Everyone wants and is intrigued by the “invitation only” Amex Black card. Can you really buy a Rolls Royce Phantom on it? Do they even exist? People want to come to events that feel more exclusive, which are hard to get into, or at which something is being given away that feels scarce. For example, Stephen Worchel’s pyschological experiment into the desirability of scarce things found that when there were only a few cookies in the jar they were rated as more desirable than cookies with plenty in the jar. Cialdini who writes on the psychology of persuasion says, “The joy is not in experiencing a scarce commodity but in possessing it. What can you do to make the event feel exclusive? What can they get if they come to the event (and only from the event)?
  3. Stage an experience, not a powerpoint endurance challenge
    Can the event itself be an event? Innocent Smoothies knows that people won’t get out of bed purely to drink a smoothie at an event, so they create an annual Innocent Village Fete. It’s a mini open-air concert, and they get to own, sponsor and tailor the whole experience. I’ve seen great business events themed as the “summer of love”, or a 1920s speakeasy. Can you give your event a compelling theme? We use an S&M theme in our quarterly Sales & Marketing forum events, and theme the invites with rubber boots and ropes, book a sleek and sexy hotel and have even invented our own S&M Cocktail (Here’s the recipe: S&M Cocktail.doc). You can take inspiration from web 2.0 and get the audience suggesting what they want to hear on the day: get them emailing in.
  4. Nine out of ten audience members who expressed a preference said they preferred content
    You are asking people to take a significant chunk out of their working day. They don’t want to be pitched at. You’re reading this because you want to learn something (you lovely foolish individual) not because you want to buy something from me. Of course you’ll buy in time (oh yes you will), but first you want to check out whether it’s worth your while. Your audience will be no different. Look back at step one and craft great content delivered by speakers in authority. What will your audience learn on the day that will help them do their job better? Reinforce this on the invite. Look at best-selling “how to” books and copy the style on the back cover in your invitation material. i.e at this event, you will learn how to do X, Y Z
  5. Leave plenty of time
    Pity the senior executive and their time-poor diaries. Their endless round of conference calls and meetings means that you need to leave at least 12 weeks from invitations going out to the day of the event (also allows for the corrective actions in part two of this post if things go wrong.) Mix up your comms channels as you go, some email, some by hand from the sales team, some via the post, altering the messaging on each and measuring the inbound response. PS. It is almost impossible to convince someone on the phone to attend an event if they’ve already decided not to. And you shouldn’t be trying it, you’ll damage your reputation. So don’t bash the phones in an attempt to get more delegates. You should go for a teleservice approach instead. A lot of people set the invite to one side before deciding whether to attend and it gets buried. So on the phone just say I’m calling to check you received the invite OK and to find out whether you’re planning on coming or not? If you’re not planning on attending, is there someone else in your organisation I should send an invite to?”
  6. Don’t overlook networking opportunities
    At one of our recent events networking was rated as one of the major reasons delegates attended. Build networking opportunities into your events where at all possible. Perhaps a few beers in buckets at the end of the event, speed-business dating or a full scale cocktail party. Leave time for it. Consider how you might be able to facilitate it online through your own website, or if the events are regular, or user-group based, how you can use social networking tools liked LinkedIn or Facebook.
  7. Sweep up the nos and the no-shows
    If someone can’t come or doesn’t turn up on the day that shouldn’t preclude them from your marketing efforts. Before the event, if they say no during the follow up, offer them an opportunity for someone to come to their office and share some of the best content with them. After the event, offer the nos and the no shows an audio CD of the best presentations for their car, or a document outlining the major new points discussed. Put edited excerpts on YouTube and provide a link from your site and send emails directing them to it.
No comments | Posted by Lindsay Willott | August 28, 2008

Is web 2.0 useful for the B2B marketer?

Categories: Uncategorized

I have to say, I had my reservations up until fairly recently. Do senior decision makers at major organisations really read blogs and join online communities? Well, the answer is that some do (minority) and some don’t (majority) – but either way it’s missing the point. Why? Because web 2.0 techniques are all about helping people find information they want, rather than interrupting what they are already doing.

Whilst the majority of people might not join online communities, or actively post on blogs, I can pretty much guarantee that they are out there right now looking for information from the internet. Newsletters, blogs, websites, podcasts, white papers – all being rifled through by members of your target audience trying to make presentations, back up business cases and find statistics to help them make decisions. And web 2.0 techniques are a great way of making sure your content is found and circulated.

One of the major influences in changing my mind has been David Meerman Scott’s excellent book “The New Rules of Marketing & PR”.  He talks a lot of sense and applies classic marketing practice to a new channel.

As a quick way into his book and his thinking, it’s worth downloading his free ebook on viral marketing from his blog.

3 comments | Posted by Lindsay Willott | August 11, 2008

Seven things to do with a happy customer

Categories: Best Practice

You’ve won the deal, delivered the project, delighted the customer. But don’t let it stop there (or with a simple testimonial) Here are a few things that have worked time and again to build on that first success.

  1. Make them even happier – maybe handing out a medal (I successfully implemented company X’s CRM solution and no-one was mortally wounded) is going too far, but celebrating a good project is rarer than you think and the right touch can turn everyone on the customer’s team into advocates for life
  2. Get them into the public eye - speaking at a conference or interviewed by a journalist alongside one of your consultants (don’t forget to send the resulting article direct to your prospects)
  3. Create a reference pack - not just the standard press release or case study, but the podcast, video, ppt slide
  4. Build a “drag and drop” proposition – Use this ideal customer as a model to find other organisations and people that match their profile (size, industry, situation): chances are this will uncover a raft of great prospects, then build a creative door-opener to start the conversation about your proposition
  5. Run a proper reference site event - rather than ask them every month to run a reference visit for a single prospect, hold an event on their site for 15 prospects (they will like it if it raises their profile and also cuts down on the ad-hoc reference requests)
  6. Make them the foundation of your web 2.0 activity – turn the case study into a proper narrative, war stories and all, that people will really want to read/hear/watch/discuss
  7. Sell more to them - keep them up to date with great, pertinent content (our research shows that decision-makers look to existing suppliers as their top channel for information), and build a strategy around them to expand out within the account (for a how-to guide, see this post on account-based marketing)

The big thing I’ve learnt is not to be nervous about asking the occasional favour from a satisfied client: it only ever seems to strengthen the relationship, flatter the customer, uncover a new opportunity or help them raise their profile within their profession.

The key to keeping the happy customer happy is to continue that thoughtfulness you apply to bid situations beyond the bid. And don’t forget, a happy customer is a retented customer…

3 comments | Posted by Lindsay Willott | August 10, 2008

Where to begin with account-based marketing?

Categories: Best Practice

I wanted to highlight a new set of tools that are posted at http://www.themarketingpractice.com/practices/account-based-marketing.php.

It is fairly easy to buy into the theory behind account-based marketing (ABM): companies can make a lot more out of their existing clients, and marketing has a major role to play in driving this revenue.

But every project needs to start somewhere. Which accounts to focus on? How to gather intelligence on them? How to convert this intelligence into actionable marketing activities that support sales? My favourite tool is the ‘wheel of death’ that highlights the range of options available for companies looking to pursue account-based marketing all the way from profiling target organisations and decision-makers, through selecting the relevant propositions, to 7 different kinds of communication activity.

ABM Wheel


One piece of advice: don’t stop with gathering intelligence on target accounts (the more theoretical approach to account-based marketing). The real results from ABM come when marketing actively gets in touch with decision-makers.

3 comments | Posted by Lindsay Willott | August 3, 2008