5 Steps to a Data-Driven Conference & Trade Show Strategy

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Event marketing consumes the majority of energy and technology companies' marketing budgets. Based on MG's benchmark research, 44 percent of companies plan to attend ten or more events each year. So, as energy marketers, how do we choose where to go and when to repeat events? And how we do best determine event ROI since these events are consuming so much of the budget?

The bullish view of events is reflected in our data, which shows that 78 percent of energy B2B marketers rate events as an “excellent” lead generation opportunity. Yet, ironically, only 29 percent of those same participants actually track and measure hard “leads” from events! Understanding what constitutes as an event “lead” and how event KPIs are determined has become more unclear as duties within marketing and sales roles have begun to fuse. As a result, MG sees a repeated tendency towards subjective rationalization and an over-inflation of the value of events after the fact. The salesperson who suggested an event is rarely the same individual who declares it a failure and decides it shouldn’t be attended again.

MG’s same benchmark study data shows that more than a fourth of companies repeat events “pro forma” year after year without much thought, simply because their competitors are attending. Another quarter of our study participants default entirely to the sales channel in determining what events to attend without a data-driven strategy to determine and measure goals before and after the fact. This presents a huge improvement opportunity for energy B2B marketers who often report to their sales department and are hesitant to challenge the event status quo generally driven by the channel.

Here are five simple steps that marketers can take to build towards a more proactive and data-driven approach to event planning for the future:

1. Take a Methodical Pulse of Sales/Marketing: When analyzing the future event mix, beyond considering the strategic role an event plays in your integrated marketing plan, consider documenting internal stakeholder feedback in an objective, data-centric survey framework. Ensure the responses are confidential and consolidated when reported, so people feel free to be completely open. While you are at it, ask sales about what else can be done in the way of event tactics to improve integrated event ROI. We have seen this approach help remove subjectivity and gain more balanced input from across sales.

2. Demand Data from Event Organizers: Even if you attended an event months ago, ask the organizers for post-event data, like post-attendee satisfaction surveys, attendee demographic breakdowns and totals by audience type. Additionally, if included in what you bought, ask them for a post-event final attendees list. If they balk, or are slow to reply, note this prominently in your evaluation. If you gathered any basic data from past events, such as total booth attendees/registrations, use these to determine your effective booth visit conversion rates from each past event. If you have the database of those who visited your booth, break it down and meet with sales to determine what contacts are considered “leads” and note the totals from each event.

3. Build an Event Evaluative Model: First, consider the overall role events play within your marketing program plan and create a simple weighted model in Excel to reflect this. If “leads” or “prospect touch points” are your main reason for investment in events, this should be fairly straightforward. Using the data from points one and two, populate your model and stack rank events based on your ongoing event criteria and your internally gathered benchmarks. If a conference is not drawing a sufficient volume of people from your target buying audience, resist the temptation to rationalize. Remember this is about doing an objective exercise and removing as much subjectivity as possible. Plus, eliminating poor performers from your event plan will allow you to invest in more programming and tactics to improve the results from those events that rank the highest, further goosing your ROI from the ones that are best.

4. Pulse Your Customers/Market: In your next customer survey, consider including your potential events for the coming year for feedback. Ask which ones your customers/prospects consider as a “must attend” and which they see only as “possibilities.” Seek to understand what your customers/prospects aim to gain from attending to ensure you line up your event plan accordingly. Add this data to your stack ranking process/model when you have it.

5. Partner with Sales to Agree on Value Measurement/KPIs: Now that you have built an informed and data-focused list of possible events for the upcoming year, it’s time to infuse some forward thinking.

• What is the goal of each event?

• Is the event mainly for brand awareness/presence or are the goals specific to lead generation or funnel development or both?

If your sales team insist a brand-new event is a “must attend” we suggest auditing the event first to understand its value and ensure it’s not a waste of marketing budget. Now proactively set defined goals and measurable KPIs for every single event, including number of booth visits/meetings, number of current/known prospect visits, number of brand new “leads”, “cost per lead”, “cost per visit”, etc.

As you re-engage sales to review the results of your analysis, consider making advanced sales meetings/bookings at the booth/conference a requirement to attend shows. This may require buy-ins from executive sales leadership and it may result in some pushback from your sales team, but hold your ground. The real work to make an event a success happens well before anyone boards a plane or books their air travel. And most of the best selling opportunities happen over dinners and lunches, not at the booth.

Using these five steps, marketers who typically find themselves in the disjointed annual sales and marketing “event planning scrum” without much data to work with, can take charge and lead their teams towards more event ROI and a more proactive, well-measured view of event success.

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