Customer Conference Outcomes: It’s Harder Than You Think
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Customer conferences are back, and attendance is strong! The brief hiatus to virtual events didn’t hold up as a viable option. And the data proves it out. More than 70% of event planners say it’s too difficult to mimic a real-life experience virtually, and 67% say the brand narrative doesn’t come through. And that’s why 98% are back in convention centers, ballrooms and other venues to drive their marketing strategies.
But it’s a little different this time around.
Historically, the customer conferences belonged to the marketing team. They built the hype and positioned new products and ideas on a big budget with lots of bells and whistles to create a fun event. Sales jumped in post-conference and scheduled customer conversations and visits to generate an opportunity. The marketing investment was measured by attendance, customer fun and sales follow-up.
In the last year, sales leaders learned the hard way that conference expectations have to go up.
In-person sales meetings have plummeted by 52% since the pandemic, and over 70% of buyers no longer want to invite a sales rep into an office. The “pitch” has been reduced to a virtual format and is easily delayed or stalled until a company is ready to buy something. That diminishes the sales team’s ability to pick up where the conference ideas wrap up, and in many cases, it eliminates an opportunity for a positioning conversation.
That may be why groups are disappointed in the gap between the event investment and the sales revenue. It doesn’t mean the events aren’t a good use of marketing dollars. But it does mean that focus and format may shift as expectations go up.
As your group begins to think about 2024 conferences, now is the time to add a new lens on your event and adjust expectations with your planning team. And that’s where we’ve jumped in to help sales and marketing teams rethink their conference to ensure outcomes are more than just fun and games.
From our perspective, there are three opportunities for connection: messaging, people and takeaways.
CONNECT THE MESSAGES:
All companies work on themes and topics. But only a few really connect the dots across all the storylines. In most companies, marketing sets a plan and then hands topics to presenters and gives them general direction to build their talk track. When communication teams get involved, the keynotes improve but the thread of ideas across breakouts, demo sessions and all presenters is rarely evident.
That used to just be a lofty ideal state. But now, it’s the only way to ensure that messages are memorable and repeatable. You’re arming the conference attendees with thoughts that they will need to recall months later to consider your salesperson.
It’s aligning all presenters to a narrow group of messages that support a theme. It means that each portion of the conference builds on what came before it rather than heading in a different direction. And it works. Companies that we’ve helped link all pieces together see better results in continuing conversations and generating sales.
CONNECT THE ATTENDEES:
This seems like an easy one, but your customers find it harder to walk into a setting where they don’t know people. And even when they’re on site, they make choices not to do it.
You can host a cocktail hour, but you won’t see the easy engagement from a few years ago. We’ve learned this the hard way as small group programs came back on our calendar. People are more reticent to jump in and network. It’s been an awkward reset that hasn’t happened easily.
You have to organize and plan connection. You have to impose opportunities on people. And you have to put small groups together with a purpose. Mini events inside planned events make it easier. Time and time again, we see that people like a plan for fitting in, and they respond well to an activity to do with a small group.
We’ve seen the “miss on connection” play out many times. Earlier this year, we were on-site for a conference that included evening events. In hindsight, the marketing team realized there was little communication about plans for the first night’s dinner. They invited people with a time and location, but they didn’t say anything about what would happen when you arrived. And that’s probably why 65% of their attendees didn’t show up. The marketing team was shocked, and the CEO was mad. I’d seen this hesitancy before and suggested a different approach for the second night. Through light-hearted comments from the CEO, we added details for the second night and shared plans for assigned seating, planned discussion and activity. 95% of their attendees showed up the second night.
Take the hesitancy and awkwardness out of joining in. Make it easy for people to lean in and feel included during the conference.
CONNECT THE TAKEAWAYS:
Once the conference begins and a group settles in, your on-site team needs to work much harder to frame the next steps while your customers are there. This can work in conjunction with a plan to impose engagement. But it often takes a structured plan and a little coaching to help your team execute this.
You need to take advantage of your customers’ willingness to spend 2.5 days with you. You won’t get it again any time soon. Create a 10:1 ratio between people attending and people you have on-site. Leverage every employee to run a playbook that helps you get two steps ahead with needs, ideas and timetables with customers.
Sales teams show up at conferences and see their lead role as entertaining. That’s too low of an expectation. You need to be able to forecast, prioritize and strategize based on the insights you get at the conference. Rotate your top people through these groups and find ways to gather good insight and timing on a customer’s plans in the months ahead.
All conferences use apps, but you may not be leveraging all the capabilities available. You can build small groups in apps; you can change small groups in apps. And you can send a personalized agenda to each attendee every night. It may seem overwhelming to manage hundreds or thousands of attendees. But your employees can easily manage a group of ten. Test different ways to engage and different times throughout the conference for 1:1 conversations.
Conferences are at an all-time high, and customers are showing up in record numbers. But your sales team needs more than just interest and entertainment as a takeaway. It’s a different playbook that drives the ultimate connection through messages, people and takeaways. And we can help you get there.
Let us be your sounding board as conference planning gets underway.
Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!