The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital. Nowhere is that more apparent than e-commerce. Bazaarvoice reports that e-commerce orders across its network of over 6,200 brand and retailer sites had increased by an astounding 57% in June, year-over-year.
While online shopping has has become more popular during the pandemic, business conferences, which serve to connect vendors to prospective clients, have suffered. Virtual event speakers and sponsors these days find themselves using video conferencing apps to connect to a faceless audience of unknown size and level of interest. What once was a reliable way of meeting new people has become about as engaging as your typical webinar.
Webinars are effective at distributing thought leadership, but they are no replacement for handshakes and exchanges of business cards over cocktails, dinner, or a networking break. In other words, the virtualization of business conferences for the most part has made lead generation harder.
In response to this, most event organizers have tried to attract more attendees. One such event organizer told me that their attendance had increased by seven-fold since going virtual. Based on my experience having sponsored several virtual events, though, increased attendance has not produced more leads.
I decided to do something about this problem. During the pandemic, I have executed three virtual events, all without a sponsorship. Each one cost about one-tenth a typical sponsorship, and yet they produced more qualified leads. Here’s how:
- Think small: A lead gen-focused virtual event should aim to recreate the conversational dynamics of a networking break. That means keeping things cozy. Also, the more people who attend video conference calls, the more likely they will mute their microphones and turn off their cameras. The result: not much conversation. Aspire to invite no more than 20-30 of the right people instead.
- Limit to one hour: It’s much easier for attendees to commit to just an hour. Aim for a 10-15 minute opening session, followed by two or three breakout sessions, each with a separate topic. Plan for each breakout to last 40 minutes, with no more than 10 minutes of content presented at the onset. The remaining 30 minutes should be all about conversation, just as you’d expect during an in-person cocktail hour. That leaves five minutes to wrap up before sending everyone on their way.
- Build a relevant agenda: Be useful. For inspiration, consider the news making headlines in your industry. Research keywords or phrases that your customers are searching for. Plan for one main theme, and then a few separate sub-topics your attendees can explore in each of the three breakout sessions.
- Prominently feature your customers and partners: Once you’ve built an agenda, recruit customers or partners to deliver the insights you’ll need to execute the agenda. They may be flattered to participate, and they’re more likely to attract your sales prospects than if you staff the event with your coworkers.
- Use Zoom Rooms: Zoom Rooms allow larger groups of participants to separate seamlessly into virtual breakout sessions. With a couple of keystrokes, you can assign every attendee to a breakout room, and then usher them back together. This will allow you to take an event of, say, 25 attendees, and break them into groups of six of seven. That’s a perfect size for conversation. Invite one colleague to host each breakout room. I recommend your coworkers in Sales, though they won’t be there to sell.
- No selling: At least, not overtly. The goal is to start a relationship, not to pitch. If you can make an authentic connection, then think of how much easier it will be to follow the virtual conference with an email or phone call suggesting a dedicated sales meeting?
- Record everything: Zoom and other video conference apps allow you to record the content of the meeting. The content and insights you’ll get will be valuable, starting the very next day.
- Prompt follow up: The day after, breakout sessions host should send individualized notes to every attendee. Include a link to the recording and any presentations that were shared. Also be sure to contact those who RSVPed “yes” but did not attend.
I cannot wait for live events to return, but in the meantime, it’s good to know that virtual conferences can still help you achieve your lead generation goals.
How have you adapted to the virtualization of industry conferences? Share your experience in the comment section.