We know, we know… events cost money and securing management buy-in to host them can be difficult to attain, but there’s a reason events are often the top expense in the marketing budget (just be sure to measure the ROI to continue to prove their value… the results speak for themselves!). They can help create and move opportunities through your pipeline faster, enforce a positive workplace culture and image, and keep your customers engaged and excited to be working with you. Whether you’re just getting started or are continuing to fine-tune your event strategy, here are the 5 event categories you should consider incorporating into your annual marketing plan:
1. The Launch Event
Launching a new product or service? Have you recently upgraded or enhanced an existing one? A launch event can be an effective way to make a splash with your user base and a great reason to engage prospects in your pipeline.
If you’re on a tighter budget, consider hosting a group of customers and prospects in your office. You can deliver a brief presentation and overview of the launch for all guests and then break out into a demo space for folks to have a more hands on experience. Make sure you have plenty of product folks in the room to be able to answer questions. And while the product is the main attraction, you still want to make it fun. Offer snacks and beverages, tie it to a theme, play some music (low volume, don’t be afraid!) in the background during demo / networking time, and your guests will appreciate the extra step and not feel like you’re just trying to sell them one more thing.
Don’t have a big enough space, and have some budget to spare? Book a private room at a restaurant or a lounge space in a hotel -- this can be a nice perk for your guests and depending on the venue, it may be what gets them to show up. Alternatively, the launch event can be grouped in with your company’s user conference if you host one, which can serve as your product launch platform. This is a great way to make a splash on a broader scale with a built-in audience.
Timing: 1-2 per year
2. The Field Marketing Event
A field event allows your sales team to engage directly with prospects, move your pipeline forward, and ultimately result in a faster sales cycle. We can’t stress enough how impactful these events can be if done right. This means setting the right tone with your outreach and event agenda, and also understanding your buyer personas and pipeline in order to get the right audience in the room.
These events can be as small or as big as you’d like them to be, however, coming up with a plan early on in the year is a great way to ensure you execute on them. Bigger events and roadshows do require planning in advance so trying to pull one together 3-4 weeks ahead of the anticipated date is a huge undertaking and not the best use of your time. By better understanding and evaluating your pipeline and personas, as well as company and sales goals, you’ll be able to come up with a list of target cities to host your events well in advance.
If you’re just starting out, plan to host a few per quarter in regions with huge opportunity. By creating an attractive agenda, you may get folks to fly, drive, or take the train from nearby cities. For example, say you have a ton of opportunity in New England -- hosting a free, half-day event in Boston with several speakers (they don’t just have to be from your company) followed by a fun evening networking event or outing, may see higher turnout than a one-hour lunch meeting. It’s just a big enough commitment that it’s worth the trip - a lunch or happy hour isn’t going to get you that.
And remember, just because these events are primarily for closing, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invite customers. Customers can be your best advocates providing valuable insight to prospects, and they can also grow with your business as you launch or evolve your product.
Timing: 2-4 per quarter
3. The Customer Event
Getting the customer to sign on the dotted line is a huge achievement, but maintaining their loyalty and excitement to be using your product is a whole other challenge in and of itself. Keeping your customers happy goes beyond getting them to use your product, it means providing them with opportunities to learn, improve, network, and even have some fun. Outside of webinars and online trainings, user events can take form as conferences, roadshows, or more informal gatherings such as happy hours and dinners.
You can take it a step further by creating a Customer Advisory Board (CAB). This can be a group of representatives from a mix of your customers. They can be a blend of your top users, as well as those who want to use your product more, but not until a few bugs have been fixed or features added. Their feedback is crucial to your product management team and a way for marketing and sales to keep tabs on the pulse of the customer’s happiness. Don’t forget to treat your CAB like the VIPs that they are, incorporating surprise tokens and exclusive perks can go a long way!
Timing: 2-4 per year
4. The Employee Event
Your largest investment is likely to be the people that make your company function: your employees! Showing them some love and appreciation helps your team feel motivated and excited to be working for your company. Everyone needs a break now and then and these events let your team get together, bond, and ultimately work better together. What's better than that?! These events can range from small, informal gatherings to larger, more organized ones. And while they are typically organized by HR/People Operations, event teams often get pulled in to assist and help make them as seamless as possible. Good culture isn’t built overnight after all and it really does take a village. Here are a few examples of what you can do for your employees:
- Team building: This can be as simple as a dinner out, breakfast with your team at a nearby cafe, cutting out a little early to attend a happy hour, or playing a game or doing an activity together at the local park. It doesn't have to be outside the office, but getting out does help people relax and not feel like they're still on the clock.
- Annual bash: This can be a broader team outing or it can be an event for the entire company, like a holiday or New Years party, or even an anniversary / company birthday celebration.
- Recruiting event: You may be wondering how a recruiting event fits into celebrating your employees... allow me to explain. Throwing an after work event for employees could be a good time to attract new employees. Recruiting events shouldn't just include, well, recruiters. They should include people who love working for the company, from different departments that can help evaluate potential candidates. This event should be in addition to employee-only gatherings, but it's one that shows your employees you care what they think and respect their judgement in helping grow the company. It could even be an exclusive perk or incentive for your team to be able to attend.
- Other suggestions: A sales & marketing kickoff, an engineering & product offsite, a finance all-hands, a month end sales celebration... you get the idea!
Timing: 1-3 per quarter
5. The Investor / Board Event
Whether you’re an early stage, a venture-backed startup, or a post-IPO company, show your backers and board some love by hosting an event to thank them for their continued investment and insight. These don’t have to be big or expensive events (#CFOapproved). They can coincide with your quarterly earnings and board meetings, which are typically scheduled well in advance and are already on the calendar. We’ve hosted a cocktail reception with heavy hors d’oeuvres for 20 people, brought in a private chef, and had some small personalized touches for each attendee for under $1,500.
Timing: 1-4 per year
And whatever you do, make sure to check these 3 tasks off your list post-event:
Follow up with your attendees. Thank them, share some content, give them a call-to-action that is meaningful and adds value to their day-to-day... but only pick one CTA! Don’t you just hate it when you receive an email that asks you to do 5 different things and includes 7 links?! I usually delete them to be honest (sorry? Not sorry…). One to two asks is manageable, but figuring out your ultimate goal will allow you to go with the most important ask.
Document and promote your events. Add an events page to your website to list upcoming events, and be sure to showcase fun photos, speakers, and agenda topics on social and your blog. You can even share some video clips from sessions, condensed presentations, or handy “spark notes” of what was covered. Why do this? For one, this is free press, and good for your inbound marketing efforts. And two, it shows your target audience that you throw awesome events they should be attending…hopefully next time they won't miss it!
Measure! Measure! Measure! As I mentioned at the very beginning, measuring results and ROI on your events helps your cause. It's not just an administrative task to check off at the end of your event. It makes it easier for management to approve budget and see the value your events are providing. It also allows you to fine-tune your strategy by evaluating what went well and what didn't.
What events are you currently hosting on a regular basis? What has worked well and what hasn't? Let us know in the comments! Need some help getting these events set up or working them into your plan? We’re here to help -- shoot us a note and we’ll find a time to connect!