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Sep 25, 2007
How To

How to Get Busy Execs to Attend Your Complimentary Event - 9 Best Practices

SUMMARY: Real-world seminars, case study presentations and panel discussions can help close your most qualified prospects in ways that webinars and white papers simply canít. But, first, you have to get those seats filled.

Hereís a step-by-step approach to follow when organizing a complimentary event -- from putting together your email list of top prospects to creating a sense of urgency in your invitation to the best way to boost attendance rates.
Free events can be an important part of your lead generation strategy. You invite prospects to educational seminars, product demonstrations, case study presentations or panel discussions on industry issues. In exchange, you interact and learn more about their pain points and purchasing plans.

Such events, however, can come with built-in frustrations: A lack of interest from prospects who donít see an event as a valuable use of their time; prospects who register but donít show up; or worse, Ďtire kickersí who show up but are nowhere near a qualified lead for your sales team.

The result: ďYouíve got lower ROI and higher costs. Theyíre taking your time and your resources,Ē says Brad Friesen, Managing Partner, Starshot, an event marketing firm.

Friesen and his team have been hosting B-to-B events for customers, including Microsoft and Hewlett Packard, for eight years. Along the way, they have developed best practices that have boosted attendance rates to 76% of registrants and delivered an average 45 times ROI for event sponsors. We asked Friesen for his top strategies to generate the best leads and increase ROI from free events:

-> Strategy #1. Define ideal attendee from house email list

Generating the most qualified leads from a free event starts by defining your ideal customer and targeting those prospects with invitations.

Forget about buying or renting an email list for a one-off event, Friesen says. Work from your companyís master opt-in marketing list to find prospects who are potentially closest to a buying decision and most likely to attend.

Marketing and Sales should work together to segment the invitation list by basic characteristics:
o Industry
o Company size
o Job description

Then, add other qualifying factors:
o Past event attendance
o Recent marketing or sales communications (emails, phone calls, meetings)
o Recent marketing materials provided (white papers, demos, etc.)

-> Strategy #2. Quantify the value of the free event

Even though youíre inviting prospects to a free event, Friesen says, you should add a price tag to the value of the information theyíll gain during the session.

In the event invitation, cite the high-value information and take-home materials attendees will get. For example, you might offer:
o A binder full of checklists and other assessment tools worth $1,000
o Details on best practices that have saved other clients hundreds of thousands of dollars

-> Strategy #3. Develop smaller events to convey exclusivity

ďMarketers love to have that huge room full of people, but what matters is the quality of the individual attendees,Ē Friesen says.

- While big events have their place, Friesen has seen the best ROI from B-to-B events targeting 16-32 people. The smaller size allows sales and marketing staff to better engage with attendees and ask or answer questions.

- Small events also create a sense of exclusivity that encourages registration. Therefore, invitations should note that the event is limited to 15, 20 or 30 people -- and marketers should stick to that limit. You donít want attendees thinking theyíll be attending an intimate event only to find 100 people in the room.

-> Strategy #4. Create a sense of urgency in your invitations

Another way to encourage registrations (and attendance) is to offer a bonus for quick response. Two tips to do that:

- Create a program that awards a unique gift to the first five, 10 or 15 registrants. Highlight this bonus offer in your invitation emails.
- Choose a bonus gift with real value to prospects. Instead of a cheap tchotchke, offer first responders something relevant to their business and your products, such as a few hours of free consulting or an on-site pilot program to demonstrate your products or services.

ďB-to-B events are built around a complex sale, so youíve got to put something on the table thatís relevant to that process, not just a free white paper.Ē

-> Strategy #5. Discourage tire kickers with a detailed registration form

Creating exclusive events and offering valuable registration incentives makes it even more important to avoid attracting tire-kickers: attendees who arenít really interested in your product or arenít in a position to make a purchase.

One way to discourage these is a longer, more detailed registration form. Using a long registration form usually repels most marketers who want to encourage as many sign-ups as possible. But a short, easy registration form that makes sense for larger scale marketing efforts -- such as signing up for an email newsletter -- isnít the best approach for a high-value B-to-B event.

ďIf you make it too easy for people to get in, you make it too easy for them to take the value youíve created, and you make it too easy for them to blow off the event, too.Ē

In addition to basic contact and company information, Friesen recommends adding a few mandatory qualifying questions:
o Familiarity with the presentation topic (indicated on a rating scale)
o Additional areas of interest
o Comments or requests for the presenter and organizer

-> Strategy #6. Boost attendance rate with multiple reminders

No-shows are inevitable when hosting events. People register weeks in advance, then find themselves unable to get away from the office at the appointed time.

But you can minimize the number of no-shows who simply forget about your event, or decide after registration that itís not worth their time, with a multiple-touch reminder policy. Friesenís team takes an approach that uses email, a desktop calendar reminder and a telephone call:

- The first reminder email is a thank-you note generated automatically when a person registers for an event.

- The thank-you email contains a calendar appointment for Outlook as an attachment. Friesenís team sets the appointment to sound a reminder alert four days before the event. For those who don't use Outlook, an appointment reminder on the registration "thank you" page can be downloaded.

- Three days prior, Friesenís team calls registrants. But they do more than simply confirm whether the person plans to attend. They follow a script that gives attendees the name of an event organizer whoíll be looking for them at the registration desk, and they ask them if they have any special dietary needs, concerns or questions about the upcoming event. (If your marketing team doesnít have the time to place calls, Friesen recommends contracting with a B-to-B telemarketing firm to spend an hour or two calling registrants.)

- Two days prior, the team sends a final reminder email that reiterates the schedule and contains directions and a map for the location of the event.

-> Strategy #7. Send all registrants post-event supporting materials

To help reiterate the value youíre providing, make slides, charts, handouts and other supporting materials available for download after the event. Follow-up should begin within 24 hours to maximize the impact of the event.

- Immediately after the event, email all attendees, thanking them for attending and providing the supporting materials through a link or an attachment.

- Email anyone who registered for the event but didnít attend, saying youíre sorry they couldnít attend, that you would like to share materials from the presentation and that you are available to answer any questions they have.

- By tracking how many non-attendees open the email and click through to receive the materials, you can add another set of names to your qualified lead list.

-> Strategy #8. Monitor event leads for six-12 months afterward to determine ROI

The names you collect through event registration should enter your marketing database or CRM system for continued nurturing. Then, keep track of additional marketing interactions that follow the event and look for ways to add more qualifying information at every step.

- Use event exit surveys, for example, to collect additional information about the prospectís needs and plans. Ask them to rate the effectiveness of speakers or the overall event, if they have a budget in place and if they are planning to make a purchase within the next three, six or 12 months.

- Each quarter, check on the leads from a specific event and see how far along theyíve moved through the sales pipeline and whether any deals have closed. Since itís common for B-to-B sales cycles to last several months, donít expect to see the ultimate ROI from an event immediately.

-> Strategy #9. Plan series of events to maximize ROI

Marketers take a big risk when they plan only one event and expect significant ROI. Even with the best strategized event, you can come up with an occasional flop.

If you planned only one event and it fails to meet your expectations, you have no chance to recoup that investment. Instead, plan a series of events and improve on the process each time so you can offset the occasional duds with ones that deliver high ROI.

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