Stopping Runaway Event Spend
I just finished an interesting project. A marketing VP asked me to help him examine and potentially “right-size” his event spending. He was spending approximately 45% of his program budget on events and didn’t have a lot to show for it.
We spent a lot of time in spreadsheets, looking at different events, counting prospects and leads(?), tabulating total event costs and more. I also had him walk me through the event planning and decision-making process. After a few days of back-and-forth, here is what we found:
Insufficient Upfront Due-Diligence. Decisions on event attendance were being made without clear criteria. Often times, it was simply based on which sales reps or territories needed the most help. SOLUTION: We came up with a clear set of variables and weights that he and his Sales counterpart can use to score events. We also set a 15x target for ROI…. In other words, the event needed to generate a pipeline that was 15x the cost of attending the event.
Weak Pre-and Post-Marketing. There were so many events taking place that there simply wasn’t enough time and enough resources to put a solid pre-event awareness campaign and a post-event follow-up campaign in place. Similarly, there was very limited promotion of the event on social media, even when the company had sponsored the event and had a speaking opportunity. SOLUTION: We developed two different pre/post/social media account plans… one for small events (attending, not sponsoring) and the other for major events. We developed a complete work-back schedule and assignments for immediate use. We also made sure to intimately involve the telesales teams so they were ready to invite prospects and follow up upon the conclusion of the event.
Prospect Tracking. I was tempted to call this “lead tracking” but as you know, contacts from events are seldom truly “leads” – there simply wasn’t enough meaningful dialogue to quality this as a lead. Even still, there we names coming from everywhere… lead capture/scanning devices, show lists, business cards… you name it. They were getting lost or incorrectly being entered into the CRM system. SOLUTION: We implemented a simple process to assign a sales operations owner that made sure all of these contacts made it into the CRM system.
Data Appending. In the past, you could get or purchase a show/event list and voila, you had an immediate mailing list. This is no longer the case, especially with GDPR. When we examined some of the show lists they received for attending the event, the list lacked emails and phone numbers… what good is THAT?! SOLUTION: He expanded his relationship with his data provider (e.g, DataFox, ZoomInfo, RingLead) to include appending emails and phone numbers to these show lists BEFORE they get added into the CRM system.
No QER. Once events are over, everyone moves onto the next “fire” and there is often little tracking and reporting of the past events. SOLUTION: We enlisted the help of Sales and arranged for a “Quarterly Events Review” meeting where past events were reviewed in terms of leads, pipeline and closed deals. This helps to keep marketing and sales on the same page about the effectiveness of various events.
Tracking and Allocating Costs. Perhaps the trickiest aspect of events is that they serve multiple purposes. Nobody can deny that attending events is a critical part of the overall awareness and branding strategy. In fact, when speaking engagements are included, these events can become key platforms for thought leadership. Similarly, these events often represent a great opportunity to meet and strengthen relationships with existing customers. One former executive I know loved going to events because “often times, these events are the only time all of the different groups and departments of our key accounts come together. “ Finally, events must deliver some value in terms of identifying new prospects and generating truly incremental revenue. SOLUTION: Based on all of this, we had numerous discussions with sales and finance and concluded that (1) the customer success team should pay for 25% of the major events and (2) marketing should pay for the remaining 75%. Of that 75%, 30% should be allocated against thought leadership and branding and the remaining 70% to demand generation.
After many different models, numerous internal discussions and some re-negotiating with event coordinators, we were able to reduce his event spend from 45% to around 33% of his total program budget. We think there’s still room to get it lower, but this is a good start. In addition, all of the steps we’ve taken to “harden” the event planning, execution and follow-up process with pay dividends in terms of ROI. Stay tuned.