The COVID-19 crisis has (and in many ways still is) affecting almost every part of our business and personal lives. And will, in some cases, will continue to do so, it seems, well in 2021.
Conference cancellation is one of those things. Most business conventions, even those scheduled for later in the year, have already been canceled for 2020. Network meetups are not happening right now either, as they simply involve too many people, and in some places even getting to network with a few people in person is near impossible.
So for those who have relied on conferences and networking events for lead generation, this is a real problem. With many people still working remotely from home catching them in the office on the phone is not an option either. And even offices that are open are subject to strict social distancing rules that preclude meetings with ‘strangers’.
Does that mean B2B lead generation is on hold indefinitely? No. The cost of canceled conferences is high – in the US $1.1 billion in the tech sector alone according to Goldman Sachs. But you can still generate leads and make new, genuine connections. One way to do that is to take advantage of the fact that so many of your prospects are still at home, and have been making use of virtual conferencing platforms more, to host your own virtual lead generation event.
BENEFITS AND CONSTRAINTS OF A VIRTUAL LEAD GENERATION EVENT
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of staging such an event, here are a few stats about online conferences that are relevant here.
According to GotoWebinar research:
- 73% of B2B companies surveyed said a webinar is one of the best ways to generate B2B leads
- The average webinar attendance rate is 40–50% of the registration rate
- Midweek is the best time to host a webinar or virtual lead generation event
- On average participants spend 30-40 minutes attending the event, even if it is longer.
These tell us that the idea is quite popular but they also highlight two of the biggest difficulties you’ll face staging one, namely that 1) lots of people fail to show up and 2) when they do show up they have short attention spans. At a real conference, they’d wander around for hours and talk to lots of people.
However, if your target audience (leads) are stuck at home a virtual conference has a lot more appeal than it had when the stats above were gathered. Not only is it a valid substitute for a physical event, but it’s also an excellent way to escape the sometimes very depressing isolation of working remotely when you are used to being with people. And there is one more big benefit of a virtual lead generation event that applies whether there is a pandemic or not; it’s much easier to get its audience to take action.
Getting more interested in the idea? Don’t blame you. So let’s start breaking down how you can host a great lead generation conference/ virtual seminar to capture some of those B2B leads you were going to attend that real life (now canceled) conference to score.
PLANNING YOUR EVENT
The conveniences and challenges of running a streaming event are almost the same as doing so offline The event is pretty easy to host. There’s plenty of fantastic live streaming resources and webinar software out there to host the event. Yet it’s always easier said than done to host a B2B gathering of any kind.
How to Select your Topics, ‘Location’, Dates and Times
Digital events tend to have a teacher-student vibe. The people running the event are professionals who insider information and experiences that are relevant to their audience to share, and the participants come to learn. What you are really selling as the meat of your online event in this respect is almost classroom-style learning with straightforward, actionable outcomes.
If your firm uses event-based marketing to generate leads, it should be fairly easy to come up with an idea for your online lead generation event. Firstly, there is:
- Identifying the specific points of pain your customers encounter that lead to your product or service offering
- Creating a list of benefits that a participant will receive from the digital event
- Deciding on the desired next steps for the people attending the event (sales call with a free [something] offer, etc.)
If you are struggling to come up with an appropriate topic for your online event, Eventbrite is a good resource. To get a list of workshops, just Google, “your niche + workshop + Eventbrite + big city” Then, shortlist the subjects with the most in attendance and use them as inspiration.
With the concept sorted, you’ll be able to begin thinking about the format.
VIRTUAL LEAD GENERATION EVENT HOSTING: WHICH FORMAT SHOULD YOU USE?
The format you use for your online event can affect your approach enormously. Broadly speaking, you should employ three different approaches:
- Presentation: You have a speaker who gives a presentation to the participants
- Discussion panel: A few presenters discuss a subject or answer questions
- Breakout Rooms: Participants do activities and report back to the group
Of course, you can use a combination of these three formats. In fact, when you are turning a big business event into a virtual conference, you should use all three formats, mixing and matching, to create an environment that is close to the one the actual event would have provided.
Breakout rooms are a fairly recent trend that most webinar sites don’t deliver. It can be seen on Zoom. If you, like many, have been using Zoom more often recently, The function is probably familiar to you now, even if it wasn’t before COVID-19 hit.
The ability to set community tasks makes the experience more interactive, plus it facilitates networking for the participants. Equally significantly, video conferencing lets hosts ‘see’ what’s going on. Participants can’t just walk away as the event plays over the speaker, and get a drink without it all being noticed, so are more likely to stick around.
If you are going to run the event as a panel discussion, you’ll need to identify relevant speakers. For breakout sessions, you’ll need to make sure the platform you choose supports this feature. You should also plan the activities and set clear time limits.
PICK A SUITABLE TIME
When hosting a virtual lead generation event, it’s important to define your target demographic and the region or country you are targeting. If it’s the UK only, any time is probably OK. However, if you are in (or want to reach people in) the US, it has four time zones. When it’s 10 am in New York it’s 7 am in LA. And if you are also adding the EU, or another market things can be even more complex. However, with a bit of maths, a suitable time can usually be found.
The days of the week you’re hosting the event should be a consideration as well. Midweek seems to be a popular choice. Weekends are still family time, even when people are working remotely. If you’re planning a virtual lead generation conference it’s best to schedule it for the same days of the week a physical event would have been.
CREATE AN OPT-IN PAGE AND AN EMAIL SEQUENCE
Once topics are decided, the marketing work begins. There are very important assets you’ll need to create.
- The virtual lead generation event opt-in page
- An effective email series to send to sign-ups to keep their interest and increase attendance ‘on the day’.
The opt-in page can simple. Add a signup form for registration, an itinerary overview, short host and speaker bios, and bulleted lists of what participants can expect to learn.
The vast majority of webinar platforms have a landing page builder you can utilize. If the one you are using doesn’t have one, then you can use a landing page builder on WordPress or LeadPages to create one.
You should add a registration bonus. These have been proven to boost conversion rates. Think in terms of door prizes for attendees at a real-world conference.
And that email sequence?
Send three to four emails to registrants. The sequence should look a little something like this.
- A welcome email
- A reminder a week before the event, restating all the benefits of attendance
- A second email reminder the day before the event, perhaps highlighting the speakers this time.
- A final reminder an hour before the scheduled start time
Sending these email reminders will, research (and our experience) has shown will drastically increase attendance, especially that last one.
Four emails is just about the right amount for a short lead generation webinar. More than that and you risk annoying people. Less, and people forget they signed up for the event. For a longer virtual lead generation conference, you’ll need to plan more emails. Send at least one email prior to the event to remind attendees and get them excited to attend it. Then send reminder emails just prior to the sessions each attendee has signed up for.
PROMOTING YOUR VIRTUAL EVENT
Once your materials in place and you’ve identified targets, you’ll need to begin promotion.
You should certainly promote the event through existing marketing channels. This includes the company website, social channels like LinkedIn, and personal outreach. If you do personal outreach – and you should – don’t forget to ask the people you message to forward your message to anyone who they think would be interested in the event.
If you have outside speakers participating, ask them to promote the event through their marketing channels too, but make doing so as easy for them as possible. Offer them marketing materials they can use. Don’t ask them to create their own (unless they want to.)
You should also take the time to do some targeted outreach. Create a list of prospects that fit your ideal customer lead persona. Find out who in these companies you should contact, and then reach out to them via LinkedIn or email.
Outreach is a hugely important element of event-based marketing. Creating that first touch with a prospect, even if they don’t attend, could be laying the groundwork for a future sale.
Using a combination of the strategies listed above, you should get a good number of attendees. Outreach is a numbers game. Yet the end goal is to focus on quality, not quantity so don’t randomly invite the world using an unreliable (and probably outdated) list you bought off the Internet. Take the time to target your audience correctly and everything related to your event will have a better outcome.
FOLLOWING UP ON A VIRTUAL LEAD GENERATION EVENT
Hopefully, the actual virtual lead generation event itself goes well. But the follow-up is just as important in terms of lead generation, just as it would be had you hosted or attended a physical event. This is your chance to effectively engage warm leads created by your event and close sales. At the very least you can develop relationships so that attendees will have your product or service top of mind when they are making purchasing decisions.
Within 24 hours of the event, send an email to everyone who participated in the virtual lead generation event. You can call it a “thanks for attending” email, but its real purpose should be to get people to take action. And if there were registrants who did not attend include them too, sending a synopsis of the event in some form (or the whole thing if it was a short lead generation webinar rather than a full-blown virtual event.)
In the absence of physical networking, these events can be very effective and may be all we have for the foreseeable future. It can also be very challenging to arrange for a ‘newbie’ though.
The Pearl Lemon Leads team can help. We can take the burden of technical arrangements and promotion off your hands and even do the initial follow-up lead generation. That way all you need to do is share your invaluable knowledge. Get in touch, let’s discuss what kind of virtual lead generation event we can create for you.