My Love/Hate Relationship with B2B Events

I have a confession to make.  I have a love/hate relationship with marketing events, a fair share of which I attend each year.   At many of these events, I have the good fortune of being able to present on topics such as lead management, lead nurturing and sales-marketing alignment. Along the way, I meet some very smart, interesting marketing people.  Events also provide a great opportunity to connect with respected colleagues, partners and client, getting face time that is otherwise so hard to come by.  These benefits of marketing events are some of the reasons I look forward to attending them.

However there are a few aspects that I hate when it comes to events. The first is what I refer to as the “Gauntlet of the Vendor Showcase”.  It is here that many vendors seem to go back to guerilla marketing tactics, believing that their mission is to gather as many names of passersby as they can. At one show last year, as I walked by a booth, the staffer reached out, scanned my badge, and said, “You’re all set.”  When I asked, “Why did you scan my badge?” she replied, “Well, now you’re in our database.”  Great, more unwanted email from a company who thinks an increase in badge scans somehow equals success.

The second aspect of events that I dread happens after the event.  It’s the stream of phone calls and emails after the show asking for my time.  “Just 30 minutes is all I need to walk you through this demo and show you how I can help you grow your business faster.”   To make matters worse, it seems like these calls never end. The record for persistence goes to a guy in Salt Lake City. He’s called me 16 times after getting my name from a show in September.  I am not his target customer and will not be buying their auto-dialer solution any time in the next 15 years. His persistence has turned into foolishness.

These thoughts are with me as another event season is upon us, having started earlier this year with OMS in San Diego.  To help vendors avoid alienating buyers, here are some tips on how to get more from an event investment.

1.  Make Events Part of Your Integrated Demand Gen Strategy

Too many organizations look at events as ad hoc marketing activities with no forethought into how live events and shows should be a part of their demand generation strategy.  If you are planning to exhibit at an event, ensure that you can articulate how it will integrate into your demand generation strategy.

2. Don’t Go Simply Because You “Have To”

In one of my previous roles as a Director of Marketing for a large software firm,  I received a call from a sales director during the budget planning process. He was calling to ask if we were planning on attending a certain show.  When I told him that we still hadn’t decided, he informed me “We have to be at that show. We just have to!”  After some questions from me, it turned out that the reason we “had to be there” was because we had always gone to that show. In his mind, we had to continue that tradition.

3.  Be Selective in What Sales People Can Attend

Recently, as I walked through an airport, I found myself having to provide a detailed explanation to the shoe shine man as to why I was not going to be a customer of his.  Undaunted, and with great persistence, he continued to try and get me in his chair. Unfortunately, too many sales people use this same approach when working the show floor.   Most of us have been the victim of the overzealous account rep who herds people into the booth, then doesn’t let them go until they’ve seen the next demo or presentation.

Plenty of research has shown that buyers are increasingly savvy and are self guiding their buying process.  As a result, successful sales people have learned how to dialogue and engage without “selling”.  If you are going to bring sales people to your event, make sure they are subject matter experts in more than just your product.  They should know the industry, trends, customer issues, etc.  They should be able to speak as experts, engaging your booth attendees, not driving them away.

4.  Know Who You Are Calling During the Follow-Up

This is an actual conversation I had as a follow-up to my attendance at a recent event:

Me:  Hi this is Carlos

Rep:  Hi Carlos, this is Tom (name changed) from ABC Company (name withheld to avoid embarrassment). I saw you visited our booth recently at our event and I wanted to connect to see what your interest was in our technology?

Me:  Thanks Tom, but I did not stop by the booth. I spoke at the event and was only there for a day.  Your company was a sponsor so perhaps you got an attendee list with my name on it.

Rep:  Well . . . . . perhaps, but I would still be interested in what your plans are for our technology and how we can help.

Me:  Tom, I don’t mean to be rude, but we are actually a partner of yours and I have written blog posts for your company.

Rep: (Long pause . . . . .) Oh!  Well in fact you have. I’m now looking and can see that you are indeed on our website.  I can promise that you won’t ever hear from me again.

Me:  Have a great day Tom!

Obviously, this rep was woefully unprepared and his company did nothing in the way of qualification, persona identification or lead scoring to set him up for success.  After an event, before your reps call, make sure they know who they’re calling.

As a whole, events can be a big part of how you connect with your customers and prospects.  As I said, there is a lot about them to love, but there’s also some work to do to eliminate the things many of us hate.

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