What role should events play in your marketing plan?

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Instead of using events to prospect, use them to move known prospects along the sales cycle.

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I’m guessing that your various marketing and sales “events” make a big dent in your budget. Not to mention all the people, time and effort required to successfully put your events together. How do you get the best return on this significant investment?

Let’s start by getting on the same page with a definition of events, then jump right into how best to use events to drive sales and revenue.

What is an event?

For the purposes of this article, “events” are marketing or sales presentations to a group of customers or prospects. Events are scheduled for a specific time and place and can be in-person or electronic. Marketing event formats include live seminars, workshops, Web seminars, videoconferences, trade shows and speaking engagements.

Events can be an expensive way to prospect

Your own marketing events with prospecting as the primary objective may deliver less than desirable results. Why? Because these events can be a very expensive way to prospect, with cost-per-attendee figures often reaching between several hundred dollars and thousands of dollars each month.

If prospecting is your primary goal, consider leveraging such other marketing communications tactics as direct mail, e-mail and telemarketing instead.

Or leverage others’ events instead: Be a speaker or panelist at a local business association meeting, exhibit at trade shows and conferences and/or be a featured speaker at industry conferences. You’ll be responsible only for preparing presentations and having meaty handouts–and will be able to generate leads at considerable cost savings.

Use events to move known prospects along the sales cycle

I like to tell my consulting clients and seminar attendees that you wouldn’t have much luck getting a “yes” by asking someone to marry you on the first date–hence, you shouldn’t expect to close a sale on the first contact.

The same holds true for many of your events. Asking an unknown prospect to your half- or full-day live event is the equivalent of asking a person to go away with you for the weekend on a first date–something that is usually more appropriate after you’ve been dating awhile.

Which is why events are the ideal tactic for nurturing known prospects and moving them through the sales cycle.

In this case, known prospects are people who have already responded to one of your mailings or communications and have received the marketing equivalent of a first date; a white paper, a checklist, a how-to guide or other helpful information from your company. These people have already expressed an interest in your product or service.

Determining which type of event to hold for these known prospects depends on where they are in their buying cycle.

For your midstage prospects, consider using “bite-size” events, such as “lunch and learns,” “executive breakfast and briefings” or Webinars. These events shouldn’t run much longer than an hour and should offer attendees information they can really use in their jobs or their decision-making process.

Yes, I know I already said that your own events can be expensive if prospecting is your primary objective. But once you have invited your known prospects to these minievents, you can also market to others to cost-effectively fill additional seats. For example, consider using your upcoming executive briefing or Webinar as one more “offer” in your mail, e-mail or telemarketing call. And be sure to send a press release or calendar listing to your local business paper.

What about your hot prospects–those who have already indicated they are close to making a purchase decision? Consider offering events designed to give them the details that they need to make that final decision. Technical discussions and product demos are perfect at this stage. Prospects want to know the features and benefits of your product/solution, the costs and resources needed to implement, and what makes your product different from your competitors.

And they want to better understand what it will be like once they are a customer of yours. This is where case studies and client testimonials come in.

The bottom line

Events can be an expensive way to prospect, especially for companies with limited dollars and resources.

With this in mind, I recommend that, instead of using events to prospect, you should use them to move known prospects along the sales cycle. Offer midstage prospects short, informative Webinars, presentations or briefings. Save in-depth technical presentations and product demos for prospects who have indicated they are considering a purchase or intending to purchase soon. You’ll not only save considerable time, money and effort, your prospects will get the information they need at the appropriate stages in the sales cycle–ultimately leading to more sales.

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