When it comes to mastering the event marketing sales pipeline, few companies are more qualified to lend advice than InsightSquared. We spoke with two event marketing experts from the InsightSqured team to hear their take on lead generation, events strategy and more.
InsightSquared’s sales intelligence solution is the “operating system” for high-growth sales teams. It empowers sales operations leaders to help their executives produce reliable forecasts, understand pipeline trends, and maximize rep impact. Live events are a huge sales channel for InsightSquared. They regularly appear at trade shows, host regional customer events and employ smaller sales acceleration events. Lindsy Lettre and Sarah work hand-in-hand to stage InsightSquared’s many events. Over the years, their event strategy has become more targeted. The results speak for themselves.
Short on time? Skip to the bottom of the page for the main takeaways from our conversation.
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Bizzabo: Do you believe that live events are useful for generating leads?
Lindsy: About a year and a half ago we moved to account-based marketing. We redid our event strategy. Sarah could maybe talk more about this, but we’re really focusing on cornerstone events where we think about which accounts we want to engage with are going to be at these events, for example SaaStr and Dreamforce. But we stopped doing a lot of the world tours and the really little events.
“It’s more about lead engagement than it is about lead generation.”
Sarah: We were measured on leads for a really long time. About a year and a half ago we became measured on different things. Our event strategy is aligning with that. One of those goals is pipeline contribution.
We took a step back to look at our events strategy. We did a lot of small events but even at the big events, like Dreamforce, it was lead gen at any cost. If that meant sending our BDRs to the lunch line to scan some badges, that’s what I think of traditional lead gen at events. That’s definitely what we used to do, but now our goals are more around pipeline contribution and engaging with the right leads.
It’s more about lead quality than it is about quantity for us. I think it still falls under the general umbrella of lead gen but we use different terms for that now. We do a lot of work ahead of time figuring out who is likely to be at these events. Events are essentially one of the biggest channels for engaging leads. We do a lot of work ahead of time prepping the people who are going to be there and setting up meetings with them and making sure that people know that we’re going to be sponsors and where the booth is going to be to stop by. We host happy hours and dinners to try to find different ways to engage them. It’s more about lead engagement than it is about lead generation.
Bizzabo: It sounds like you’re extremely selective about the events that you attend. Could you tell me a bit more about the process for that?
Sarah: About a year ago we went through an exercise where we looked at—actually in our own product, because we do analytics—we looked at pipeline contributions by specific events over the past year. We had done somewhere between 20 and 30 events the year before. There was an outrageously noticeable drop off after the top two, which for us are very important. There were also, obviously, where we spent the most. We’re still measured on those pipeline contribution goals. It was actually a very easy decision for us from a past performance standpoint to realize where we really needed to invest.
“Ahead of time, we establish pretty clear roles.”
Now, our strategy is going all in at those events and doing higher level sponsorships and bringing a little bit more branding to the mix as well. We’ve been sponsors at those two events over the past couple years, so we've built up pretty good lists of people that we have known in the past. We also, actually, are not afraid to use it as a touch point for the sales team. We'll put them on the phone and make sure they are asking people if they are going to the event. For our BDR team, it’s a better touch than, “Hey, do you want a demo of my software?” Then we use that to build a list of whether or not people are going as well.
Bizzabo: So, you're doing fewer events but going all out with those. Is there any strategy for selecting and sending sales representatives to events?
Sarah: We run contests–whoever adds the most people to a campaign or books the most meetings ahead of time. We’ve actually let the sales team, for the most part, decide who’s going to go, but we’ll help them run the contests and we’ll coordinate with them. It’s usually some mix of the highest performing reps over the past year and people who have won contests leading up to the event.
Bizzabo: Are there any other more specific granular details about once how you engage people once you’re at events?
Sarah: Ahead of time, we establish pretty clear roles. The account executives are there to do demos and the BDRs are there to qualify people, period. The BDRs are slapped on the wrists if they pick up an iPad and start trying to demo someone. They’re really there to have those kind of conversations that you would expect—“What’s your role? What company do you work at?”—and trying to figure out if it actually might be a good fit before they push them over to setting up a demo with an account executive.
We do the traditional stuff of passing out swag, of course. We get people over engaged, but we train the Business Development team ahead of time pretty comprehensively. We do role plays and a couple other exercises in the office ahead of time. By the time they get there they should be pretty seasoned and ready to qualify people and know the process of handing them over to schedule a meeting with them.
Bizzabo: As sponsors, do you often try to speak on panels or get any sort of speaking opportunities?
Sarah: Yeah, we do. We will sometimes pay for it, but we actually have a pretty big effort from our content team and our executives. We submit a handful of speaking abstracts for pretty much every event.
Bizzabo: How many events are you usually trying to hit a year?
Sarah: From a tradeshow perspective, it’s two for the year. Then we do a customer conference, which is not lead gen focused at all, completely separate. That’s entirely homegrown. That gets us to three. We actually consider it four, and then we have a community event that’s like a little roadshow where we bring in content and host a happy hour and a lunch for people in our target persona. That’s more of a community effort. I guess it’s kind of lead gen, but that’s not really our biggest goal with that. I consider it four. That roadshow that I was telling you about is four different events in four different markets, but for trade shows it’s only two.
Lindsy: We also do a lot of special dinners throughout the year focused on mostly customers and then open opportunities with our executives. Those are smaller dinners, like 10 to 20 people, and the focus definitely is not lead gen there, but helping to accelerate sales and to help close them and also get some face time with our customers.
Bizzabo: With the roadshow, you mentioned that the primary focus there isn't lead gen. Is that primarily serving customers as well or is there a sales acceleration component?
Sarah: It’s a mix. It’s definitely a mix. We’ll have happy customers present at those things. The bigger goal is to get our happy customers in the room with prospective buyers. It’s more of an acceleration tool and a thought leadership branding aspect, as well.
Bizzabo: Could you tell me a bit more about how the event team, the marketing team and the sales team work together throughout the event process?
Sarah: Sure. One cool story is we run something called Blitz Days. We’ll give the sales team a list ahead of time and people to dial into, ask if they’re coming to the event. Talk tracks: If someone says, “Yes,” great. Here’s what you say. If someone says, “No,” you can still follow up with this valuable content surrounding the event. Then we’ll theme them. We’ll hang up some signage and get them excited. The marketing team will go out and get them coffees and run some contests. At lunch time we’ll break and we’ll give out swag based on styles and most meetings booked, and that kind of stuff. Then we’ll do it again for the second half of the day. That’s one of the coolest, most interesting ways we work together.
We do one Call Blitz Day leading up to every event. Then we run a contest to see who’s going to be able to come. The training is really a collaborative effort for sure. The marketing team basically pulls a role in the company out of a hat, and we have a pretend badge and the BDR are supposed to try and get the right information from us and then suggest that they book a meeting with us if they should or shoo us away if they should.
Bizzabo: These usually take place a week before the event, the week of an event, two weeks before?
Sarah: I would say at least ahead two weeks ahead of time. It’s one of the first kick-off things that we do.
Lindsy: For Dreamforce, sometimes we have two. Sometimes we’ll do them week before, two weeks before, and then often, if it works, we’ll use the same strategy for post-event follow-up also. With Dreamforce, we come back with so much information. Sarah does a great job of not just sponsoring Dreamforce, but she also plans parties, and she does dinners while she’s there. She does executive forums. There are just thousands and thousands of Blitz.
“We iterate every single time for every single event.”
We work really closely with the sales team to make sure that we’re following up on the highest priority leads that we get and then, obviously, the accounts. They’ll often work and follow up and just try to call in to those other leads. I think they really enjoy those days too.
Sarah: It’s the whole sales team. It’s not the people just attending. They’ll be calling into a list of accounts of people that we know went last year or maybe nurture customers or something like that that will make some parameters around what the Blitz is and they’ll know what those are. Their goal is to setup demos for onsite.
Bizzabo: The thing with the marketing team reaching into the hat and pulling out the roles, could you explain that?
Sarah: That’s the role play training. We call it role play. That again is just the team attending. We do a lot of prep with the team attending. We give them the background on the event. We tell them what personas to expect. We tell them what to wear because you have to do that still. The role play is part of that team attending training.
Bizzabo: How long has it taken you to iterate and get to where you are today?
Sarah: We iterate every single time for every single event. We collect feedback. I don’t know if every team does that, but when we return I send out a survey to the team attending. I ask for everyone’s feedback from CEO to BDR, and what we think we could have done better and what they think we did well. We take that advice and improve every single time, and of course, every single time new stuff comes up.
“For us, we work very closely with the sales team. The alignment is the most important thing.”
There’s always some way to improve. I would say we spent the better part of this year getting to where we are now, and I know that we’ve got some room to grow for next time.
Bizzabo: To backtrack a little bit more, in terms of that pipeline transition, what really motivated you to do that? Was it the analysis that you did of looking at the events?
Sarah: It was a bigger company initiative. We changed marketing strategies. That was actually a decision from our VP of marketing and signed off on by the whole organization. When we decided we were going to move to an account-based model, every single program got looked at in the the same way that events did.
Bizzabo: What’s one piece of advice you’d give someone looking to build out their event strategy?
Sarah: I would tell them to make sure their event strategy aligns with the goals of the team and the company. For us, that was just thinking beyond the concept of the lead scanner—as many lead scanners as possible, scanning as many badges as possible, moving beyond that and looking at events as a way to engage accounts and measure engagement and pipeline contribution.
Lindsy: I also think a lot of times people think about the plan and the event itself, but also make sure you know what you’re going to do when the event is over. You can go to an event and then get as many leads and meet as many people as you want, but if you don’t have a good follow-up strategy then you just wasted a lot of time and money.
Bizzabo: Lindsy, are there specific things that you found to be very helpful with the follow-up strategy?
Lindsy: For us, we work very closely with the sales team. The alignment is the most important thing. We decide if it’s going to be a marketing email follow–so if it’s going to come from Marketo–or if it’s going to be the sales team following up, or if it’s a combination of both. We work really closely to make sure that the messaging is consistent, but that we’re not sending two emails that say the same thing.
We don’t use MQLs. We use alerts, which are similar, just when there’s an engagement activity. Alerts are created, which is a pass in Salesforce, and those are passed to the sales team so they know who to follow up on. As soon we know someone attends they get the alert, and then they can follow up immediately so that they don’t sit there forever. [You can check out more Salesforce tips here.]
We also are really careful about not following up too quickly. That’s one thing that’s really interesting about events, it’s because a lot of people travel so far for them, we try to wait until the next week. You’re, obviously, competing with a lot of people who are calling up and trying to get some face time with the people who just attended the event. That’s one thing that is kind of a struggle. Dreamforce ends on a Thursday, but were obviously not going to call on a Friday, because those people are traveling or they’re taking some extra time in San Francisco. Usually, we try to follow up the next week, like Tuesday or Wednesday.
Bizzabo: I imagine one of the biggest challenges is everybody else is going to be trying to follow up too, right?
Lindsy: We try to do some things that set us apart. This year, at Dreamforce, we gave away two Picobrews. They’re like Keurigs, but instead of brewing coffee, they brew beer.
We had an Opps-tober, like in October, but like sales Opps-toberfest theme, and so the beer went with that. We gave one of those away. One of the email follow-ups that Sarah came up with was she would announce the winner via an email, and she engaged people. You just have to always be creative and always be unique, and think of ways that you can get some face time and not just blend into the background with everyone else.
- Depending on your goals, it may be worthwhile to focus more on lead quality over quality.
- Events can be more about lead engagement than lead generation.
- Make sure that the event strategy aligns with the goal of the team and the company.
- If an event becomes a staple of your business strategy, and is relevant enough to your prospects to warrant doing so, have your BDRs use that as a touch point for nurturing leads.
- It’s easy to sink a lot of money into events marketing; be selective about the events you attend to maximize ROI.
- Use your content team and your executives to land speaking opportunities at events—you don’t need a PR team.
- Outside of tradeshows, there are a number of ways to use live events in your favor; hosting dinners for target personas and holding user conferences to engage customers are just a couple of examples.
- Establish clear role ahead of times for your every member of your on-site sales team.
- Make preparing the sales team for events fun and collaborative by organizing themed training and “call blitz” days.
- Collect feedback from across your team to help you improve your event process every single time.
- Holding a giveaway for attendees is one way of generating buzz after an event.
Ready to take it to the next level? Download the Live Event Lead Generation Guide for access to the full interview + interviews with 7 other event marketing gurus.