Looking for ways to optimize your marketing funnel? Check out how events can play a leading role in your conversion strategy. Here’s the scoop.
As B2B sales cycles grow longer and less linear, marketing and sales teams are working more in tandem generating awareness, educating, and forging relationships that move prospects into customers.
We know it can be tough. Refining your messaging or marketing strategy is the name of the game as prospects covert or exit the different funnel stages. Thankfully, when 84% of tech leaders agree that live events are critical to their success, we know events can help solve conversion blocks.
Let’s look at the intersection of the B2B marketing funnel and event marketing. We’ll define goals and potential roadblocks and how events can optimize the capture and conversion of quality leads.
What is the Marketing Funnel?
The marketing funnel is quintessential to B2B SaaS. The stages may vary from team to team, but ultimately the goal is to guide the right buyers through the funnel so that they can make the right purchase.
In the past, marketing teams may have focused on the wider opening of the funnel to convert web visitors to leads. Sales teams may have looked at the narrower end of the funnel—where parallels to the sales funnel and sales forecasting are uncanny—to determine their next opportunity. Now, both marketing and sales professionals are wholly invested in conversions at every stage of the funnel.
Technology and SaaS companies are constantly thinking of ways to iterate on the marketing funnel. The flywheel is a new take on the funnel first coined by Amazon and then revisited by HubSpot where customer referrals are the fundamental driver of closing new business.
At the end of the day, the marketing funnel is a visualization of the customer purchase journey. Prospective customers move down the funnel at specific turning points to making decisions that determine if they’ll become a buyer.
A quick recap—the marketing funnel is commonly divided into three stages:
- The awareness stage at the top of the funnel
- The consideration stage at the middle of the funnel
- The decision stage at the bottom of the funnel.
Below, we’ve highlighted more granular stages starting with website visitors, leads, marketing qualified leads, sales accepted leads, opportunities, and finally customers.
Events and the Funnel
Events are a great way to interact with prospective customers. In fact, 68% of B2B marketers use in-person events for lead generation initiatives while 51% of marketers believe one-on-one interactions and relationship building at events furthers an organization’s business goals.
You may be wondering, which events inform which stage of the funnel?
What we’ve learned is that each event type can complement any stage of the marketing funnel. Consider this: A whopping 80% of event attendees said a live demonstration and free samples informed their purchase decision.
Let's take a look at how events can nurture every step of the marketing funnel.
1. Events for Top of the Funnel Marketing
The Top of the Funnel represents the awareness stage for potential customers. Top of the funnel (TOFU) prospects are most likely discovering your brand for the first time. This is why 64% of marketers believe trade shows and events are a key source for new business and new prospects. Your goal as an event marketer is to leverage events for building awareness as visitors interact with your brand.
Just like a blind date or a left swipe in a dating app, a lot can ride on a first impression. The goals of this stage are to generate awareness, bring brand visibility, and angle your messaging based on the type of customer or account you are targeting in an ABM strategy.
A key challenge at the awareness stage is not providing the right message to the right prospective customer. This is a purely educational phase of the game. Steer clear of pushing product demos or introducing in-depth conversations with your sales team until a prospect shows clear interest.
Networking events are a fun way to start generating awareness for your brand or product with the relevant industry. At this point, you’re focused on attracting the right people to the right event venue, promoting your event brand, and providing valuable content.
Networking events are all about connecting with people on a human level. You’re looking to understand what gets your prospect excited, what their biggest pain points are, and ultimately where they want to be next. This will help you further in the funnel as you refine your messaging to each target persona.
Example: Teach for America Nationwide Events
Source: Teach For America
Teach for America is a nonprofit with over 55,000 alumni and current corp members. Events at TFA play a key role in building community for networking, recruiting, and leadership development.
Obtaining speaking spots for your executive team is key to developing your thought leadership brand during the awareness stage. Covering topics relevant to your prospective customers helps them associate your brand with authority, provocative and engaging thought, and ultimately a leader in shaping where your particular industry is heading.
Example: EMPOWER by Bizzabo
For International Women’s Day, leaders from IBM, Dow Jones, Yext, and other leading brands participated in EMPOWER. Over the course of the half-day event, they discussed high-growth cultures, diversity & inclusion, marketing best practices, and experiential marketing—building both their company and personal brands in the process.
Award ceremonies are another great top of the funnel event strategy that builds industry recognition and generates great press coverage. By hosting or sponsoring an award ceremony, you help position your brand as an expert in the space.
Award ceremonies attract highly visible industry leaders in one place, which is great for those event marketers utilizing an ABM strategy. Recognition at award ceremonies is a great way for leaders to gain more visibility and build a connection with your brand. Recipients are also likely to share their achievements in posts on professional and personal social media networks, on company emails and even press releases—all of which further elevate brand visibility and brand association.
Example: Hubspot Impact Awards
The Hubspot Impact Awards recognize outstanding inbound marketers who are either Hubspot agency partners or customers. The awards are given quarterly and yearly to allow multiple opportunities for the Hubspot community to engage, celebrate, and recognize their peers.
2. Events for Middle of the Funnel Marketing
The middle of the funnel represents the consideration stage and usually takes up most of a prospect’s time with research, education, and evaluation happening simultaneously. For brands and potential customers, this stage signifies a mutual discovery process to determine if your solution helps solve the prospect’s pain.
Typically, the middle of the funnel (MOFU) is where your sales team is introduced to potential buyers. Marketers play a key role at this stage, too, as over 79% of event marketers generate sales through events. Sales and marketing are in the thick of it at this stage and alignment is absolutely critical for success.
As you're prepping for your events, keep in mind that your sales team needs enough information about prospective customers to start a conversation and build relationships. Providing a detailed list of attendees and contacts at your events will tee up your sales team up for success. Contact information prior to the event enables your sales team to book appointments ahead of time.
Aside from the discovery and evaluations happing during MOFU, another big challenge is competing vendors vying for your prospect’s attention. That's why events are crucial at this stage: events provide you with a platform to differentiate your messaging, your product, your authority, and your vision in the space.
Exhibit at trade shows
Attending relevant trade shows is a must for placing your brand where your customers are. Prospective customers attending trade shows and conferences already have a grasp of the industry and potential problems your solution solves and are therefore more likely to engage in a demo of your solution. Setting up a booth, demoing space, and a giveaway is a fun strategy for connecting prospective customers with your sales team.
Example: IMEX America
IMEX is one of the biggest events for the meeting and event industry. It’s a great place for vendors to find prospects who are already familiar with the event industry and are evaluating different solutions in a fun and energizing environment.
While trade shows are all about commerce, event sponsorships give you and your company the opportunity to more organically gets your brand in front of the right customers and target accounts. A strategic sponsorship opportunity keeps your brand top of mind for potential customers—which your team can then capitalize by having a booth and a sales team on-hand in the exhibit hall.
Critical here is arming your sales team and field marketers with a brief of target prospects that are attending the event so they can continue to nurture those relationships.
Looking to improve your sponsorship game? Learn more about finding sponsors here.
Similar to networking events, VIP events attract the right industry leaders who are influential in buying decisions. They tend to be more exclusive and are hosted in smaller, upscale venues.
The key is to make connections with different executives, make intros to peers, and gradually introduce your brand’s message when it’s relevant to the conversation. This means speaking to the problems your product solves rather than discussing what your product does or evangelizing your solution explicitly.
Example: Looker VIP events for executives
Cari Goodrich Senior Director, Global Marketing Programs at Looker describes her field marketing strategy as a two-pronged approach: the first phase is a face-to-face meeting with sales and marketing for a meet-and-greet while the second phase is a private event with the executive team.
This VIP approach is more strategic as Cari mentions, “You’re keeping it really intimate, the cost point is a lot lower, and you’re getting the right people in the room to connect with each other. And this has been performing really well for us.”
3. Events for Bottom of the Funnel Marketing
At the bottom of the funnel (BOFU), prospects have already invested time evaluating your solution and have spent time building a relationship with your team. They are now determining when to buy. At the BOFU stage, it’s critical to have a solid relationship in place. As prospects evaluate their last apprehensions outside your vantage point, events can open lines of communications and accelerate sales.
Influence can make or break a deal. Events are key to the bottom of the funnel because they not only help enable a closed opportunity for your sales team but also set up your customer success team with a warm hand-off and the right expectations. Business leaders agree that their marketing dollars are going to the right place. 84% of executive leadership believe events are critical to business success.
The challenge in the final sprint of the funnel is understanding how your solution aligns with your prospect’s loftier and long-term business goals. If you can identify the relationship between your solution and your prospective buyer’s goal you can help sway the decision-making process in your favor.
Surprise! As mentioned at the beginning of this article, events can work anywhere in the funnel. VIP events at the BOFU stage are critical in engaging your key sponsors who are budget holders, executives, and leaders within their organizations. Just like in the MOFU stage, the emphasis is on bringing thought leaders and executives together to discuss top of mind issues and networking with peers.
VIP events helps your marketing and sales team gain visibility on the larger vision of your target audience directly from the people who steer those organizations. Your final messaging and product positioning at this stage should align with the business goals of your influencers seated next to you at dinner.
Example: Bizzabo Sunset Cruise @ INBOUND
For INBOUND 2018, Bizzabo staged an exclusive, after-hours event. Select guests were invited out for a night of drinks, networking and a closer look at how Bizzabo powered INBOUND.
Post-opportunity user conferences are a great way to excite your new and legacy customers, connect them to peers, and launch new product releases to your core audience. Conferences are also the most popular event with over 62% of event organizers planning conferences. Just like the MOFU stage, your sales team and your customer success team should be available at user conferences to help users learn best practices, answer technical questions, and help them continually engage with your product.
Example: Gainsight Pulse
Gainsight’s annual user conference, Pulse, has been a staple for customer success leaders since 2012. Over the years the conference has grown from 300 to 6,000 attendees and works to build the Gainsight community and help accelerate sales opportunities with one-to-one interactions with prospects, customers, and sales.
When you deliver a knockout thought leadership message at your user conference, it might be time to take that message on the road. Roadshows are a great way to connect with prospects who can’t make your larger user conference as well as potentially connecting those prospects with local customers who are solving problems they’re looking to solve.
Example: InsightSquared Roadshow
After participating in a large trade show in San Francisco, it dawned on InsightSquared that they were the only vendor providing content around “revenue operations.” Because this content was relevant to different teams they decided to do roadshows across major cities where their prospects were located—Austin, San Francisco, New York City, and Chicago—and provide relevant revenue operations content prior to RAMP, their main user conference.
Key Takeaways for Optimizing your Marketing Funnel with Events
In-person connections from events can make a huge impact on conversion numbers in your marketing funnel. While no single event can make or break a sale, incremental conversions powered by events can get your team closer to those long-term sales goals.
- Identify the key challenges of each stage of the funnel and deliver event content that’s specific to your prospect’s challenges.
- Shift your perspective to see each individual event as a new facet of your relationship with your prospect rather than a magic bullet.
- Funnels and flywheels aside, no event can be puzzle-pieced into a specific stage. Events are always relevant to marketing conversions.
Need more inspiration on building your next in-person event? Check out Bizzabo's IN-PERSON podcast and learn how leaders from SXSW, Yext, and Dow Jones are raising the bar building the biggest professional events.