How To Make Events More Effective: 3 Ways To Reimagine Your Strategy

Kelli Diffenderfer


Last week we did something big — we attended our first in-person conference in over 18 months. 

Not only that, our AE turned field marketer, Arthur Castillo, took to the Traffic and Conversion Summit floor to interview attendees.

He asked individuals burning questions about their event strategy, how they planned to follow up with leads, and what kind of ROI they were expecting to get from the event. 

What did we notice? 

We interviewed a couple dozen people and noticed a red thread connecting some big issues. There were commonalities among the struggles they faced, their pain points, and their overall approach to events. 

We learned that some event marketers are still following older trends, and using some antiquated methods. This wasn’t industry specific, but across the board. 

The good news? There are many opportunities for improvement and ways to make events even more effective.

Here are a few key takeaways:

1. Pre-booking meetings is a missed opportunity 

Only 10% of the people we spoke to were booking meetings prior to the event. It blew our mind — how could there be such a huge missed opportunity? 

If you ask anyone at a conference if there’s someone they were hoping to meet, they’d have a list of names ready to rattle off to you. And yet, how many of them had a solution that made it easier and more efficient to make sure they connected with those people?

Sales reps are trying to coordinate meetups via email, with days or even weeks of back and forth, checking calendars, facilitating meeting room capacity, and in the end, no firm plans get made. In many cases, it’s just too difficult to manage.

Interestingly, goals like collecting business cards and booth scans were mentioned more than speaking with qualified leads. Rather than focusing on meeting with people who might actually convert, they were going for the Pokémon technique and trying to catch ‘em all.

With a tool like Chili Events, you can book qualified meetings before you even hop on a plane, and help prove ROI.

Here’s what some of the attendees had to say:

Arthur: How are you tracking the success of this event?

Attendee 1: By how many leads we’re getting. We’re getting a lot of people coming up to us so we’re really enjoying it.

Attendee 2: Mostly these [holds up business cards]. The more we get, the better.

Attendee 3: We want to have really great conversations with customers and collect business cards.

Pro tip: It’s essential to create a space for conversations to happen. You can do this by booking meetings in advance and building your pipeline before the event starts rather than focusing on the follow-up. 

2. Event strategies were mostly passive and unattributable

People tend to approach conferences with a “let’s just go and see what happens” mentality. When we asked attendees how they planned to engage with prospects, we got answers like, “We hope people stop by because our booth looks good,” or “Hopefully, we can have really good conversations.”

There was a lot of hope and not a lot of action. When you’re spending $100K to sponsor an event like one person we chatted with, that seems like a big misstep.

For many, conferences are a branding play simply because they don’t think they’ll be able to recover the money they spent to attend or sponsor.  

But what if you could build brand awareness and generate measurable event ROI? It doesn’t have to be an either-or situation, but it does require a lot of outbound effort and strategic planning

You need to be very targeted in identifying who you want to speak with and how you can meet with them. People who are actively reaching out to qualified leads, and doing their research, will come away from events with more revenue and stronger brand affinity.

If you’re sitting back and hoping for the best, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Instead of seeing this as a setback, we see it as an opportunity to change the perspective around the value of events. 

Arthur: What is your event strategy?

Attendee 1: We’ve received a lot of business cards. We’ll see them [the leads] out and about throughout the week, and when we go back home we’ll send emails out to each of them thanking them for their time. It’s a mix of manual and digital processes.

Attendee 2: We try to make sure we have a great way of getting swag in front of people. If they want to claim the swag they’ve got to talk to us and hopefully, we can show them our service and see if it’s a right fit. 

Attendee 3:We’d love to turn more leads into meetings and hopefully make them our customers. That’s the number one goal of any business.

Pro tip: When creating your strategy, have a clear idea of the event agenda before hosting your own meetups. Once, one of my happy hours conflicted with a fireside chat hosted by a certain celebrity (I’m looking at you, Martha Stewart). 

3. Spreadsheets are still the go-to technology

Ah, the event spreadsheet. It elicits a groan among event marketers and sales reps alike. And for a good reason. Spreadsheets are often a black hole in terms of leads and conversions. 

Yet, most people we interviewed said they were still using spreadsheets to collect contact information, organize their prospects, and manage their follow-ups. What they ended up with was their own mini-CRM, but far less effective and far more complicated. 

We know reps intend to follow up with their leads when the event is over, but it doesn’t always work that way. 

The spreadsheet gets tossed around to different reps and marketers to determine who’s in charge of post-event outreach and which leads to prioritize. 

Before you know it, a week or two has passed, and you start getting questions like, “What’s going on with those people we met? Did we book any meetings? I can’t find any reports in Salesforce.” 

It’s something most event marketers have dealt with, but the good news is that it’s entirely avoidable. 

Arthur: How are you managing your leads?

Attendee 1: We’re scanning a lot of badges. We use Google Sheets and we take in leads that are high priority so we can prioritize them. We have teams in Chicago, Dublin, Brazil, Sydney, and route them as necessary to those teams. 

Attendee 2: I’m managing this huge excel sheet right now so it will be on me to execute everything after.

Attendee 3: Normal pen and paper. 

Pro tip: If this sounds like you, it’s time to start prepping before the event takes place. If you have access to an attendee list, make sure it’s uploaded into your CRM before the conference for easy management and visibility.

Closing thoughts

The point of every sales interaction — and yes, a conference is a sales interaction — is to move the needle forward. And as much as we wish it were, hope is not a strategy.

So, before you hop on a plane to your next event:

  1. Map out your target prospect list and use social media to create hype around your attendance
  2. Prepare your pitch and know what questions you want to ask prospects
  3. Know what next steps you’ll be taking to close the deal

If you have any questions you’d like us to ask during the next event we attend, we’d love to hear them. Send them our way.

About the author
Kelli Diffenderfer

Kelli Diffenderfer is a Content Marketing Manager at Chili Piper. She is passionate about the power of words to tell stories and bring ideas to life. A Michigander at heart, she spends much of her time traveling to the mitten state, spending time outdoors and enjoying sunsets over the water. Connect with Kelli on LinkedIn.

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