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If You Don't Have An Event Strategy, You're Wasting Your Time

B2B marketing teams drop a ton of money to attend conferences and trade shows. Events are, after all, a hundred billion-dollar industry. 

But what are you getting in return?

The answer, for many, is hard to say. Proving event ROI can be difficult.

Conferences and trade shows are a solid way for companies to get in front of individuals with buying power, hear from industry leaders, and meet with like-minded people.

But are events too passive? 

How often do you see sales reps just standing at booths, hoping someone will be interested enough to stop? Or consider the event marketers handing out swag that will likely end up in a trash can just hours later? 

Most of the time, reps have little to no game plan to engage with qualified prospects. Even when there is a strategy, it’s often inefficient. Reps are just showing up and hoping for the best.  

With 87% of those in leadership positions believing that live events play a critical part in their company’s success, it’s a huge missed opportunity. Events are one of the top marketing channels; having a clearly defined strategy will help you capitalize on the power of events and recognize more revenue. 

How can you successfully attend an in-person event?

1. Set tangible goals 

Every event you attend needs a strategy with clear goals and objectives for what you want to accomplish and how you’ll do so. When establishing your plan, think about what a successful event looks like to your organization. 

Is it a branding play? A way to get your company’s name in front of like-minded people? 

Or is it a means to generate business and boost ROI? 

Make sure your objectives are specific and attainable. Vague goals like “building brand awareness” or “generating more leads” are difficult to measure. If your reps aren’t aligned with your organization’s expectations, you run the risk of this turning into a fun, expensive outing rather than a way to generate revenue. 

Define your criteria for success in a way that your reps and marketers know exactly what they need to do to meet your company’s goals. 

For example:

  • Pre-book 100 qualified meetings

  • Demo 50 times during the event 

  • Collect 100 booth scans

Ideally, each of your objectives should have a clear line to revenue, and you should have a solid understanding of the value of each action. Base these quantitative goals on historical data to create a more accurate picture. 

When setting your goals and expectations, here are some things to think about:

  • What kind of event ROI are you expecting? 

  • How can you fill your pipeline with qualified leads?

  • How many prospects do you need to generate to make the event profitable?

2. Book meetings before your event

If one of your goals is to generate leads, you should fill your calendar with meetings before your event even begins. Having pre-qualified meetings lined up is the best path to ROI. 

In a recent chat with Porter Sproul, Marketing Program & Event Manager at Artemis Health, he told us, “One of the biggest struggles we've faced is how to have the most impact while we're at an event. Being able to get meetings booked on reps’ calendars before they arrive is crucial.”

Most conferences release a list of attendees and participating companies a few weeks prior to the event. That’s a great time to start sourcing qualified candidates you want to chat with and create a “must meet” list. 

How can you determine if a prospect is qualified? Look at the historical data around your top customers to see what qualities they have in common. Are they in a particular industry, do they have a certain number of employees, are they working with a specific tech stack? These are all things to look at when determining what candidates to prioritize. 

  • Industry

What industries do you typically cater to? Make sure you’ll be able to provide value and have a track record to prove it.

  • Company size

Is your target market enterprise organizations? You may want to filter out smaller startups as they may not need your services or have the budget for them.

  • Tech stack

Consider if the company is a good fit technology-wise. Does their tech stack integrate with your services? If not, you may be wasting your time meeting with them. A free tool like Built With can easily help you identify a company’s tech stack. 

When sourcing candidates, go for quality over quantity and identify leads that fit your ICP or buyer personas. If you don’t know who’s a good fit, you’ll have to cast a wide net and may end up with many unqualified candidates.  

Once you have your list of contacts you want to meet, start targeting them via social ads, email drip campaigns, and phone calls. Here’s how you can reach them:

  • Social ads

Advertise that you’ll be attending the event and use this as an opportunity to promote any demos you’re offering or events you’re hosting. 

  • Email drips

Include personalized messaging that speaks to your target audience. What pain points can you solve? How can you provide value? Include a clear CTA that directs them to book a meeting with you.

  • Phone calls

Establish a call cadence to let them know you’ll be at the conference and that you would love to meet. 

No matter how you’re reaching out, make sure they know who you are, what your company does, and what value you can provide. 

You can also connect with attendees on LinkedIn to start building your relationship. The result of these actions will be more meetings, better lead conversion, and higher ROI.

3. Have meaningful conversations

You want to make sure you’re having conversations with the right people. If you’re meeting with unqualified individuals at your event, chances are you’re missing an opportunity to talk with someone who might actually convert. 

Sourcing suitable candidates and pre-booking meetings is a key component to this. But you also need to make sure the meetings are taking place. Even if you’ve done your due diligence and found the right leads to meet with, no-shows and cancellations are common. 

Automated reminder emails will go a long way in ensuring you’re getting the most out of the events you attend. You can send a reminder the day before you’re due to meet and again an hour or so before.

Other ways you can provide value, make an impression, and build lasting relationships:

Consider hosting a mid-event meetup. 

Do your research before you arrive. What’s the schedule for the event? Are there any breaks during the day? Consider hosting a mini meet-up at the conference center and provide some mid-day snacks or food. 

Plan a unique outing.

Swag can be fun, but is it always effective? Instead, try something more memorable like a VIP happy hour, dinner with executives, or a nearby activity you can only experience there. Offer limited availability to make it even more exclusive. 

Nurture existing relationships.

Don’t forget about the customers you already have. If you have current customers in attendance, use it as an opportunity to deepen those existing relationships. You can host a customer-only event as a way to say thank you and make them feel appreciated. 

If you want to have more meaningful conversations, thoroughly research your prospects in advance. Having as much information as possible about the people you’re meeting will make you look more knowledgeable, and will go a long way in establishing yourself as a trusted source.

4. Prioritize lead conversion

You can generate a ton of warm leads very quickly at an event. Making connections is easy when you’re surrounded by people. 

But don’t forget, they met a lot of other people during the conference. Events are a whirlwind, even if you thought you established a great rapport, they might have talked to a hundred other people about the same things. 

More often than not, the leads go cold, and you’re left with a poor conversion rate. 

What can you do?

While it may be tempting to take it easy when you get back from a conference or trade show, you need to strike while the iron’s hot.

How to make your follow up more successful:

  • Follow up fast

  • Remind them of the value you can provide

  • Make your post-event communication as personalized as possible. Reference something specific you talked about. If the prospect attended a dinner or happy hour you hosted, include photos in your outreach

  • Be clear with your intentions. If you want them to book a demo, include times you’re available to meet

If the event offers a post-conference directory, use it to contact people you couldn’t connect with during the week. 

5. Invest in technology

Think about what kind of technology will help you accomplish your overall strategy. What manual processes can you eliminate? How can you better source candidates? Pre-book qualified meetings? Accurately attribute leads and ROI?

Here are some of our favorite tools:

  1. Zoominfo

Look for a tool like Zoominfo that uses intent data to help identify and target leads that are a good fit for your organization. 

  1. Chili Piper Events

Use a tool like Chili Events to book qualified meetings before your event or set up group experiences to provide additional value. You can also set up automated reminder emails to reduce no-shows and cancellations.

  1. Supermetrics

More than anything, companies want to prove ROI from a given event. An attribution tool like Supermetrics can help do this by tracking all your touchpoints and proving the value of the event. 

Companies who are investing more of their budget in technology are finding it easier to measure performance and ROI. 

Are you sending your reps to events unprepared?

Once the excitement of in-person events and meeting new prospects has faded, do your reps really have a plan for how to book meetings and generate ROI? 

As cofounder and CXO of Chili Piper, Alina Vandenberghe, put it, “Reps are sent to these events naked, without any means to book meetings, no plan for how to schedule follow-ups, and no way to show ROI.”

After an exhausting week, reps leave with a small handful of prospects only to find out that many aren’t even qualified. And if they are qualified, there’s typically no plan — or only a tedious spreadsheet — for follow-ups.

Man at event, trying to catch a lead with no resources


In 2019, B2B marketing teams invested 22% of their budgets in events. Most of that went toward capturing leads using booth scans, business cards, ballots, and following up later. More often than not, the leads went cold due to improper qualification or slow follow-up time. 

The result? Low conversion rates and poor event ROI. 

Events are wildly important, but how can you make sure you’re making the most of them?

Remember:

  1. Set tangible goals

  2. Book meetings before your event

  3. Have meaningful conversations

  4. Prioritize lead conversion

  5. Invest in technology

Chili Events is the #1 tool for booking qualified meetings and generating ROI from conferences and trade shows. 


Want to chat with us? Book a demo at chilipiper.com/events.

About the Author

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.

Profile Photo of Kelli Diffenderfer