The following is an excerpt from a new book, Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events.
I can vividly recall my first experience exhibiting at a trade show. It was the early 1990’s and I was fresh out of college. I worked for a company that sold Internet connections to corporations. My colleagues and I flew across the country for the conference, where we sought to generate sales leads. We arrived at our destination a day or two prior to the conference, so that we could set up our booth, network our demo workstations and place our sales collateral in neatly organized stands on the show floor. Undoubtedly, a colleague or two got stranded in their home airport, forcing a lucky few of us to pick up the slack and handle the booth set-up.
Then, there was the workstation monitor that wasn’t delivered to our booth. Did our colleague forget to include it in the shipment? Was it lost in transit? Or was it on the conference facility’s loading dock? It was late in the evening, so no one was available to answer these questions. Hopefully, we’d be able to sort it out in the morning. The workstation monitor ended up arriving a day late, but everything came together and we had a successful show. I spent my time giving demonstrations to curious booth visitors, who wanted to know more about the “Internet”. This was before the Mosaic and Netscape browsers hit the scene, which meant that Internet demos centered largely around character- based “telnet sessions” to services called Archie, WAIS and Gopher.
At the end of the conference, we were tired and weary, but managed to collect some 50 business cards that we’d distribute to our sales team when we returned to the office. For particularly “hot” leads, we scribbled notes on the back of business cards, sending along important notes to the receiving sales representative. Fast-forward to our present day era of widespread broadband, Web 2.0 and social marketing. But now imagine a trade show that has global reach. A trade show that requires no travel, lodging or “out of office” time. A trade show with no physical booth set-up. A trade show with detailed tracking of sales lead activity. A trade show that remains available after the scheduled activities conclude. Welcome to the virtual trade show!
Virtual trade shows are a flavor of the broader category of virtual events. In the coming chapters, I’ll cover how virtual events can be effective in generating sales leads.
The Marketing Landscape: Where Virtual Events Fit
Marketers today face the same challenges that my colleagues and I encountered in the early 1990’s. From their CEO or CFO, they’re tasked with generating an increasing flow of sales leads, but at lower cost. From their VP of Sales, they’re tasked with the same flow of sales leads, with the additional condition that the leads be “marketing qualified” and “sales ready.” Often, the two objectives can counteract one another, as lower-cost sales leads tend to be lower quality, which means that they’re less “sales ready.”
How can marketers satisfy both objectives simultaneously? With the evolution of the web, many have turned to online lead generation. With online lead generation, marketers can distribute content across the web – white papers, product collateral, case studies, webinars, videos, podcasts and more. Prospects “discover” the content via the company’s web site, search engines, publisher web sites or via social networks.
Before a prospect can gain access to the content, they may be required to complete a registration profile. When the prospect completes the profile, we call this a “generated lead” and the marketer has just gained a “sales inquiry.” Web-based, online lead generation comes with fairly low costs, since the “transactions” occur entirely on the web – the costs for shipping, print, freight, travel, etc. are from days long gone.
Once a lead is generated, marketers must qualify the lead. Often, Marketing will perform an initial evaluation of a lead via pre-defined criteria, such as country, job level, company type, size of budget, etc. The marketer will need to gauge the prospect’s interest, along with their position in the sales cycle. Is the prospect engaged in preliminary research to define the solution space? Or, has the prospect defined the solution space and is looking to narrow the list of potential products? Or, perhaps the prospect is at the tail end of the evaluation and is looking to make a final decision on a product.
To determine the prospect’s position in the sales cycle, marketers often use a series of communications (e.g. emails, phone calls, etc.), evaluate the responses (if any) to those communications and then follow up with subsequent communications. Marketers decipher the clues provided by the prospect and determine whether to forward the prospect to Sales – or, to continue the qualification process.
Common clues in the qualification process include:
- Did the prospect answer my phone calls?
- Did the prospect answer the questions we asked?
- Did the prospect open my emails?
- Did the prospect click on any of the links in the emails?
- Did the prospect download any of the documents referenced in the emails?
- Has the prospect requested more information – or, a meeting with us?
Marketers can develop formulas around the prospect’s interactions, to determine which combination of actions moves the prospect from a sales inquiry to a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). Once prospects have moved into MQL status, they can be distributed to the Sales team for further follow-up. A primary challenge in this process is the amount of qualification that occurs “post-lead.” At the time the lead is generated, a minimal amount of information is known about the prospect, beyond the information submitted in the registration profile. With a webinar, a marketer may know how many times it was viewed – or, the total viewing time across all views. With a white paper or podcast download, however, the marketer only knows that a request for download was made. The marketer may not even know whether the download completed – or, if the content was consumed!
As a result, marketing qualification depends upon ongoing touchpoints with prospects, with the hope that they continue to respond to marketers’ communications. Now, let’s consider virtual events. I define a virtual event as “a web and occasion-based gathering that facilitates information sharing, collaboration and interaction.” Alternatively, consider a trade show, with its sessions, presentations, exhibitor booths, networking areas, etc. – and have it occur 100% on the web. We call that a virtual trade show.
Virtual events can be a dream for marketers. They can generate leads cost effectively and they facilitate real-time interactions with sales prospects that can lead to quicker and more efficient marketing qualification. The “post-lead” nurturing process has been combined into the same act of generating the lead. I call this “accelerated lead generation” and for marketers, this means more “sales ready” leads that Sales can then turn into faster bookings.
This book will show you how to create those valuable, real-time interactions – taking you from the planning process, to audience generation and engagement strategies and finally to lead qualification and follow-up.