From The Editor | September 22, 2020

From The Editor: An Insider's Take On B2B Events

Abby Sorensen July 2017 Headshot

By Abby Sorensen, Editor



One could argue that B2B events are the reason I own a house and a cute dog and am not defaulting on my student loans. My first job out of college was planning events – “consumer shows,” as they’re called in the B2C universe. Then I got hired by a B2B publishing company to run tech industry events, and for more than five years, I did that in some capacity.

Events hold a special place in my B2B heart: that’s why there is a large, knotted bundle of event lanyards occupying space on my cubicle bookshelf.

I’ve organized events. I’ve spoken at events. I’ve emceed events. I’ve worked the booth at events. I’ve written about events. I’ve attended events for people who run events. I’ve logged more miles in my 20s than I care to calculate for B2B events, trade shows, meetups, meetings, conferences, unconferences, summits, and forums.

I’m not here to tell B2B marketers to stop doing events. No way. Heck, Follow Your Buyer’s parent publishing company still hosts events (and they’re pretty darn good events, so if you’re in the pharmaceutical outsourcing space, check ’em out).

There’s still value in face-to-face interactions with prospects and customers. But you can’t be a successful B2B marketer if you keep allowing events to eat up too much of your budget.

Why Do B2B Companies Love Events?

Beyond the frequent flier miles, expensed steak dinners, and the cool swag you sometimes bring home, there are logical reasons B2B folks love events.

Conversations at trade shows typically occur late in a prospect’s buyer's journey, and, therefore, are likely to convert at a higher rate than early- and middle-stage educational and awareness-building marketing activities. This means event ROI seems good because it can easily be linked to sales. Take my word for it; I wrote about this exact phenomenon in “2 Missing Pieces Of Your Marketing Attribution Puzzle.”

Single-touch attribution models, such as those that only track the last touch before a purchase, can result in decisions based on misleading data. That’s because 60 percent of buying activity happens before a prospect engages directly with a supplier.

For example, let’s say you use a last-touch model. And you see a trend that contracts tend to get signed after a prospect meets with your sales team at a trade show. That sales rep who worked the booth at the trade show is going to get credit for that contract. Never mind that it was your marketing during the early buyer’s journey that ultimately made that prospect agree to a meeting at the trade show in the first place!

In this example, misleading data is why your sales team would want you to invest more in trade shows and less in every other aspect of marketing.

So yes, sales reps and C-suite execs tend to like the seemingly positive ROI from events. But imagine if you stopped doing events for, say, a year, and instead you put that marketing budget toward content creation and distribution. What would happen?

First, you’d have to overcome the illogical fear that “people in the industry will have a negative perception about you” if you don’t have a presence at every event. Trust me, no prospect chooses a vendor partner based on who has the biggest booth and the best cocktail reception (and if they do, that’s probably not the type of customer-for-life your marketing efforts aim to attract).

So once you set aside that fear of missing out, you’d see how content can be the great equalizer in the expensive brand awareness game (more on that here).

And If You Must Go To An Event…

Let me repeat: I’m not telling B2B marketers to stop doing events (in fact, I’d love to hear suggestions about the best B2B marketing events I should cover). Here are a few questions to ask before you fork over too much of your marketing budget for events:

  • Are you overcalculating event ROI because your sales team thinks they’re the best way to close deals?
  • Are you accurately accounting for all trade show related expenses, like time out of the office, shipping, travel expenses, prep time, follow-up time, etc.?
  • Do you have an effective content marketing game plan to deploy before and after an event? That means you need helpful content, tailored to the right personas, to earn a continued conversation with prospects when their attention isn’t focused on winning a pair of AirPods at your booth.
  • Are you sending your A-team? Are they networking and gathering informal market research during breaks? Or are they sitting back, disengaged, glued to their phone screens?
  • Are you overpaying for brand awareness? Will your prospects alter the course of their buyer’s journey because of the $5k you spent to slap your logo and tagline on the side of the staircases and escalators?
  • What else are you doing to influence members of a buying group who don’t attend events? Even if you absolutely nail it – the best-looking booth, a prime location, and a well-prepped sales team – you still won’t meet every single member of every buying group. Some people just don’t go to events, and if they do, then there’s no guarantee they’ll see you there.

You need to reach buyers where they do research and consume information on their own terms. And they’re doing most of this research and content consumption somewhere other than at events.

Look, I love events. It’s so much more gratifying to talk shop face-to-face and to feel the energy of a room full of like-minded people. But that doesn’t mean B2B marketers have to sacrifice their content marketing goals just for the sake of being at events.