Creating a Successful B2B Marketing Event: How to Stack the Odds in Your Favor

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Unless you get a tattoo. Or you work in PR and have a blog post to write.

I was in Las Vegas last week for an event my client (a consulting firm) stages for their retail clients – a function in its 24th year that brought together about 100 people from 60 different companies. An impressive gathering, but it hasn’t always been so. It has taken serious TLC over the years to grow it to what it is today.

When the sights and characters of Vegas weren’t distracting me (my personal highlight: seeing Elvis, Brett Michaels and Austin Powers walking side-by-side down the Strip), I was, of course, diligently taking notes about the burning issues attendees raised, ideas for future blog posts, etc. But I also found myself thinking about why it’s such a well-attended event that their clients actually look forward to every year – aside from the free meals.  And, no, it’s not in Vegas every year, so what’s the draw?

Well, it turns out their secret marketing strategy is quite simple: make it about the attendees. This stretches beyond the topics of conversation – that’s a given. Valeria Maltoni said it perfectly in her post yesterday on the 7 “shoulds” of conference organization: “Time and time again the conferences we remember and return to are those that manage to create a context that is conducive to making connections, those that build a bridge between attendees and speakers with creativity, and through collaboration.”

So, how did my client stack the deck in their favor?

  • Start Off on the Right Foot – Them: I love the way this conference started. Everyone in the room stood up, introduced themselves/their company and shared a few issues they were grappling with and hoped to discuss at the conference. It immediately gave it a personal feel and encouraged sharing. I can’t think of a better way to get people engaged from the very start.
  • Provide Opportunities for People to Talk: The above only works if you then follow through with providing the opportunity to discuss these issues. Sure, there were prepared presentations my client gave on pre-determined issues. They also built in time for a series of break-out discussions around topics attendees raised and facilitated those conversations. There were plenty of opportunities for everyone to share and connect during breakfast, lunch, breaks and at a function in the evening.
  • Customize Your Content: The pre-determined presentation topics were not selected by a roll of the dice – there was a pointed outside-in approach. Many of the attendees participate in surveys the consulting firm conducts, and results are shared at the conference and given additional context through case studies or informal polls/discussions at the event to drill deeper. They seek input from attendees at the end of each conference – and prior to meeting – about topics they wish to discuss. Then (go figure), they listen and actually incorporate those insights into the event.
  • Share the Limelight: There were several retailers/attendees who presented and shared their case studies. Every time a co-presenter got up to talk about their “real life experiences” around the topic at hand, they were always peppered with questions. Storytelling in a B2B setting has an amazing way of quickly giving ideas, data and theories that are thrown around real context. In addition, people were encouraged to ask questions not only of the speakers, but of the room. Attendees were regularly taking informal polls of the room about what companies were doing X or Y.

In essence, my client avoided being talking heads at the front of the room droning through PowerPoint presentations designed around what they wanted to sell. Their conference has become a valued function because they serve as thoughtful facilitators of meaningful conversation and a resource that gathers and shares intelligence about industry trends and developments about which their clients are asking.

They are creating conversation. And isn’t that what good B2B marketing is all about?

Have you attended an event that effectively engaged people? What worked, in your opinion?

(photo by Auntie P)

To reach Kellie:

Twitter: @kshe
LinkedIn: Kellie Sheehan