Traditionally, B2B sellers have relied heavily on trade shows, user conferences, and other face-to-face interactions to bring products and services to market, generate leads, and maintain relationships with loyal customers.

B2B event marketing was third among all sales and marketing channel initiatives in terms of engagement effectiveness and first in terms of conversions. This was the finding from a 2020 study from the Demand Gen Report.

However, with COVID-19 removing almost all personal events from the calendar, B2B marketers have tried – sometimes successfully, sometimes less – to develop and refine virtual event experiences that are still interesting.

In short, B2B sellers now need to replicate the effects of personal events, but virtually.

Conversations with a cross-section of marketing directors at B2B sellers and my own colleagues in the past few months have revealed various levers that help achieve the most successful virtual event experiences.

The following 12 approaches derived from these conversations address key variables in three categories that are critical to B2B buyer engagement and relationship maintenance:

  1. attract attention in the virtual environment
  2. Drive demand and registration for virtual events
  3. Create differentiated experiences for a global audience

Compare the following tactics and statistics with those of your own virtual events, including your metrics, to see if there is room for improvement.

Capture attention in virtual settings

1. Offer both live and on-demand media

Our data at Accenture shows that more than 40% of registrants attend livestream events as they happen. The need to make presentations available when needed is clear: it will likely be how most of your attendees are watching.

2. Keep presentations to the point and guide participants to the content of the next step

Regardless of whether a virtual event lasts 60, 90 or 180 minutes, most live attendees only tune in around 50% of an event. The most common drop-off points occur after half an hour when viewers drop out to attend meetings.

This means that virtual events have to convey their most critical points in the first half. Virtual presentations should also provide a guide to the next steps potential customers can take, much sooner than you might think. Don’t save this for the last five minutes or you may never hear it.

3. Offer replay videos and on-demand replays

Only a third of viewers see virtual events in full screen mode (and even those viewers only do so for the first 10 minutes). For example, let’s say a lot of your audience is multitasking. Offer highlighting recaps and iterations to make it easier for attendees to revisit and process information as needed.

4. Avoid changing event dates

Changing the date of an announced virtual event will reduce attendance: registrants who register before a date change will be 50% less likely to attend after a new date. Avoid rescheduling as much as possible.

Increased demand and registration for virtual events

5. Encourage attendees to share event content on their social networks

Recent data has shown that paid media increases awareness of events – but not of increased registration or viewership – during the event. In contrast, sharing content by attendees on social media leads to twice the conversion rate compared to role and title-based targeting during the event.

Establish governance for a content newsroom that generates pull quotes, infographics, and other shareable media so attendees and their networks can circulate during the event.

6. Measure the effectiveness of content and use paid media to get repetitions of that content

Measuring the effectiveness of content is critical to your event measurement strategy. Identify content that is performing best during the event and augment it with paid media to reach similar audiences on LinkedIn and other social channels that your target audiences use. If your event is part of a series or a learning path, use powerful content to generate new interest.

7. Cross-market events with other product or business groups

To encourage participation from marketers who work for large B2B buyers, a relatively inexpensive strategy is to combine efforts across business groups. Cross-marketing has proven that registration page traffic doubles (and in our experience even triples).

For platform companies with a range of products, cross-marketing events can broaden interest in multiple products and solutions compared to individual products.

8. Offer one-click registration with pre-filled forms

The move to one-click virtual event registration emails has immediate success with 50% more registrations than other forms. Although the participation rate of these registrations averages 8% below the norm due to the lower engagement with a one-click registration, the net increase is still significant.

Make part of your ongoing one-click effort to simplify customer sign-up and make sure you take a conscious approach to incremental data collection rather than resorting to long and tedious forms.

9. Encourage early registration

Since the move to virtual events began in March, an average of 75% of B2B webinar registrants have signed up during the week of an event. This is a significant increase from 2019 when only 43% did. In order to predict the number of attendees earlier and more accurately, offer incentives for early bird registration.

Create differentiated experiences to scale the target group reach

10. Create modular event traces that can be reused and used for other purposes

Think of individual event sessions as elements that can be combined to achieve specific purposes, rather than simply moving personal events into virtual formats. Modular event tracks such as training courses, roundtables and vertical topics can be re-used and configured for use at different buyer group events.

To get the most out of this modularization, re-examine virtual engagement tactics and place events within customer journeys and sales cycles, using the techniques most appropriate for each purpose.

11. Create video keynotes before events and combine them with live questions and answers

Q&A functions are becoming more common – which means they are increasingly expected. The digital experience platform ON24 reports that questions and answers are included in 90% of the webinars this year, compared to 80% in 2019.

Recorded video with live questions and answers provides better video performance and allows the speakers to save their energy for interaction. High energy and the ability to make real connections and interactions with the audience are a must for any successful virtual event.

12. Ground virtual events with tactile experiences

Many B2B organizers are now mailing out conference kits to attendees jam-packed with loot, snacks, cocktail recipes, and other goodies. By adding tactile touchpoints, attendees feel more connected to the event, and reaching an attendee in their home can open up new opportunities for B2B brand creativity.

Such efforts are more common on smaller, high-touch events, but modest direct mail can perform well on a large scale as well.

Sales and results

Determining an effective total revenue model for virtual events is a largely unsolved challenge. Currently, around 70% of virtual B2B events are offered for free or at a reduced price for virtual participation. Some ask more to attend the networking portion of the event.

One possible solution is to treat sponsorship like media advertising – think of branding overlays, pre-rolls, and built-in paid sponsorship offers. Another option could be to allow attendees to collect badges that encourage virtual exploration and participation so organizers can credit event partners based on attendees’ engagement.

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By implementing all or even some of the techniques described above, B2B event marketers can refine their virtual event strategies and determine which levers will work for their business. Using the data-driven insights in this article will help organizations deliver lower-cost, higher engagement virtual events – not just during the pandemic, but well beyond.