IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Going Gala: How to Turn Events into Sales

These proven tips from experienced channel pros will make your live marketing events a rich and steady source of new customers. By Carolyn Heinze
Reader ROI: 
MAKE EDUCATIONAL CONTENT rather than sales pitches the star attraction of your events.
INVITE SATISFIED EXISTING CLIENTS along with sales prospects to your conferences to promote peer-to-peer marketing.
HOST YOUR EVENTS at venues your target audience will find convenient and attractive.
LEVERAGE VENDOR PARTNERS for financial support and presentation materials but be wary about sharing control over your agenda.
FOLLOW UP WITH ATTENDEES diligently and patiently after an event. Landing their business can take a year or more in some cases.

EVERY QUARTER, ALVAREZ TECHNOLOGY GROUP INC., a solution provider and MSP based in Salinas, Calif., hosts an event designed to educate both customers and prospects about top issues in technology. Typically 90 minutes long from start to finish, the shows generally draw about 30 people and produce three or four solid sales opportunities. “[They’re] key to our marketing efforts,” says Luis Alvarez, ATG’s president and CEO.

For channel pros who haven’t held live events before, the two biggest challenges are filling the house and then turning those attendees into hot sales leads. Channel pros with experience hosting events have concrete advice for meeting both of those objectives.

What to Talk About

Alvarez says that offering educational content is the best way to attract people to an event.

“When you turn it into a sales pitch, the word gets out, and you’ll never get anybody to come again,” he says. Better to enlighten and engage prospects on topics that matter to businesses in their community instead. Events, Alvarez notes, are an opportunity to uncover potential customers’ pain points, learn more about their organizational needs, and begin forging mutually beneficial relationships.    

Keep those educational objectives in mind when selecting presenters, he continues. For example, when vendors speak at events they tend to center the discussion on their own products and services. While Alvarez appreciates the financial support sponsors provide, he limits their speaking time and makes a neutral subject matter expert the star of the show instead.

Effective managers are always on the lookout for fresh ideas that will help their business prosper, so that star speaker is usually an interesting, independent professional who has valuable advice to share and whose participation will help drive attendance. For example, a recent ATG event focused on cybersecurity and featured a professor from the nearby Naval Postgraduate School. That pairing of timely, attention-grabbing subject matter with a respected local expert made for a winning combination.

“When you turn [an event] into a sales pitch, the word gets out, and you’ll never get anybody to come again.”

LUIS ALVAREZ, PRESIDENT AND CEO, ALVAREZ TECHNOLOGY GROUP INC.

Of course, when working with outside speakers, it’s wise to develop an alternate plan in case the presenter cancels at the last minute. Alvarez, who often serves as the backup speaker at his company’s events, always prepares a relevant presentation in advance to ensure the show can go on even if the headliner is a no-show.

Who to Invite

Ruth Stevens, a customer acquisition and retention consultant based in New York and author of Trade Show and Event Marketing: Plan, Promote and Profit, argues against building guest lists that consist solely of new sales prospects. Invite a few of your best customers as well, she suggests, to encourage cross-selling and spur peer-to-peer marketing. Satisfied clients “can tell great stories and be enthusiastic advocates,” Stevens says.

Alvarez concurs. “You always want to sprinkle the audience with some marks. When you’re talking and a question comes up, it’s easier to say, ‘Robin, that happened to you. Could you tell us about it?’ It’s not coming from me, it’s coming from a client, and that has a heck of a lot more power than if I provided the answer.”

About the Author

Carolyn Heinze is a regular freelance contributor to ChannelPro-SMB.

CAROLYN HEINZE is a regular freelance contributor to ChannelPro-SMB.

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