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Events and Last-Mile Pipeline Acceleration

February 01, 2017

For most runners, the last 10 kilometers of a marathon are the toughest. During this final stage, runners exert maximum effort to keep up their speed, but often "hit the wall" as their legs weaken and they feel depleted of energy. Running experts say that proper training, adequate fluid intake and positive mental strategies are vital to avoid much of this discomfort.

Many b-to-b sales opportunities similarly move through the sales pipeline until they stall in the final stages, just shy of closing. At this critical juncture, sales may turn to marketing for support in facilitating a final interaction to help push late-stage prospects to close. In this brief, we examine the use of events for a form of pipeline acceleration we refer to as last-mile.

Leveraging Events to Accelerate the Close

Last-mile acceleration offers are designed to drive positive interactions with late-stage opportunities with the goal of pushing them across the finish line. Late-stage buyers must decide whether the product or solution's perceived risks are outweighed by its perceived rewards; therefore, last-mile acceleration events must enable sales to address the offering's perceived risks. To leverage events for this purpose, apply the following best practices:

  • Define the strategy. Many b-to-b organizations make the mistake of opening last-mile events to a broad audience. This blurs the focus of the event, which should be on opportunities that have the greatest chance of closing. Sales and marketing must work together to establish criteria for selecting last-mile opportunities that can be pushed across the finish line. Three types of criteria typically used for this purpose are sales gates, winnability and deal importance. Sales gates are criteria that a sales rep should be able to confirm (e.g. a verifiable match between the organization's solution and the buyer's needs, identification and verification of buying centers, confirmation of available budget). Winnability entails looking at the anatomy of the deal and matching it against previous wins. Take into consideration success with other companies with similar profiles, as well as the competitive landscape. Deal importance criteria include the size of the deal, its expected margins or strategic significance in terms of new logo acquisition.
  • Select the audience. Late-stage event participation is at the discretion of the salesperson. Marketing can facilitate this process by working with sales operations to generate a list from the sales force automation platform based on opportunities that have reached the final stage in the pipeline and meet pre-determined criteria for sales gates, winnability and deal importance. Provide this list to sales and collaborate with sales management and sales operations on audience selection.
  • Determine the event type. SiriusDecisions classifies b-to-b events into four main categories: trade shows (non-company-sponsored events where an organization participates as an exhibitor or attendee, but does not control attendees or content); live events (company-controlled events requiring an attendee to make a time commitment of one day or less); customer conferences (company-controlled, multi-day events designed to drive loyalty and educate attendees about new offerings); and virtual events (webcasts, webinars, online trade shows). For last-mile pipeline acceleration, the most effective option is a live event that lasts half a day or less. These "closing events" should provide attendees with direct access to executives, while sales reps gain direct access to decisionmakers. Many organizations choose small, intimate venues for these events in order to avoid distractions, facilitate interactions between salespeople and decisionmakers, and emphasize the importance of the invited accounts. Potential formats include executive dinners and roundtables, executive briefings, onsite meetings, golf outings and other sporting events. Other live events (e.g. local and regional seminars) can be used for last-mile acceleration so long as they are developed exclusively for opportunities that qualify for last-mile treatment. They must facilitate one-on-one interactions between prospects and executives, and the agenda must include content that addresses final roadblocks to closing the deal.
  • Develop the content.To assist last-mile buyers in resolving perceived risk factors and optimizing every dollar of spend, the event content should focus on customer experience and the financial aspects of the deal (see the brief "Pipeline Acceleration: Stimulus Offers"). Help buyers build a business case for purchase by providing financial models or benchmarking data and relevant examples of customer success. Content may also include a proof-of-concept product demonstration to establish viability and share guidance, encourage discussion of technical issues, and provide feedback for budgeting and other internal decisionmaking processes.
  • Measure success.Ultimately, the success of a last-mile event is measured by the number of closed deals vs. other opportunities at the same stage that were not stimulated by an event. Success can also be measured by whether or not deals closed at a faster rate vs. other deals. Finally, because events are typically more expensive than other tactics, the cost per opportunity closed should be measured. Marketing must regularly report on event results, and sales must agree on the effectiveness of the activity and its influence on bringing deals to closure. 


The Sirius Decision

Last-mile events are the most common type of event used for pipeline acceleration. To avoid diluting their effectiveness, collaborate with sales management and sales operations to establish criteria for determining which opportunities qualify for attendance. Also, ensure that event content is consistent with previously executed programs and tactics that generated the opportunity, and aligns to the needs of buyers in the final stage of the sales pipeline.