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Events and Rapid-Entry Pipeline Acceleration

October 27, 2017

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, has become a widely recognized annual shopping event in the United States. Bargain hunters rush into stores - some of which open at midnight with early-bird specials - to purchase merchandise at marked-down prices. The Black Friday hoopla has paid off handsomely for retailers, driving volume with special offers on the products most desired by buyers.

Although b-to-b marketers deal with more complicated selling situations than their price-slashing b-to-c counterparts, they share a desire for more high-quality targets in their organization's sales pipeline. One way to do so is with events, provided marketing and sales collaborate closely on their use. In this issue, we examine the use of events for a form of pipeline acceleration that we refer to as rapid-entry.

Leveraging Events to Accelerate Pipeline Entry

Rapid-entry pipeline acceleration fills the top of the sales pipeline with targeted leads that have a high propensity to become fully qualified sales opportunities. This type of acceleration supplements marketing's broad-based lead generation efforts with tactics focused on a defined set of accounts. To leverage events for this purpose, apply the following best practices:

  • Define the strategy. For new prospects as well as existing customers, rapid-entry events must ignite interest and create urgency. For existing customers, the typical approach is to leverage a strong relationship to trigger cross-sell or upsell opportunities. For new prospects, the rapid-entry event should make a compelling case for the product, solution or service as the best choice to address a business need or opportunity. Marketing and sales must agree on the target profile as well as the intended quantity of rapid-entry opportunities to be qualified.
  • Select the audience. Using agreed-upon selection criteria, marketing typically generates small batches of prospect and/or customer accounts and contacts who closely fit the target audience profile and have the highest propensity to buy. Sales or channel partners then review this list to make the final selection of recipients of the rapid-entry event offer. Sales will likely want to exclude companies or divisions where there are already active opportunities, or where other stimulus offers are planned that are not aligned with the event. Rapid-entry targets also can be added through teleprospecting discovery efforts or list acquisitions from third-party vendors. Telemarketing may pre-screen potential rapid-entry targets using a short list of qualifying questions designed to gauge their willingness to consider the organization's solutions.
  • Determine the event type. SiriusDecisions classifies b-to-b events into four 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 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 and online trade shows). For rapid-entry pipeline acceleration, the two most effective event categories are live events and virtual events. Live events can include regional seminars, workshops, lunch-and-learns, technology or demonstration days. Virtual events should be educational webinars where the sponsor or co-presenter is a respected industry thought leader and the format promotes interaction. Trade shows are usually not effective for driving rapid pipeline entry; however, smaller, more focused industry (or vertical-specific) trade shows can reach a higher concentration of the target audience - especially if coupled with a speaking engagement that elevates the organization's profile above the competition. These shows can also drive rapid-entry acceleration when the exhibiting is done in conjunction with a company-hosted onsite event and sales makes a concerted effort to schedule onsite meetings in advance.
  • Develop the content. Rapid-entry acceleration focuses on filling a void in the prospect's knowledge about a product, solution or service, so the content delivered in a rapid-entry event must be educational and targeted to specifically address prospects' needs or concerns. Case studies should focus on a business issue and feature customer success stories and ROI documentation. Content demonstrating how offerings address a unique set of industry regulations, standards or compliance issues can also be effective.
  • Measure success. Ultimately, the success of a rapid-entry event is determined by how many opportunities it accelerates into the pipeline; this conversion should occur within 30 to 60 days after the event. Additional measurements include audience appeal (e.g. number of registrations), closed/won deals, speed through the pipeline (rapid-entry opportunities vs. other opportunities), and the cost of the event per opportunity generated. Also measure the number of contacts pulled from the database and invited to the events, and the event's effectiveness in reaching its targets.

The Sirius Decision

Some b-to-b events can be owned and managed by corporate marketing or centralized demand creation functions; however, when used as a stimulus offer to increase the velocity of opportunities through the early stages of the pipeline, they should be executed by field or channel marketing due to the close collaboration required with sales. These events are most effective when aligned to specific triggers in the market that present a unique opportunity to engage with buyers and create a sense of urgency for your product/solution or service. However, no single event by itself will drive prospects to make a buying decision; a mix of integrated marketing tactics should be applied throughout the buyer's journey, with each tactic calibrated for specific buying stages and personas.