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Events and Intra-Pipeline Acceleration

July 25, 2017

Aesop's fable "The Tortoise and the Hare" tells a story about a footrace between a slow tortoise and a hare who jumps out to an early lead. The hare becomes so overconfident that he takes a nap halfway through the race, only to discover when he wakes that he has lost the race to his slow but steady opponent.

Too often, b-to-b organizations make the same mistake when managing opportunities; after the first rush to get a head start and identify pipeline, many fail to keep their focus on the finish line. Best-in-class marketing functions, on the other hand, collaborate with sales to develop a menu of tactics to increase pipeline velocity and conversion rates, often including highly targeted events. In this issue, we examine the use of events for a form of pipeline acceleration that we refer to as intra-pipeline.

Leveraging Events to Accelerate Pipeline Progression

Intra-pipeline acceleration creates pinpointed offers and sales enablement assets designed to keep opportunities from stalling during the early and middle stages of the pipeline. Intra-pipeline efforts kick in once an opportunity has been assigned a monetary value and anticipated close date. To leverage events for this purpose, apply the following best practices:

  • Define the strategy. Intra-pipeline acceleration is the most challenging pipeline zone, requiring thorough knowledge of how opportunities progress, including conversion criteria, conversion rates, and average velocity at each stage. Marketing must work closely with sales operations - which typically owns the sales force automation (SFA) platform and responsibility for pipeline measurement - to understand which opportunities have stalled and at what stage. Defining the strategy for intra-pipeline events relies on a combination of data analysis to identify pipeline chokepoints and discussions with sales reps to understand their perceptions of what type of content and tactics are likely to unstick opportunities stalled at each chokepoint. Product marketers should participate actively with field marketing and sales in planning intra-pipeline acceleration events, because they will play an essential role in developing and delivering the event content.
  • Select the audience. Intra-pipeline events are aimed at a small, select group of targets that share common attributes and are stalled at the same opportunity stage in the pipeline. Using the SFA platform, sales selects opportunities most likely to be positively influenced by the event based on their current opportunity status. Audience selection should factor in other planned stimulus offers that might not coincide with the event. For example, if opportunities stalled during an early pipeline stage are already being stimulated by a content offer delivered by a marketing automation platform and designed to fill an information void, an event invite during the same timeframe might be unnecessary.
  • Determine the event type. SiriusDecisions classifies b-to-b events into four key 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, online trade shows). For intra-pipeline acceleration, the most effective live event types are local and regional seminars, which can take many forms, including workshops, lunch-and-learns, and technology or demonstration events held at buyer sites. Customer conferences can serve a similar purpose if they include sessions designed specifically for prospects or if a sales rep can guide the attendee's experience. Virtual events, when aligned to the buyer's needs and sales stages, can also be effective; we recommend webinars that include subject matter experts (SMEs) as presenters, demonstrate solutions, feature customer references or success stories, and provide a forum for participants to interact with the presenters.
  • Develop the content. Typically, stalled intra-pipeline opportunities are reactivated by filling information voids or making customer proxy offers, which are designed to reduce perceived risk and create a favorable vision of the customer experience, respectively. Event content must address specific reasons why opportunities might be stuck at a specific stage. Offering customer references and access to SMEs can be highly effective stimuli, so event agendas should include content delivered by customers and experts (e.g. customer success stories, industry/solution-focused product demos).
  • Measure success. The success of an intra-pipeline event is measured by determining whether it moved attendees forward through the pipeline (if they were stalled) or accelerated their progress, compared to other opportunities at the same stage that were not stimulated by an event. Other success measurements include the number of registrations (a measure of popularity) and how many resulted in closed deals. Finally, because events are typically more expensive than other tactics, the cost per opportunity moved is important, as is the number of contacts invited to attend. Consider how the sales team perceives the effectiveness of the activity and its impact on the pipeline, and regularly report on event results.
     

The Sirius Decision

Best-in-class marketing organizations are extending their efforts beyond filling the top of the demand waterfall, aligning with sales to develop a menu of offerings that influence and keep opportunities moving through the sales pipeline. When including events as part of intra-pipeline acceleration, marketers must ensure that event strategy and content align with previously executed programs and tactics that generated the opportunity. These events are most effective when their content addresses typical concerns of prospective buyers, including knowledge gaps and perceptions of risk. 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.