The corporate event, be it a lunch, seminar or dinner, is a recognised way of raising the profile of the professional services firm. Here we explore how to maximise return on investment and achieve measurable objectives.
I recently attended a lunch for about 100 people at the premises of a professional services firm. The invitations were well targeted; the speaker and topic were very appealing and venue convenient. As a result, many senior decision-makers from the region’s major organisations were there. Over the very nice and no doubt costly buffet, I got chatting to the host and firm’s marketing partner. I asked what the firm got out of such events. The answer was “We are a fairly new name round here so we put on these events to increase awareness.” A little further chatting revealed that this was the only objective of the event!
Briefly putting the firm’s name at the front of the minds of 100 or so local business leaders might have been fair value for the cost of the event. However, the return on investment could have been much higher.
The two main higher value objectives that the event failed to deliver are:
- building relationships with potential clients
- reinforcing relationships with existing clients
There are a number of good models used for the marketing and selling of professional services and most have a great deal in common. One of these is the PACE model proposed by WALKER, K., FERGUSON, C & DENVIR, P., 1998. They describe the corporate marketing event as a contact marketing exercise for moving the potential client along the path from prospect to a client.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at what needs to be done to make this point in that journey a success. We will not be looking at the details like booking the venue and arranging the buffet. These are important to make the event work well but we will look at the activities that will deliver a good return on investment in marketing terms.
To add a little structure, it can help to think about activities that will contribute to the objectives that need to be done: before the event; at the event; and after the event. This can help with planning and measuring the achievement of milestones.
Before the event
Be clear about objectives. Make sure that all those involved understand and are bought into what the event is for. It is going to cost time and money so make sure everyone knows why they are doing it. You need their support.
Consider who is it that you would like to build relationships with. Perhaps they are in a particular sector or at a particular stage in the development of their business?
Why do you want to build relationships with potential clients? The answer has to be to convert them into clients. Recognising this will help focus activity.
Which clients are you looking to strengthen relationships with and why? What will this achieve for the firm?
This is the time when you should consider how you will measure performance against these objectives. An obvious measure that many look to is positive feedback. It is important but it is also the easy measure and not directly relevant to the objectives. A better measure might be the number of follow-up meetings with delegates. This is what the event should be all about achieving and is difficult to misinterpret, accidentally or deliberately.
Choosing the topic can be treading a fine line.
On the one hand, the topic of the event needs to address delegates’ needs. It must be something that will attract target attendees to the event.
On the other hand, you want it to have resonance with the delegates’ own issues that could be addressed by the firm’s services. This means that discussions about the client’s needs can naturally follow.
A blatant sales pitch will do more harm than good. The content should be enough to make the event worth attending but leave the audience wanting more. This is the opportunity for further discussion.
Invitations to named individuals should be non-transferable to maintain quality and targeting.
The appearance and tone of invitations should reflect the firm’s branding and promote the benefits of attending. For example, “Learn how to reduce risk in contracting”, “An informed expert view of where the economy is headed”.
Full return on investment in the event can only be achieved if the hosts do their job well at the event.
Make sure there is an appropriate host to guest ratio. WALKER & FERGUSON suggest a maximum of five guests per host. Some VIP guests will require a higher ratio to look after them well.
Be aware that it can be annoying for guests and counter-productive if asked the same question when approached by more than one host. Decide in advance who will ask what questions. It might help for each host to have an elected ‘specialism’ related to the event topic. This way it can be researched in advance and guests can be directed to the host that is most relevant to their interest.
Badges can help hosts as well as other guests. The text should be big enough to read at a distance. Coloured dots on the badges can be used to categorise guests at a glance. Categories might be clients versus potential clients, sector or allocated host.
At the event
If the event objectives are to develop and build relationships, hosts must engage with guests. A non-threatening way to open a conversation that shows interest in the delegate is to ask a question about what they think. WALKER & FERGUSON point out that questions about their business like “How will this new legislation affect your business?” can be threatening and put the delegate on the defensive. For all we know, they might be thinking that the ‘new legislation’ spells the end for their business. It would be more comfortable for the guest if asked “How do you see this new legislation affecting the industry?” If the guest feels comfortable, they may take the discussion in a direction specific to their company.
It is during this discussion that opportunities for a more in-depth, one-to-one discussion of client’s issues or solutions often arise but this is not the place. At his point, resist the temptation to whip out the diary and set an appointment. This could put too much pressure on the prospect and result in a missed or cancelled appointment. A better approach is to say you think that you might be able to help and that when you are back at your desk, you will email a few thoughts on the issue and call later to see if it is appropriate to meet. Check if this is acceptable to the prospect and leave it there. This is time to move on politely.
The guest might show interest but might not need the firm’s services right now. That doesn’t mean that they won’t in the future. A great way of maintaining a relationship with the guest and keeping your firm at the top of their mind is the company newsletter. When I meet someone like this at an event, I say “I would like to keep in touch via our email newsletter. I think you will find some of the articles useful; in fact, there is one in the next issue about XYZ. Would that be OK?”
Collecting feedback is important and can be done on paper or on-line, at the event or after the event. What is important is to recognise it as a contact opportunity. On the form, include the opportunity for a call back for those interested in the company services and an opportunity to sign-up for the firm’s newsletter.
Another way to stimulate further contact is to offer a download of the presentation or other data from your website. If it is the presentation, you are driving targeted traffic to your site without giving anything more away.
After the event
So, the event is over, but it was only part of the process of progressing relationships and it needs following-up to make it effective.
Since we have already discussed the forms of follow-up, I will give just give you a post event checklist of follow-up actions
Add guests who want to subscribe to the company newsletter to the distribution.
- Follow-up emails with further thoughts following conversations at the event
- After this, call to fix a meeting
Tip: a CRM system is ideal for managing this activity
One opportunity often overlooked is contacting the targets that declined the invitation or did not reply. Many of them probably wanted to attend but could not because of other commitments. A great opportunity for showing that the firm offers good service and building relationship is to offer a web-meeting or one-to-one meeting to go through the material when you are passing their location.
The last key thing to do is to check whether this event met its objectives. If you set them properly at the beginning, they will be measurable. If it did, well done! If not, what needs to be done differently next time?
Done well, with the recognition of activity that needs to happen before, during and after the event, this form of contact marketing can really pay in moving potential clients toward being clients.
If you want to talk any of this article over, just give me a call or drop me an email
Clive Lewis (0) 1242 42 1000 email clive
Reference: WALKER, K., FERGUSON, C & DENVIR, P., 1998, “Creating New Clients – Marketing and Selling Professional Services”, Cassell, New York