How to Apply Conversational Marketing Best Practices to Get the Most Out of Your Next Event

parallels-conversational-events

Imagine you’re working the booth at an event. Someone walks up, and all you know about them is whatever information is displayed on their name badge. But even though you’d love to get more insight into who they are, what they need, and whether they are the right fit as a customer, you don’t barrage them with questions (like a traditional website form would).

That would be weird.

Instead, you start a conversation—not a transaction, but a real, honest-to-goodness, human-to-human conversation. The visitor asks you a couple questions, and you—as a vendor—get to qualify. It’s an organic, two-way value exchange that benefits both parties.

This is why I love events. Because the exchange of value happens in a very natural way.

You can’t deny the power of conversation to create an authentic connection. In the past, most sales and marketing interactions were one-sided, so in-person events were the only real opportunity for companies to engage in a direct, two-way dialogue with buyers and customers. But today’s customers expect a conversational experience throughout the buying journey.

Enter conversational marketing — a powerful new way to engage, understand, and efficiently guide buyers down the marketing funnel.

The rise of conversational marketing has been driven in large part by technology’s influence on how we consume content, communicate with each other, and seek out information. The speed of the internet; the convenience of mobile devices; and the immediacy of texting, chat, and social media are all forcing the marketing funnel to adapt. Prospects don’t want to fill out forms or dig through piles of content to find what they’re looking for. They want a fast, easy, personalized experience – one that’s more like having a conversation with another human being.

Conversational marketing gives customers the experience they want. It also turns out to be good for businesses because conversation-ready leads are a much stronger signal than traditional MQLs. Because let’s face it – there isn’t a sales rep on the planet who would choose to engage a random webinar attendee over a prospect who actively raised their hand to have a conversation.

And when you apply chatbot and other technologies to automate and scale additional layers of qualification, the upside is exponential 📈

But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The Parallels Between Events and Conversational Marketing

A lot goes into the making of a great event. I love the pre-event preparation, the onsite execution, and the post-mortem follow-up. In my role as an AE at Gartner, Inc., it’s my responsibility to secure sponsorship partners for our three key live events: Gartner Marketing Symposium, Gartner Tech Growth & Innovation Conference, and Gartner CSO & Sales Leaders Conference. All in all, these events bring in approximately 5,000 attendees, including industry influencers, up-and-comers, and some bonafide superstars.

These events give the enterprise businesses I support an immensely valuable opportunity to get face time with the people they want to meet. This is why I what I do – because face time and real conversations are important. When two people engage in an authentic and unscripted dialogue, it can change everything.

Outside of live events, it’s really exciting that today’s technology gives us the ability to use conversational marketing strategies to recreate two-way conversations in a way that’s efficient and scalable without sacrificing the “humanity” of the experience.

The key to success with conversational marketing – as with event marketing – is to be intentional about it. You need to think it through, one step at a time. Luckily, a lot of the familiar pre-event, onsite, and post-event best practices for live events can be applied to conversational marketing.

Let me walk you through what a successful conversational event strategy should look like – before, during, and after the event – so you can make sure you’re getting the most out of your experience (and your investment).

Before: Laying the Groundwork

Successful event sponsorship starts long before the event. And between you and me, I can tell pretty quickly which companies will get the most out of an event based on their preparation process.

I tend to break a good event prep strategy into three phases:

90 days out:

  • Assess how your company’s content aligns with both the overall theme and top tracks of the event.
  • Review the attendee list to get a sense of the audience.
  • Plan your content.
  • Make a list of the people you want to meet at the event.

60 days out:

Develop your booth strategy. How you present your company will depend on your corporate objectives. Trying to drive brand awareness? You may want to have a bigger presence. Looking to establish thought leadership? Headlining a breakout session might be a better use of your resources.

Build your booth team. You need the right people in your booth. Not just the ones who know your business inside and out, but the ones with the right energy – people who are outgoing, interactive, and engaging. Having the right team representing your brand can mean the difference between landing a six-figure deal and coming home empty-handed.

Get tactical on details. Articulate your event messaging. Prep your social media package. Brush up your brand collateral. Make it easy for partners to promote your presence at the event, and make sure your team has everything they need at their fingertips.

30 days out:

Time to focus on execution and the specifics of how you will achieve and measure your business objectives. What do you have to do on-site to generate X number of leads or book X number of meetings? What will you have to do to hit a certain level of brand awareness?

The work doesn’t end there. There are a lot of parallels on the conversational marketing side and you need to prep for them.

Know your audience. Before you can engage in successful conversations with buyers you need to be really clear about who they are and what they need. Who are they? What kinds of questions do they have? What kind of information are they looking for?

Understand your objectives. Before heading into your event, you need to know what you’re hoping to get out of your conversations. How do you want to be able to help? What goals do you want your buyer to accomplish? Where do you want the conversation to go? What do you want the buyer to do?

Develop the right voice and energy. One of the most common mistakes companies make when starting out with conversational marketing is not paying enough attention to the personality – the voice and tone – of your content. Whether the content asset is a blog post or a chatbot, taking the time to craft a voice that is engaging, personable, and “human” pays huge dividends. So when you’re promoting your event, make sure you’re setting the right tone and letting people know it’s an event they don’t want to miss.

Establish measurement criteria. Before you launch any conversational assets or campaigns, you want to get team alignment on how you will measure performance against your objectives. The same goes for events. What KPIs can you apply to your efforts so that you can get a clear picture of what works and what doesn’t?

During: Executing on the Plan

Once you finally arrive at an event, your number one responsibility is simply to execute on the strategy you defined during your pre-event preparations. You need to know your role (based on agreed-upon business objectives) and then have the right people in place to create the right kinds of conversations.

And what is the right kind of conversation? It’s a conversation that’s driven by customer needs, not sales goals. It’s not pushy, manipulative, or formulaic. Booth visitors don’t want to jump through hoops so you can capture their contact info. They want to be heard and understood. They want to get answers to their questions.

In addition to conversations with people who stop by your booth, you also want to have a plan for out-of-booth interactions. Meaning, who do you want to talk with, what do you want to talk about, and where might these conversations take place? How are you leveraging the various events within the event, things like attendee meals and happy hours? What’s your strategy for taking advantage of informal and unstructured opportunities to connect?

Bottom line: don’t be a waste of space. Make the most of your event experience by following your plan and engaging in quality conversations.

Successful conversational marketing embraces the same concept of how to have a “good” conversation.

You’ve done the legwork to get to know your audience, identify conversation objectives, and develop the right kind of brand voice. Now, as you dive into the actual conversation, it’s critical to accomplish two things.

Establish Trust

Whether you’re working with live chat or a chatbot (or any other kind of conversational marketing asset), you want to create a conversation, not an interrogation. Stay focused on your buyer’s need for answers. Build your conversation around solving their problems, whether that’s locating specific information about your product or getting in touch with the appropriate “real human” as quickly as possible. Steer clear of dialogue that puts your buyer through the wringer as you try to extract as much information as possible. Buyers will see right through that, and you’ll lose all credibility.

Deliver the Goods … Fast

Everyone is busy at events, so one of the primary goals of any buyer conversation is to deliver what they’re looking for in as few steps as possible. Think through possible questions buyers might have so that you can anticipate their general needs and then drill down with smart follow-up questions that tell you exactly what they want. Think of each conversation as a valuable chance to prove how helpful you can be – because that’s exactly what it is.

After: Following Through and Following Up

The last part of the process is probably the one most often overlooked. But it’s important to remember that follow-up after your event is crucial. I usually do a debriefing call 30 days after the event. This is important for a few reasons.

  • A good post-mortem is the best way to prepare for your next event. Taking the time to analyze what worked and what didn’t (as well as what surprised you) provides valuable insights, keeps you from repeating past mistakes, and helps you identify new opportunities for next time.
  • Revisiting the event helps ensure good follow up. It’s easy for things to fall through the cracks after an event. If you don’t want all your hard work to go to waste, use the debrief as a way to make sure everyone followed through on post-event tasks like booking meetings, reaching out via email, sending thank you gifts, and so forth.
  • The debrief is when you find out whether your efforts were a success. Remember those business objectives we talked about in the pre-event phase? The debrief is when you assess whether or not you met those goals. Did you book the right number of meetings? Did you get face time with the key people on your list? What does your pipeline look like?

In a similar vein, conversational marketing isn’t a once-and-done proposition.

Just because you’ve had a conversation with a buyer doesn’t mean the work is done. Just like an event is a launching pad for relationships, so is that initial conversation with a prospect. It’s only the beginning of “something beautiful” if you keep the dialogue going and nurture them until they are ready to buy, building trust and loyalty with each interaction.

At this stage, it’s important to remember that conversational marketing should not be formulaic or static. Although chatbot scripts and other forms of automation can drive high efficiency, they aren’t meant to be written in stone. They should evolve with your customers’ needs and interests. Regular monitoring and analysis of how your conversational marketing assets and campaigns are performing will help you figure out how to take them to the next level.

And because conversational marketing assets like chatbots are often the bridge between marketing and sales, it’s worth calling out that follow-through typically requires cross-functional effort. Set expectations with both teams, just like you would with a marketing events team that was handing leads off to a sales team. Everyone needs to understand their role in creating success, and you can’t be afraid to hold people accountable.

Events and Conversational Marketing – Powerful on Their Own, but Even Better Together

Clearly, there are many parallels between event marketing and conversational marketing. Both harness the power of conversations. Success in either depends in large part on your ability to follow a strategic before-during-after process. And both offer a valuable opportunity to connect with buyers and customers in a more authentic and human way than other types of marketing.

So why not bring the two together for your next event?

Tom Wineteer is an Account Executive at Gartner Inc. He loves helping organizations achieve their growth objectives by leveraging Gartner’s portfolio of events. 

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post. Interested in contributing content to the Drift blog? Email Molly Sloan at msloan@drift.com.

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