About This Guide
Front-row seats to Hamilton. A commencement speech from President Barack Obama. Premiere night tickets to the latest Disney film. On the surface, 2020 appeared to level the playing field for events. But, what 2020 really showed was that people are resilient.
When physical events were canceled due to COVID, the impact reverberated across industries, professions, and livelihoods. For B2B marketers relying on conferences to grow their pipeline, the loss was a blow. For attendees, it was a roadblock to valuable networking and learning opportunities.
Despite all this, almost overnight, marketers and event managers rolled up their sleeves and transformed physical events into dynamic, virtual experiences. 93% of marketing leaders now plan to continue virtual events in the future.
Yet, old challenges remain, and new challenges have come to light. For B2B marketers to find success with virtual events, they need to answer three important questions:
- How do you capture the magic of a physical conference in a virtual event? Drift’s Director of Events, Janna Erickson, and VP of Content & Community, Mark Kilens, answered that question in a dedicated Drift Insider course 👉 The Ultimate Guide to Running a Virtual Event.
- How do you execute a virtual event strategy that drives pipeline and new business – in an increasingly saturated marketing channel?
- How do you reinvent the event experience so that you aren’t just taking the analog and creating the digital version of it? How do you stand out among all of the ever-growing noise within the virtual event space?
To answer those last two questions, we present to you this guide. In it, you’ll discover a strategic framework to drive pipeline and new business from your next virtual event.
As more B2B businesses double down on virtual events, the need to stand out has never been greater. Read on to learn what it takes to create a high-performance virtual event strategy.
How Virtual Events Drive Demand & Pipeline
“Look before you leap” is a good mantra for any demand generation marketer to follow. Especially when it comes to events. In this chapter, you’ll learn why virtual events are ideal for generating pipeline, how to prioritize events based on your pipeline strategy, and how to measure and track ROI.
Why You Should Invest in Virtual Events
In a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, 52% of executives said events drive more value than other marketing channels. While physical events offer networking opportunities hard to match in a digital world, virtual events also come with some distinct advantages:
- Lower costs, higher ROI: Events can be expensive. Because virtual events cost less to coordinate, plan, and execute, the potential ROI is much higher (if you have a strong strategy in place).
- More accessible to attendees: Without the constraints and cost of travel, virtual events are more accessible to attendees – no matter where in the world they are.
- More concrete data insights: Virtual events offer a wealth of information about how attendees engage with, consume, and respond to content. These insights help shape future event strategies.
- More opportunities to start conversations: Engaging with someone at their point of highest intent is the best time to start a conversation. Virtual events help scale conversations that would get lost in the hustle of a big physical event.
- Offer long-term demand generation benefits: Having virtual event content on-demand creates more opportunities to engage with buyers. Tessa Barron, VP of Marketing at ON24, shares why on-demand virtual event content is so powerful:
To get the most out of virtual events, you need to understand what type of virtual event is right for you. Next, we’ll share how to prioritize different events based on your goals.
Prioritizing Internal & Third-Party Virtual Events Based on Pipeline Goals
To create a high-converting virtual event strategy, you need to start with your goals. George P. Johnson CEO, Chris Meyer, shared five questions demand generation leaders should ask when building a virtual event strategy:
- What are we trying to accomplish?
- Who is our audience?
- What do we want them to get from the experience?
- What key messages do we need to deliver?
- What actions are we trying to drive?
This exercise is important, because virtual events aren’t one-size-fits-all:
To determine which of these events to invest in, you need to know your end goal. For example, if you’re trying to engage with executives from target ABM accounts, virtual VIP dinners and tours are ideal given their intimate nature.
Once you have all of the relevant information (i.e, goals, budget, and event research) you need to decide the types of events you want to host and which third-party events to invest in for the quarter. To help you do the latter, we’re sharing our Third-Party Event Prioritization Scoring template. This template includes a scoring system to determine “best fit” third-party virtual events based on your pipeline goals.
Third-party events are ideal for capturing new audiences outside of your database as well as expanding your brand recognition. But what about creating your own virtual event? The same rules apply: Host events that will attract the audience you’re looking to engage with and then partner with companies who have influence with that audience. For much of this book, we’ll share best practices on how to host your own virtual event. But first, we need to define what success looks like.
Measuring & Tracking the ROI of Virtual Events
Outside typical ROI metrics like pipeline contribution and closed-won business, the metrics you use to track virtual event ROI should be based on your event goals. For example, if your goal is about lead generation or brand awareness, make sure to track new leads, MQLs, and / or website traffic.
Below is a list of the metrics Drift tracks for both events and other marketing programs:
- Pipeline influenced/Pipeline generated
- # of future customers (opportunities)
- # of closed-won business
- $ of closed-won business
- # of expansion business opportunities
- $ of expansion business
- # of interested people (MQL)
- # of scheduled conversations (demos booked, meetings booked)
- # of held conversations (demos held, meetings held)
Many marketers struggle to prove event ROI. In Harvard Business Review’s study, only 23% of respondents said they can accurately track the ROI of events. Companies can use vendors like Bizible to stay on top of ROI and attribution. Technology like this allows you to:
- Use multiple attribution models to see how virtual events contribute to closing new and expansion deals
- Determine how events can add new leads to your pipeline and accelerate their passage through the sales funnel
Because most virtual events are free, your ROI hinges on attendee engagement, a streamlined attendee experience, follow-up strategies, and a solid action plan between marketing and sales. For the remainder of this book, we’ll show how to tackle all the above.
Getting More Mileage Out of Your Virtual Events
Your pipeline plan is set. Your events are scheduled for the quarter. Now, it’s time to develop a strategy for driving demand and pipeline from these events.
The Virtual Event Lifecycle: A Strategic Framework
Every touchpoint in a virtual event is an opportunity to create value. Yet businesses struggle to capture this value across the lifecycle of their events – virtual or not.
To help optimize your event experience, we’re sharing a strategic framework for driving success and value with virtual events. While many of these strategies can be applied to third-party events as well, the core examples focus on hosting your own virtual events.
A few things to note about this framework:
- The activities listed are demand generation focused, but also include shared responsibilities and cross-team collaboration.
- This framework is broken into three different segments: before, during, and after a virtual event. Each segment has different metrics that demand generation teams should track to keep on pace for goals.
What’s not shown here are the people it takes to get the job done. Next, we’ll walk through how to work across teams when running a virtual event.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Working Cross-Functionally
With virtual events, your event team is no longer confined to marketing. Just ask Caroline Hull.
Caroline was part of the team that created the first virtual Adobe SUMMIT. Back in early 2020, Adobe drove more than half a million visitors to this event. (That’s 16 times more people than were expected to attend the same event in person that year.)
In other words, Caroline knows a thing or two about creating world-class virtual events. And she also knows that virtual events – big or small – can’t be executed alone.
Like Caroline, you’ll work with different experts to run your virtual event. At a high-level, expect to involve the following roles:
In the remaining chapters, you’ll learn how to work cross-functionally to deliver an amazing event experience that accelerates pipeline.
In this chapter, you’ll learn how to streamline your registration process and develop a comprehensive communication and social strategy. We’ll also discuss how to work with partners and sales to overachieve on your virtual event goals.
Streamlining the Registration Process
63% of marketers agree: Event registration software has the greatest contribution to event success. The reason is simple: Driving registrations for virtual events is challenging. In a report from PathFactory and Heinz Marketing, only 27% of marketers said their company was effective at generating registrations. That’s why we – and many of our customers – use Drift for event registrations.
By replacing long registration forms with a chatbot, companies make event registration easier. As shown, the only information this bot requires to register a person is the registrant’s business email. With data enrichment tools (like Clearbit and 6sense), marketers don’t need long forms to capture attendee information. After entering their email and agreeing to terms, registrants are given Google Calendar links for the event directly in the chat and via email:
Another way to increase conversions? Personalization. Using UTM parameters marketers can personalize chat conversations for visitors and target accounts. Personalizing your virtual event experience is a game-changer. In his RevGrowth session, Uberflip’s CMO and co-founder, Randy Frisch, shared how marketers too often provide little direction to navigate buyers through their journey:
Once you’ve nailed down a registration process, you’ll need to do two things: update your website, social, and chatbot CTAs and roll out your promotion plan.
Getting Event Promotion Right
Virtual events have a smaller registration window than physical conferences. So make the most of the time you have. In this section, you’ll learn how to tackle promotion across your marketing channels and work with partners and sponsors to boost registrations.
Pre-Event Email Marketing Strategies
A great email marketing strategy for events is built on three things:
Personalization & Segmentation
One of the best ways to personalize emails is by segmenting recipients based on past activities. Start by segmenting your list based on personas (i.e., who the best audience is for this particular event) and topical interest.
For RevGrowth: Virtual Experiences, we segmented for decision-maker level marketers, then by people who attended past events and people who downloaded our virtual event-related content. Our demand generation team personalized the copy for these emails based on recipients’ past actions, which led to higher conversion rates. (61% of registrations from RevGrowth: Virtual Experiences were driven by this tactic.)
Captivating Content That Drives Engagement
If you don’t have anything new to say – don’t say it at all. Make sure every event email you send tells the recipient something new: speaker announcements, session information, etc.
What types of subject lines drive the most opens? How do plain text emails perform vs. designed templates? How many links should you include per email?
To get answers to these questions, you’ll need to run some tests. For every email you send:
- Do an A/B split test on subject lines
- Experiment with CTA placement
- Segment and test different messaging across relevant audiences
- Identify the speakers that drive the most engagement
Pre-Event Paid Social & Social Media Strategies
Similar to your email marketing strategy for virtual events, your social strategy is all about building hype.
Paid Social: Make Registration Easy & Creatives Compelling
To get the most out of paid social, focus on two key objectives:
- Double down on the two or three channels your target audience is most engaged with
- Make it easy to register
For RevGrowth events, we focused on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Outside of paid LinkedIn ads, Drift sent Sponsored InMail with a personalized message from our VP of Demand Generation, Kate Adams, to target accounts. We also used LinkedIn’s native lead generation to prompt registrations vs. sending recipients to our own event landing page.
Again, you want to make registration as easy as possible to increase conversion – especially when you’re paying. (I.e., This new ad registration process generated an 11x higher conversion rate and 83% lower CPL compared to all the other ad formats we tried across LinkedIn.)
Don’t be afraid to try new things to reach your audience on their terms.
Social Media: Think Outside-the-Box
From a non-paid social standpoint, it’s important to think outside-the-box. Yes, continue posting:
- Speaker updates and coordinate promotion with those speakers
- Past event highlights to entice people to register for your upcoming event
- Partner and sponsorship announcements for cross-promotion to these networks
But, also go the extra mile. Here are some best practices from Drift’s own social media manager, Pat Timmons:
Pre-Event Chat Strategies
We used Drift to create a streamlined registration experience and drive event promotion. Here’s how we did it:
- Use pre-registration bots: Have more than one virtual event planned in your future? Add a pre-registration option at the end of a playbook during an event to capture early interest:
- Target ABM accounts with a personalized bot: Reach out to target accounts to register for an event when they visit your website. Have sales chime in.
- Re-engage with a retargeting bot: The Drift Retargeting bot greets return visitors with new information around the event and points them back to the event page to register.
Encouraging Employees to Promote Your Virtual Event
The more people who promote your event, the larger your potential reach. That’s the idea behind Drift’s “social takeover” strategy. We’ve done this for other pieces of content in the past. But with virtual events, we’ve operationalized the employee promotion process.
Here’s the strategy we use to get more employees to promote our events:
- Embed event updates into company-wide updates/comms: Remind employees about the upcoming event and the goals you’re trying to hit.
- Make sharing easy: Use technology like Bambu to let people share pre-written posts about the event.
- Make it fun: Add a bit of competition to the mix to get more employees involved:
Working with Virtual Event Partners & Sponsors
Great partnerships give your virtual events more authority, enrich event content, expand your potential audience reach, and provide excellent lead-sharing opportunities. Working alongside event managers, you’ll identify which partners are right for your event and how to build the best sponsorship packages.
Choosing the Right Partners
Your virtual event partners should meet three main criteria:
- Lead-share fit: Partners must have a similar audience or ideal customer profile (ICP) as your business / virtual event audience.
- Thought leadership fit: Virtual event partners must provide expertise and value relevant to the virtual event topic.
- GDPR-compliant: All companies should have proper documentation and policies around GDPR.
Event managers will help you to find the right partners and content. However, it’s important that demand generation is deeply involved in finalizing the details around lead-share agreements, contracts, and follow-up planning.
Setting Partnership Standards: Lead-Shares, Promotion, and Follow-Up Planning
Having lead-share agreements built around event promotion is the best way to drive registrations. In fact, past Drift virtual events can attribute almost 50% of registrations to partner referrals.
Your lead-share agreement must include guidelines on how partners can receive the event lead list, expectations for participating in the event, and guidelines on follow-up post-event. How you approach lead-sharing may differ, but there are two common practices:
- One-to-one match: A one-to-one match policy means that for every contact a partner drives to your virtual event, they get a lead.
- Lead-share threshold: Set a registration goal partners must meet to get the entire lead list. For example, if a partner drives 500 leads to attend, they get the entire list.
To track attribution, partners should use unique UTM tracking links. This is essential for lead-share purposes, and so you can understand a partner’s registration performance.
Partnership agreements should also include rules for post-event follow-up. Partners understand that spamming and hounding leads – the second they become available – won’t benefit anyone. So work with them to coordinate follow up in a human way.
Working with Virtual Event Sponsors to Drive Promotions
If you’re looking for additional funds to drive revenue or help with expenses for your virtual events, sponsorship packages are ideal. Not all event sponsorships include agreements around promotions, but we highly recommend drafting them into your event sponsorship packages. If you do, just be sure that the sponsor’s audience aligns with yours.
Here are some suggestions for weaving sponsorship opportunities into your virtual events:
- Sponsored happy hours
- Sponsored speaking opportunities
- Sponsored breaks or breakout sessions
- Sponsored emails
Actioning Sales During Pre-Event Promotion
To get even more value during registration and pre-event promotion, you need to action sales and SDRs.
Events are a great way to engage with and deliver value to target accounts. It’s on demand generation to help sales connect with these contacts and deliver the right message to get them to attend. With Drift, sales are notified when a target account is on the event page. This makes it easy for reps to drop in and engage with buyers to drive registrations and answer any event-related questions.
Your demand generation team should work with sales to craft outreach messaging for each new announcement. Then sales can personalize these messages for each target account. It sounds like a lot of work, but these are your high-value accounts! Sometimes, it pays to do the unscalable things.
It’s time to stick the landing. In this chapter, you’ll learn everything from how to drive game-day attendance to steps for managing engagement and sales conversations during live events.
Driving Attendance in a Digitally Distracted World
Game-day attendance is key to driving conversion. For Drift’s RevGrowth events, conversion rates for demos are more than double for attendees vs. no-shows. But marketers looking to capture their audience’s attention – in real-time – face a unique challenge: There’s a lot of distractions in our digital world.
To solve the attention dilemma, your team should focus on two key steps:
- Sending well-timed email reminders.
- Pushing registration before and throughout the event.
Boosting Attendance Through Email Marketing & Social
Whereas physical events require registrants to step away from their computers, virtual events and webinars do not. And because most virtual events are free and companies share post-event recordings, it’s easy to dismiss live opportunities – or forget about them during a busy workday.
Here are some ideas to help boost your live attendance numbers:
- Personalized email nurtures: Create personalized email nurtures for registrants. Personalize and segment by:
- Persona: Share agenda items and session information most relevant to particular personas.
- The registration trigger: How many people converted from a particular speaker announcement email or social post? Segment those registrants and personalize their nurture with teasers and details around the speakers and sessions that compelled them to register.
- Day-before reminders: Send emails that offer actionable steps for attendees to get the most out of your event. For example, “sign up for this Slack group to network with other attendees in real-time!”
- Five-minute reminders: Honestly, sometimes people just need a reminder. Send a last-minute reminder with a link to your virtual event. We started sending an email five minutes before our webinars started. The result? An increase in attendance by 20%.
- Morning-of social teasers: Post across your accounts with your event hashtag to share that the event is today.
Promoting Registration Throughout the Event
Because virtual events don’t have the same venue headcount limitations as physical conferences, registration should stay open – and promotion shouldn’t stop – until your virtual event is over. In fact, the day of your event is the BEST time to promote it.
Here’s how to increase registrations on event day:
- Share session updates and clips on social: Post about upcoming sessions on your channels and encourage speakers to do the same. You can even use clips from pre-recorded sessions to get people excited for the full session.
- Include social sharing in your virtual event platform: Make it easy for people to post about your event on social from within your virtual event platform.
- Create social competitions: Encourage attendees to post throughout the day to win prizes and swag.
- Refer a friend: In your virtual event platform, have a referral option with a simple email field so attendees can invite colleagues to watch in real-time.
Creating an Interactive Virtual Event Experience
You’ve given people a reason to come. Now give them a reason to stay.
Developing a Multimedia Approach to Virtual Events
In a report from PathFactory and Heinz Marketing, only 44% of marketers said they have an effective strategy for engaging with audiences in real-time. However, companies with high event attendance reported using multiple digital engagement strategies.
Adobe used multimedia to engage with their Adobe SUMMIT attendees. According to their team, this drove more active participation:
Here are some additional tips to make your virtual events more engaging:
- Have a dedicated virtual event emcee: Hosts set the tone and energy of your event. They also facilitate event content and sessions to help attendees get the most out of an event.
- Increase participation with interactive polls and Q&As: Work with speakers to embed polls and live Q&As into their presentations.
- Launch live workouts to get people moving: Get people out of their chairs and moving with workouts like yoga, HITT, or even guided meditation.
- Host watch parties & encourage Slack groups: Work with customers and target accounts to organize virtual launch parties around your event:
- Help watch parties set up private Slack groups
- Ship launch parties limited edition swag
Invest in a Dedicated Virtual Event Hub
You don’t want your virtual event to feel like a five-hour Zoom meeting.
After the success of our first RevGrowth event, Drift teamed up with the experts at ON24 to launch a virtual event experience for our customers.
Creating a unique virtual experience that stands out in a digital world is challenging. With ON24, we’re able to create an engaging virtual event experience, where attendees can:
- Direct questions to speakers
- Watch both the speakers and engage with their slides
- Post directly on social
- Revisit past sessions they may have missed with an on-demand option
- Access additional resources relevant to the session
- Learn more about the event and engage with sales via a Drift integration
Using Live Chat & Artificial Intelligence During Virtual Events
- Provides information and support
- Connects speakers with attendees in real-time
- Drives post-event demos
- Facilitates sales conversations
When Celonis, a process mining solution, pivoted their flagship event – Celosphere – from in-person to online, they weren’t sure how sales engagement would work. With no natural networking and demo space, they needed to rethink how to drive conversations with attendees:
With Drift Live Chat, Celonis developed a Conversational Sales strategy to facilitate engagement between interested attendees and sales. In total, Celonis had over 3,700 conversations during the event, conducted 98 demos, and had 58 direct conversations with contacts within their ABM target accounts.
To manage these conversations, Celonis BDRs acted as dispatchers for demo and direct outreach requests. But scaling virtual event conversations in this way can be daunting.
That was our concern during RevGrowth. To help solve our scaling issue, we used Drift’s AI Chatbot. This bot worked as both an information liaison for attendees, and a “sales facilitator” for our team:
With the AI Chatbot, we saw a 36%+ increase in conversations compared to our last event. Outside generating more conversations with attendees, the AI Chatbot also:
- Opened up new ways to collect data to level up Drift’s next virtual event
- Made it so CDRs didn’t have to jump into as many conversations
- Facilitated better conversations with attendees versus the standard decision tree bot
AI adoption has skyrocketed over the last few years among sales teams, according to Salesforce’s State of Sales survey. Since 2018, AI use within sales has increased by 76%. In fact, high-performance sales organizations were 2.8 times more likely to use AI to improve customer experiences and streamline internal processes, according to the report.
A great post-event strategy is the key to generating more revenue from virtual events. In this chapter, you’ll learn how to get more value and engagement after curtain call.
Getting Post-Event Nurture Right
Your initial post-event marketing emails should follow three tracks:
Your first follow-up email should include, at minimum, a link to the event recordings, and an additional CTA to:
- Other relevant content (make sure to segment people into different tracks in case they’ve already downloaded your suggested offer)
- Pre-registration to another virtual experience
- A link for attendees to provide feedback on your event
Coordinating Lead-Routing & Prioritizing Post-Event Follow-Up
You don’t treat every buyer in your marketing and sales funnel the same, so why treat virtual event leads any differently?
One-size-fits-all doesn’t cut it anymore. To drive more pipeline, start treating virtual events like a distinct marketing funnel.
Building a Virtual Event Funnel for Sales
Breakdown your virtual event lead list into three distinct tiers:
- High-intent, ICP accounts
- Engaged, but non-target accounts
- Non-ICP, low intent accounts
Numbers one and two will be sales-owned leads. Marketing ops will help define the criteria, and pass these high-intent and engaged leads to sales. Sales will develop follow-up cadences for both tiers. These nurture tracks should kick-off once the initial marketing follow-up email is sent.
Within both tracks, use data from your virtual event (i.e., what session they attended or what session they might have missed) to personalize the messaging. Ensure your tier one track is entirely personalized, and that your tier two outreach includes elements of personalization as well.
Remember that email isn’t the only form of outreach and nurture. Additional cadences for social and bots can be built to drive real-time engagement with interested buyers.
Your tier-three accounts should be marketing-owned and added to relevant, existing nurture tracks that move these buyers further down the funnel.
Driving Customer Expansion Opportunities
Another opportunity often lost in the post-event shuffle is customer engagement and outreach. How did customers engage with your event content? What personalized outreach could help drive expansion or up-sell opportunities?
Account managers and customer success will drive this follow-up, but it’s important they have some enablement materials to get them started. As with sales, arm these teams with “next best offer” recommendations and links to event recordings. Ensure customer marketing is communicating product takeaways from the event and providing additional details on roadmaps.
Creating a Post-Event Content Strategy that Delivers Long-Lasting Value
Virtual events offer incredible content opportunities. But unless you have a strategy in place to manage and break down post-event content, it can be difficult to scale.
Outside of posting event recordings for on-demand consumption, your next step should be transforming those sessions into:
We call this the “solar system” effect. The idea is to take larger offers (like virtual events) and break them down into smaller ones. Here’s an example of how we did this for our New Funnel for a New Decade virtual summit.
Scaling this post-event content strategy is easier than you think. If bandwidth is an issue, there are services you can lean on. For example:
- Start by transcribing the sessions using a vendor like Rev.
- Identify freelancers and ship them the transcribed sessions with a content outline for the structure.
- Include a CTA to either the full session recording or other relevant content.
- Reach out to speakers and have them help promote the blog online.