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Marketing

Why You’re Not Seeing A Positive ROI From Your Sponsored Events—And What To Do About It

I used to manage partnerships at a SaaS company. One of our partners would send us over 100 new leads from their webinars every week.

As a webinar sponsor, attendees may have (or not) heard our company’s name at the beginning of the event. They were practically cold leads.

And with a small sales team already busy with inbound leads and their own outbound outreach, the hundreds of leads we received from our partner events were falling through the cracks.

For the amount of money we were paying our partner, it would have been way more cost effective to get a lead list from ZoomInfo or Apollo. Who wants to pay over $500 for a cold lead?

The fault is not all on the partner, of course. They were fulfilling their part of the contract, which was to provide leads from sponsored webinars and to conduct a few custom webinars with our own SMEs.

The problem lies in the traditional partnership model itself.

It’s a top of the funnel model that reaches for quantity instead of quality. Marketing teams love it because it’s an easy way to hit their KPI numbers. “We generated five thousand MQLs this month through our partnerships.”

But if you are entering a partnership just to meet a lead quota, you’re doing it wrong (even if you have an amazing sales team to follow up with each lead personally). The typical conversion rate for webinar leads is 3%.

Communities and podcasters who sell sponsorships know this and they’re getting smarter at offering more opportunities for sponsors to get a positive ROI.

  • Directing people to exclusive offers
  • Doing smaller in-person events
  • Shout outs on social media

However, just adding a special offer and a custom landing page won’t do the trick either—to really see an ROI from your sponsored events, you must stop seeing sponsorships as a transaction where you just pay and get results. You must look at them as actual partnerships, where your results are proportional to your effort and commitment.

“When it comes to partnerships,” says Mark Kilens, CMO at Airmeet, “you can’t think of it as a transaction. You have to think of it as a relationship.”

Otherwise, keep spending money on ads.

What to do then? Glad you asked.

Here are three strategies (mindset shifts) that will help you get more ROI than an ice cream vendor on a hot summer afternoon.

1. Work with partners who offer a full funnel solution

The regular event sponsorship is fine for brand awareness. You can do that for starters—but don’t use the attendee list for your outreach yet.

You must show up in different channels with your partner (LinkedIn Live, podcast episode, for example) for people to get familiar with you. This will drive more attendance once you do an actual webinar where you are speaking.

You can now reach out to the leads from that webinar with more valuable content. Your partner should be giving you content assets from the webinar, such as video clips for social media, graphics, blog posts, and the like.

Go even deeper with in-person events and dinners to get qualified appointments, if you like.

Work with your partner on a plan to get intent signals before and after the event. For example, at RevGenius, we offer our partners a dedicated Slack channel for their event prior to promotion. Every registrant is automatically added to the channel so we can create excitement and start a conversation leading up to the event.

After the event, we create a series of emails and Slack messages to keep attendees engaged.

2. Lean in the community

It makes no sense to partner with a community like RevGenius or Pavilion and not leverage the community yourself.

Your best bet is to actually participate and engage with other members of those communities prior to the event. This will help you understand why they’re there, what motivates them and makes them excited (hint: it’s not buying tech tools).

For instance, RevGenius members join the community because they are looking to build relationships, fast-track their careers, have support, and scale their companies. In addition to having a safe space outside their work.

Here are some tips for engaging with the community:

  • Assign a dedicated person to be the voice of your company within the community.
  • Engage daily with content that is not a sales pitch.
  • Ask questions, give members a sneak peek of what your event will be, and provide valuable content.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Get creative.
  • Bring unique content they can’t get anywhere else.
  • People aren’t reading blog posts, watching long videos. Quick engaging content that can be consumed in a minute or less is the most effective.
  • What sets you apart from all the other sales pitches happening in a sales community.

Although not all your partners may have an actual community, they have a social media presence and an email list. Engage there.

3. Make the events about them, not you

When do people start checking out mentally during a webinar? When you stop wowing them and start pitching your product.

Your webinar is not a demo for your solution. The objective is to educate, not sell. That comes later.  

It may be common sense, but it still happens a lot. Why? Because of the need for conversion metrics.

The mindset shift is this: an event is not a lead generation tool, but a way of building your reputation and starting conversations with potential customers.

It all starts with the selection of the topic. Ask not what topic will provide a better segue to your product’s pitch, but what topics actually interest your audience. Your sales team should know what questions prospects are asking, so answer those.

Once you come up with a few topic ideas, ask which one you are able to provide a unique perspective or point of view on (so it will establish you as an expert).

Think like your ICP. Would you attend the event (and later feel happy that you did)?

PRO TIP: Use surveys during the event that will provide some intent data—gauge the interest of the audience in buying a solution like the one you offer without asking directly.

What to Do Before and After the Event

“The reason why people don’t see the expected results of online events is they don’t spend enough time planning and preparing,” says Mark Kilens. “They don’t take the time to identify the primary audience (and maybe there’s a secondary audience). They don’t spend time thinking why they would sign up, why they would show up and engage.”

The best event planning happens when the organizer (maybe the Demand Gen Manager), involves people from Sales, Customer Service, and even Product, in preparing the event.

Here’s why.

  • They can help you define the audience (collaborating on a document like this one, for example).
  • They can drive registrations (sales can invite prospective customers, and CS can invite existing customers).

“An event should act as a center of gravity because it’s a moment in time where people are giving you attention,” says Kliens. “Sales wants people’s time. CS wants customer time. If you don’t include them, you’re squandering an opportunity.”

One thing you can do to collaborate further with sales is to segment the registration list and look for named accounts and other high intent leads, so you can put together an action plan.

  • Before: Engage with the leads to get them excited to attend.
  • During: Sales reps should attend and pay attention to who’s engaged and showing buying intent through questions, comments, etc.).
  • After: Sales should follow up with attendees with a quick note like, “Hey, thanks for coming to the event. Looks like you really enjoyed this session. That’s great because our solution actually helps a lot with this. Here’s a customer that does something similar to you. Do you want to get on the phone soon to talk about it?”

From Leads to Fans

The great thing about all of this is that your events will be exponentially better as a result:

  • You will take advantage of all your partner has to offer.
  • The community experience will boost attendance and participation.
  • The focus on your audience will create affinity and grow your brand’s reputation.

So, next time you sponsor an event, make sure you go through the checklists above.

Don’t settle for a spreadsheet with names and email addresses when you can have real conversations and turn prospects into fans.

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