Much has been written about how the Internet has shifted the power from sellers to buyers. With the advent of online resources like Yelp, Angie’s List and Chowhound, just to name a few – the average consumer need never suffer through a terrible meal, bad haircut or underwhelming house cleaning or landscaping experience again. The same is true in the B2B world – buyers now have the power to educate themselves and make buying decisions based on publicly available information and first hand references – leaving sellers looking for new ways to influence buying decisions.
This got me to thinking about the recent wave of virtual events. I was skeptical when the concept of virtual trade shows first emerged. I wasn’t convinced that people would want to walk around a fake exhibit hall, visiting mock booths. It just seemed a little silly – like Mr. Rogers land of make believe. But as buyers have become more empowered to research solutions and make buying decisions without human interaction, virtual events accommodate this desire to conduct due diligence in virtual anonymity. We now include virtual trade shows as a regular part of our marketing mix and have been pleased with turn out and lead quality each time.
So what’s in it for the vendor you ask? Well, sponsorship costs for online events tend to be less and without T&E, shipping and other associated costs, a virtual trade show is a cost effective lead generation vehicle. Lead quality is comparable to a live event. With no free travel mugs or stress balls – you weed out those people who just want a freebie. I still maintain that nothing can beat a face-to-face conversation. Most virtual trade shows provide sponsors with live chat capability so you can greet your booth visitors and answer questions, but the opportunity to show your solution and explain it first hand is second to none.
Want to make the most of your virtual event? Here’s a few tips:
- BE VOCAL. Staff the live chat like you would a booth and proactively greet your visitors – they might not ask questions on their own but once you get them “talking” they will typically engage in a dialogue and at the very least, you can give them your elevator pitch.
- KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. Be smart about what you offer in terms of downloads and links – like any event, your virtual trade show will present a range of demographics so make sure your content is aligned to different roles and stages of the buying cycle.
- UP YOUR PARTICIPATION. Buy a sponsorship with a speaking slot. Virtual trade shows often have keynotes and other sessions delivered on-demand. Having a customer or company spokesperson speaking on your behalf can bolster awareness and drive people to your booth.
- BE INTERACTIVE. Include video or other types of engaging, creative content – buyers don’t just want to read and a cool online demo or interesting looking video can bring people to your virtual doorstep.
- STRIKE FIRST. Follow up early and often! Assume that all the other vendors will launch follow up campaigns, so queue yours up in advance and think about the type of offer that will compel the next best action.
- MEASURE, RINSE, REPEAT. Treat your online event like you would any campaign – track registered attendees vs. delegates who actually came to your booth and measure engagement with your follow up campaign and qualified leads generated so you know if the event is worth doing again.
As a top of the funnel demand gen tactic – virtual trade shows are a worthwhile program. They provide less opportunity to cultivate existing opportunities – mainly because you don’t have that face-to-face experience. One might argue that you’ll snag less “serious” buyers or hot leads at virtual events but this remains to be seen. While it’s true that a virtual event is less of a commitment for the attendee – for buyers conducting due diligence and building a short list, they’re an easy way to gather lots of information in a rather covert manner.
Want to experience the phenomena yourself? Come to BtoB’s Leading Edge Virtual Trade Show on June 22, 2010 and see what it’s all about.