Demand Gen Leadership

How to Organize a Virtual Event That Actually Drives Revenue

When we transformed Unleash into the Unleash Virtual Summit, we launched the largest virtual sales conference in the country, completely redesigned our engagement strategy, and influenced $119 million in pipeline.

Harmony Anderson, Senior Director of Demand Generation & Events at Outreach's Avatar

Harmony Anderson, Senior Director of Demand Generation & Events at Outreach

This article is part of our Outreach on Outreach content series, in which we showcase our own revenue team’s use of the Outreach Sales Engagement Platform to help you drive success at your own company. We share workflows and strategies, backed by original research and data from the results of our own experiments and customer base.

In 2019, the global in-person conference industry totaled over $1.2 trillion dollars in revenue. (Yes, that’s trillion with a t.)

Times were good.

The dark roast coffee wafting in the air. Customers filtering in through the double doors, eager to network and hear the opening remarks from the CEO. Getting ready to meet that famous keynote, whose book you just happened to finish on the flight over.

Then 2020 hit and… well, you know the rest.

As the coronavirus pandemic swept across the U.S. and the globe in the spring of 2020, we were forced to cancel Unleash, our 3,000 attendee sales engagement conference.

For the Go To Market team, it was like having the rug ripped out from under us.

We’d spent months preparing and, now, with just five weeks to go, we had to pull the plug. We knew canceling was the right thing to do, but the company had banked on having those three days in-person with our prospects.

Suddenly we had… nothing. It was the same story for our partners and customers all over the world.

There’s a reason for these conferences besides the networking and the keynote. Beyond the obvious brand exposure, events drive significant pipeline, deal acceleration and product adoption in a major way. We knew we had to adapt — and fast.

We transformed Unleash into the Unleash Virtual Summit, and it shattered our expectations.

In just five weeks, we:

  • Launched the largest virtual sales conference in the country with over 14,000 registrants.
  • Completely redesigned our engagement strategy.
  • Influenced $119 million in pipeline.
  • Most importantly, we actually closed revenue!

If you want to know how we do it...

Read on.

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The key to adapting is to first understand the why.

In this case, what is the underlying reason behind an in-person event? What makes it worth it?

For us, in-person events are unbeatable for driving pipeline and closing business. Why? Because customers and prospects are attentive, engaged, and open to being educated.

Once you understand that, you’ll create an online event optimizing for the why, instead of just blindly mirroring the in-person event feel and flow.

Harness sales reps before your event

Engagement at in-person events follows a bell curve. There’s less interaction between sales reps and their prospects before and after the event. But throughout the event, reps sit next to prospects during presentations, talk to them over lunch, or meet up with them in the evening for drinks.

During an in-person event, engagement skyrockets. But virtual events follow the reverse curve.

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During our virtual version of Unleash, our prospects were plugged in with their headphones on. They were watching game-changing presentations or speaking themselves during roundtables.

We hosted a virtual booth for attendees to watch demos and ask questions to our sales reps, solutions consultants, support, and success teams. The idea was they could come to us to engage during the event.

However, our reps weren’t sending them one-off Zoom links and saying, “Hey, can you close that so we can talk business?” That wouldn’t really make for a good attendee experience.

Because we were less likely to reach prospects during the event, what we did before and after was key.

We discovered that enabling the individual sales rep to lead the conversation resulted in much better outcomes.

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The attendees our sales reps invited were 62% more likely to move to the next stage in their sales cycle than those contacted by marketing.

When you think about it, that makes sense.

Our sales reps can use their account research to personalize invites. They can highlight some sessions and sideline others. And after the event, they can ask whether their prospect enjoyed them.

It’s one continuous conversation, rather than an invite from one person and a follow-up from another.

For Unleash, we used Outreach to track which reps used the right sequences to invite their customers and prospects.

Two data points surfaced.

  1. The reps who sent the most pre-event invites got the most prospects and customers to attend.
  2. We found that 8 of the top 10 reps on the Invite Leaderboard were also on the Top 10 Leaderboard for percent of quota too (hint: all were past 100%).

No surprises here. We now coach toward this approach.

With Outreach, Sales and Marketing leadership are always aligned because there is real-time visibility into which leads are entering the funnel and which actions have been taken by either team.

Events succeed or fail on the follow-up

Setting up an awesome event and attracting a crowd of attendees is all well and good. But if it doesn’t translate into pipeline, you’re in trouble.

That’s why your follow-up strategy — when you start to convert your leads into opportunities — is the most critical piece of the puzzle.

After all, throwing an event should be seen as a high touch and frankly resource intensive piece of your inbound funnel. Therefore, inbound best practices should apply.

Did you know that:

  • 78% of companies buy from the first responder.
  • Sales conversions are 391% higher when leads are contacted in the first minute.
  • Lead follow ups longer than 5 minutes lead to an 80% decrease in lead qualification
  • 90% of companies don’t respond in the first 5 minutes.
  • 58% of companies never respond to an inbound lead.

Source 1 / Source 2

When someone signs up for a marketing initiative, it’s imperative that they’re followed up with in a timely manner. We use Outreach to automate the sequence or task for the reps, depending on the lead type and their score. It’s immediate, reliable, and high touch.

For every Unleash Virtual Summit registration that came in, we used our existing lead scoring model in Pardot to filter out the most qualified leads. Registrants got 25 points, and attendees got another 25. Once someone hit 50 points, our rulesets took a deeper look at the lead and segmented for things like seniority, title, and industry. Then the lead gets sent to Sales as a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL).

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When the MQL reached our sales org, they entered our routing system. We categorized leads into three buckets, each with its own unique virtual event follow-up sequence.

  • Prospect without an open opportunity
  • Prospect with an open opportunity
  • Existing customer

In the sections below, I’ll walk you through our approach for each category.

Prospect without an open opportunity

These were good prospects but ones we hadn’t spoken to before — or hadn’t progressed through the sales cycle, at least. Our goal with this sequence was to start the conversation, build a relationship and book a meeting for an AE.

Here’s what that looked like:

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For the Unleash Virtual Summit, our marketing team sequenced each prospect using our standard inbound sequence. When the prospect hit Outreach, SDRs personalized the sequence with a custom snippet and hit send.

Prospect with an open opportunity

Our sales reps were already in contact with these prospects and had an open opportunity with the account. For us, that means we knew the buyer’s budget, authority, needs, and timeline.

We designed this sequence to accelerate the opportunity and move our prospects down the funnel towards conversion. Ultimately, our goal was to book a meeting, answer product questions, or close the deal.

Here’s what that looked like:

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Because these were on-going conversations, we told SDRs to coordinate with their AEs. Together, they decided who was reaching out to who. That prevented crossover and stopped SDRs from stumbling into conversations with senior-level contacts.

Existing customer

We had a lot of existing customers attend the Unleash Virtual Summit — and that was great to see. They are eager to learn how to get more out of our product, test betas, and even buy more seats. For us, it is a great signal that there is an expansion opportunity.

With this sequence, we reinforced their awareness of Outreach’s capabilities. We deepened their understanding and usage. And we explored new upsell, expansion, and renewal opportunities.

Here’s what that looked like:

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Our AEs and CSMs sequenced this directly, integrating the new touches into their existing check-in cycle.

Here’s what it looks like across all of our follow ups.

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From adaptation to a new winning strategy

In 2020, we lost our biggest running pipeline and closing initiative. But the business was still counting on us to figure it out. We adapted.

When pivoting to a virtual event, we made sure to not only build an event that would provide brand exposure, education, and content, but also drive significant pipeline and new business. Because without that, business comes to a screeching halt.

This is why nailing the pre and post event follow up is so important. It’s also why Bevy, Splash, Hopin, Bizzabo, ON24, Vimeo, and most of the leading online events platforms upgraded to or selected Outreach as their Sales Engagement Platform.

Across all of our 2020 virtual events, we reached tens of thousands of people from all around the world. We earned an excellent reputation for our events. And we generated 6X the pipeline we would have with in person events.

With offices still shut down and everyone planning on working from home in 2021, virtual events will be a continuous trend. If your company is planning one this year, don’t forget the follow up!

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Check out the second Outreach on Outreach article released today, where we dive deep into how we run Account Based Sales on Outreach, at Outreach!

Don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn for first dibs on new and exclusive Outreach on Outreach content.

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