In-person events, one of the most valuable B2B selling channels, have evaporated almost overnight due to the pandemic forcing most businesses to operate remotely. B2B buyers and sellers have found themselves face-to-face on Zoom calls with prospects, or in webinars, rather than attempting to conduct business virtually.
It was a rocky start to what has rapidly become the new norm for B2B buying and selling—virtual events. A study by Forrester found that B2B marketers spend an average of 12% of their program budgets on events. The same report revealed that 45% of global B2B technology decision makers rely on information at conferences and trade shows to make technology investment decisions.
Virtual events can replace physical events, but to be effective at driving revenue, they must offer more than simple Zoom calls. B2B companies must consider the type of information they present at these events, how they plan to engage attendees, and what other value-adds—like peer networking—they can incorporate.
The New Virtual Event Experience
Laura Ramos, the author of the Forrester study, concluded that the secret to generating revenue with virtual events is “digital immersion.” Virtual events can’t replicate the experience of live events, but that doesn’t mean they can’t offer attendees an immersive experience. They can—and they should—provide value and engagement to each attendee.
Encouraging event engagement requires going beyond standard video seminars where the viewer is passively watching a presentation. Research about Zoom fatigue demonstrates that our attention is already wandering when it comes to video conference calls.
Blind, an online community of anonymous, but verified, business professionals, conducted a poll of over 4600 users to see how engaged they were in work-related virtual meetings. 27% of respondents were completely checked out, admitting they were doing other stuff while listening for their name. Just 20% of professionals said they were actively listening and providing live feedback.
Here are some ways to combat the Zoom-fatigue effect and turn virtual events into more immersive (and interactive) experiences:
- Create a wide range of presentations, concurrent tracks, and networking opportunities. Forrester’s Sirius Decisions Summit was a for-pay event that featured over 175 presentations and 18 concurrent tracks. They used an event management platform to host the event, testing the tool extensively prior to the event which took place from May 4-7, 2020. The event was a success, garnering over 100,000 session views and featuring nearly 50 sponsors in a virtual exhibit hall.
- Invest in event technology. Immersive virtual events require robust technology. In a survey of over 4000 event professionals by EventMB, 41% of respondents indicated they were willing to pay up to $5000 for event tech. 19% were willing to pay more than $15,000.
Source: Event Manager Blog
These numbers demonstrate that event professionals are stepping up their game. Event platforms contain a wide range of features that include interactive sessions with live moderators, virtual exhibit halls for sponsors, video feed/broadcast capabilities, and analytics that enable users to easily monitor event performance. Some platforms even have augmented reality/hologram technology.
- Create an audio-only event. This may seem counterintuitive, but audio can be immersive and it’s a rising trend, per the EventMB survey. Audio-only events on platforms like Clubhouse, a “drop-in chat” platform that features virtual rooms with moderators, speakers, and listeners can help mitigate Zoom fatigue. Clubhouse, still in beta, allows participants to use their phone to join meetings without feeling chained to their desk. Audio event content can be turned into podcasts and leveraged in different ways (e.g., for sales enablement).
- Go hybrid! Offering hybrid events gives attendees the option to travel to the in-person event or experience it remotely. Nearly 70% of event professionals in the EventMB survey agreed that a hybrid approach is the future of events. 71% planned to continue holding digital events after live events return. According to McKinsey, B2B buyers and sellers prefer remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions. However, offering a hybrid event forces companies to create an immersive experience for remote attendees. For example, by incorporating live chat that allows attendees to ask questions to speakers and interact with each other.
COVID or no COVID, B2B Buyers are Online
Using virtual events to generate revenue is a natural next step to what was already happening in the industry. Even before the pandemic, B2B buying behavior was becoming more virtual. McKinsey reports that more than 92% of B2B decision makers expect the remote and digital model to remain for the long term, and 75% believe that the new model is as effective, or more effective, than before the pandemic.
These numbers include B2B sellers and buyers. 97% of buyers in the McKinsey report claimed they planned to make a purchase of $50K or more using the digital self-serve model. Videoconferencing is preferred over audio/phone by nearly 80% of B2B buyers.
Virtual events should be modeled after these preferences, providing opportunities for buyers to connect with sellers in personalized, immersive ways that feature video and live chat.
Revenue from video-related interactions has increased by nearly 70% since April 2020, with e-commerce and video accounting for 43% of all B2B revenue.
As virtual event technology platforms improve (and they are improving rapidly) and B2B event planners and marketing teams gain more experience creating and running events, the potential to generate revenue will increase. B2B buyers are becoming more sophisticated in terms of their expectations of what they expect to get from virtual events.
When planning an event with revenue in mind, B2B sellers must keep the attendee’s needs top-of-mind. EventMB created a visual hierarchy of attendee needs that values “meaningful connections” and entertainment (the “broadcast” factor) before content.
The past year has proven that it’s possible to create immersive, revenue-generating (and complex) virtual events that rival in-person experiences. The Forrester event was one example, but there are many more large-scale virtual events planned for 2021. SXSW announced that their entire event will be virtual for the first time ever. It will feature conference sessions, musical showcases, film screenings, and networking events.
With new technology, enhanced virtual event planning expertise, and an audience of B2B buyers that prefers digital and remote interactions when shopping for new products and services, the future of B2B events looks bright.