Breakdown: Exhibitors of Virtual Tradeshows

I’ve had the privilege of working with dozens of Virtual Tradeshow (VTS) exhibitors, ranging from scrappy start-up technology vendors to Fortune 100 giants.  I’ve found that each exhibitor, independent of the type of company represented, approaches VTS differently, with a wide range of knowledge, experience and plain old know-how.  Here is my breakdown of VTS exhibitors:

  1. The savvy elite (1%) – they know how to best leverage the VTS experience – they understand that a Live VTS embodies characteristics of social media, conventional online lead generation and face-to-face events.  They’re active and proactive.  They utilize tactics to drive interest to their brand and traffic to their booth.  They leverage tricks of the trade from physical events and translate them well to the online world.  Some gain this status from experience at past virtual events – others “get it” during their very first VTS.  The savvy elite excel not only on the front end, but also on the back end – in their ability to extract the valuable engagements they’ve generated and place that data in their CRM system.  By perfecting the back-end, the savvy elite hand their salesforce focused and prequalified leads.  Here, the VTS accomplishes the two-step process of lead generation and lead qualification.  The savvy elite can re-use their telesales staff on other programs, where more rigorous qualification is necessary.
  2. The group with good intentions (15%).  This group understands the potential of a virtual event.  For the most part, they do an effective job at interacting with attendees/prospects.  Some could use a little fine-tuning in their approach.  Where this group ultimately falls short is on the back-end.   They are sending Sales a mix of hot and cold leads, leaving Sales to pursue nine or ten  (or more) leads before they find one that’s worthy.
  3. Needs significant assistance (79%).  Here’s your bulk of VTS exhibitors today.  They need help on the front end and the back end.  On the front end, they tend to sit back and wait for attendees to contact them.  Imagine doing that at a physical tradeshow – you’d end up speaking to very few people.  This group requires a little more handholding on what works and what doesn’t – things that the savvy elite know instinctually.  On the back end, this group tends to throw all generated leads “over the wall” to telesales.  And the result is phone calls or emails to leads with no explicit association with the virtual event (quite a shame).  So here’s the opportunity to B-toB publishers and VTS platform providers: provide the necessary tools, utilities and reports (to this oversized constituency) to highlight the “best” leads to the exhibitors, based on automated analysis of the attendee engagement data.  If I had 57 private chat sessions with prospects, tell me which ones I should care about.  By doing this, all parties will derive more ROI from these events – you take a pre-existing set of leads – and instantly make them better.
  4. List buyers (5%).  They sponsor VTS’s in order to buy themselves a list of sales prospects.  They tend not to staff their booth.  They place little to no content in their booth.  They send the entire list of leads over to telesales and hope for the best.  On the back-end, this group sees significantly lower sales conversions compared to the savvy elite.

With 2009 being the year of virtual events, I’m hoping that the savvy elite grow from 1% to 10% share.  That growth won’t happen magically – the publishers and the platform providers will need to do their part.  If they do, it only serves to make virtual event marketing all the more compelling.

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