What’s a hot topic on the minds of virtual event marketers? I’ll give you a hint – it’s spelled R-O-I. At Virtual Edge 2009 in Santa Clara, CA, I participated in a panel discussion on the topic of virtual event ROI. It’s pretty clear that virtual events are driving significant ROI today – signified by the interest in last week’s conference, the keen interest from marketers and the growth of the virtual event industry. However, the audience questions from this panel discussion make it quite clear that ROI discussions and analysis need to advance to the next level.
Here were the 3 hot buttons raised by the audience:
- Tracking ROI via closed sales – yes, I know that virtual events will drive awareness, engagement and great overall statistics. But at the end of the day, I need to know that my investment drove product sales. And I’m just not sure I can quantify that today.
- Understanding user/activity profiles – my company wants to produce a virtual event for the C-level, but we just don’t know whether C-level employees will attend virtual events – and if they do, we certainly don’t know the typical activity profile of a C-level employee within a virtual event. As such, we’re not sure we can recommend the investment to produce one.
- More meaningful engagement statistics – it’s great that I had 200 private chat sessions with attendees – but there’s a difference between a “I can’t find the auditorium” chat and a “can you provide me with pricing information” chat. How do I make the distinction when analyzing my ROI?
Let’s address each of these hot buttons.
ROI via Closed Sales
Here’s where the platform provider needs to work hand in hand with the client. First, the provider and client need to develop certain engagement patterns that are meaningful for the client. One pattern may be as simple as, “attendee initiated a private chat with one of my booth reps”. Another pattern might be, “attendee downloaded more than 5 documents from my booth and had more than 2 return visits”. Once these patterns are defined, the following should occur:
- Platform provider – upon detection of a pattern match, insert (or update) a record in the client’s CRM system (e.g. Salesforce.com, Siebel, etc.).
- Client – have the processes and technologies in place for a timely response. Then, have a secondary process to accurately track and measure the actions/outcome that result from the sales inquiry.
The job of the platform provider is to detect the engagement pattern and seamlessly update the client’s CRM system. By handling the CRM import automatically, the platform provider is significantly accelerating the potential payoff (ROI) – since a marketer or sales rep is no longer required to manually import the sales opportunity from an Excel spreadsheet.
The client, then, needs a process to have the right person respond in a timely manner to the sales inquiry (e.g. Inside Sales, direct sales rep, etc.) and be able to track the eventual outcome. The outcome then needs to be mapped back to the source (e.g. virtual event) – to complete the equation. If these pieces work together, you’ll be able to track closed sales to your virtual event investment.
As noted during the Virtual Edge panel discussion, platform providers and clients will need to agree on the use of aggregate event data. Today’s contracts specify that the client (event producer) owns all data on registrant profiles, activity data, etc. To publish industry-wide data, it will be important for the lion’s share of clients and vendors to participate.
The data will not be as meaningful if large players (clients or vendors) are not part of the effort. In addition, vendors and clients will need to agree on standard definitions – for instance, what is “C-level employee” defined as – and how do we map that definition back to registration fields? A single vendor may have 10 clients – and 10 unique registration forms (with unique registration fields).
Unique registration fields make data aggregation challenging. In addition, both clients and vendors will want to disclose (to virtual event attendees) that their activities will be utilized in reporting and analysis (at an aggregate level). This discussion, in my mind, leads me to believe that an industry wide standards body is needed – an Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) for virtual events.
More meaningful engagement tracking
On the specific topic of deciphering chat content, technology is beginning to emerge to perform natural language recognition. In child-based virtual worlds, I’ve read that technology can attempt to detect the presence of child predators within virtual world environments (where text chat is occuring). I believe this technology can be applied to the business setting of a virtual event – whereby the sales worthiness of a chat session can be rated.
Have a look at this very interesting article from The New York Times – Software That Guards Virtual Playgrounds.
On the disclosure side, I think we need to make attendees aware of the use of this technology – so that they understand that the private chat they engage in may be read by a computer.
These are all interesting topics for the industry to address – I believe that in doing so, we’ll advance the industry significantly – and generate even stronger growth than we’re already seeing.