Virtual Events As Sonar Fish Finders

August 13, 2010

Victor Kippes (@vkippes) wrote a guest posting on the Experient blog titled “Fishing for Qualified Leads: Which Strategies Yield the Biggest Catch“.  Victor covers lead capture at events and conferences – he outlines the “fishing pole” strategy (being selective in which leads you engage with) and the “fishing net” strategy (cast the net wide and engage with any and all leads).

I commented to Victor on Twitter that I prefer to use the fishing pole strategy.  I prefer to work with a small set of highly qualified leads, versus a large (and perhaps unmanageable) pile of leads.  The large pile results in more work for me, as I need to then separate the wheat from the chaff.  If I stick to a fishing pole strategy from the start, then I make the best use of my (and my fellow exhibitors) time at the event.

Now, let’s consider the virtual event.

Virtual Events: Get to Know Your Guests

When exhibiting at a virtual event, I like to stick to the fishing pole strategy.  Build your booth well and allow visitors to enter, browse around and engage with your content.  Give them a gentle welcome (as you might in a physical event), but then let them approach you.  Ah, but wait.  In a virtual event, I can review the profile of each visitor!

I can click on the profile image of any booth visitor and see their first name, last name, title, company and other attributes that the virtual event organizer chooses to “expose”.  I’ve just upgraded my fishing pole, as I now know where to cast my line.  I know that I don’t need to spend much time talking to the university student, but I should zone in on the CIO who just entered.

Rather than bombard the CIO with private chat invitations, I’d review his actions (e.g. how many times did he visit and which documents did he view) and let your colleagues know that he visited.  This way, your entire team is on alert should anyone have a subsequent interaction with the CIO.

Virtual Events: Activate your Sonar Fish Finder

Next, activate your sonar fish finder – you know, those “GPS for fishes” devices that tell you where the fish are swimming?  In a virtual event, this is the Search (or Advanced Search) feature – something that’s highly underutilized by exhibitors.  Search for companies on your target list and see whether any attendees (from those companies) appear in the search results.

Next, determine whether those attendees are online (right now!) or offline.  Introduce yourself to a particularly “attractive” lead by sending your vCard.  This may be a more subtle step than immediately inviting leads to a private chat.  Some virtual event platforms provide an Advanced Search, which allows you to search by attendee vs. exhibitor, online vs. offline, attendees vs. booths.  In addition, you may be able to search against certain registration attributes (e.g. seniority, title, country, etc.).

The end result is that you more precisely target the leads at the virtual event, making your team more efficient in the use of their time and energy.  The more time your team spends engaged with your lead “targets”, the more leads you’ll qualify and hand over to Sales.

Conclusion

Exhibiting at events, whether physical or virtual, requires a strategy and plan going into the event.  For virtual events, exhibitors should leverage the information and tools that the virtual platforms provide.  If done right, you’ll be sure to reel in plenty of big catches.

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What Virtual Events Can Learn From Twitter

October 13, 2009

Virtual Events - Twitter

Virtual Events - Twitter

In 2009, Twitter has taken the world by storm – in fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Time magazine named Twitter their Person of the Year.  In my opinion, Twitter’s success hinges on its simplicity, celebrity (use by celebrities, that is) and portability (users stay connected to the service from nearly anywhere).

While virtual events have been around for a few years – they too took the world by storm in 2009 – mostly, the business-to-business world.  As we look forward into 2010, here’s what virtual events can learn from Twitter:

  1. 140 characters or less – I often find it a challenge to condense my thought into 140 characters – the usual trick is to lean on acronyms (or abridged versions of words) to get under the limit.  The better approach is to be more efficient, using less words to make the same point.  While I still get frustrated at times (having to distill my thought down to 140 characters) – other times, I find that my message comes across clearer and more elegant in the shorter form.  In virutal events, a lot of chatter (e.g. group chat in the Lounge) is long-winded.  It would be interesting to participate in a group chat in which each chat message was limited to 140 characters.  I get the feeling that the chat would be much more enjoyable and productive.
  2. Application Programming Interface (API) – Twitter was recently valued at $1B – it couldn’t have possibly reached that valuation without it’s excellent API and the rich ecosystem that’s been created by developers and start-ups.  The API has made possible desktop clients such as Tweetdeck and Seesmic Desktop, along with numerous third party services, such as Tweetbeep, Twimailer and many more.  Virtual event platform providers should look to “open up” their platform via API’s – allowing show hosts and exhibitors to tap into underlying registration data; customize the look and feel of their events; and develop functional mini-apps that ride on top of the platform.  As Twitter discovered, opening up the platform creates a “wealth” of opportunity.
  3. Mobile support – Twitter’s API allow for applications like TwitterBerry (for BlackBerry) and Tweetie (for iPhone).  Users are increasingly on the go these days – whereby less and less interaction with the web occurs from their desk and keyboard.  Virtual event platforms that can extend their reach to smartphones will stand to benefit greatly – adoption will increase, as will average session time and overall session counts.  Twitter also integrates with the Short Messaging Service (SMS) – making access nearly universal (e.g. from non-smartphone cell phones).  Perhaps there are capabilities in a virtual event that can also be triggered via “commands” transmitted via SMS.
  4. Connecting with others – Twitter’s growth in 2009 has resulted from (a) needing to connect with your friends, family and colleagues who are already on the service and (b) a desire to “follow” celebrities or sports figures.  In business-to-business virtual events, you won’t have this same sort of dynamic (wanting to follow others) – however, the platforms can do a better job of finding and recommending folks you should be following or connected to.  For instance, a CIO at a small-and-medium sized business (SMB) may want to know that a CIO from another SMB company is also in attendance.
  5. Self service / self starter – Many companies are now active on Twitter, to provide customer outreach, customer service, outbound marketing and even e-commerce sales.  Other than learning the basics of social media and Twitter etiquette, the process to get started with Twitter is very straightforward.  Virtual event platform providers ought to provide a means for curious/inquisitive users to set themselves up with a test event – some day, configuring your virtual event (a basic one, at least) should be analogous to creating a new blog in WordPress.

And there you have it – adopt these five principles and your virtual event platform may some day be worth $1B as well!


Virtual Event Adoption By The C-Suite (CIO, CMO, etc.)

May 8, 2009

In my former role as a b-to-b media industry product manager, I developed product packages that utilized audio podcasts for delivering IT-specific content to IT practitioners and IT managers.  The conventional wisdom at the time  (early on, at least) was, “CIO’s will not download and listen to podcasts”.  I wasn’t so sure about that – after all, podcasts made it easier for busy executives to consume content they wanted – when and where they wanted to consume it.  So why wouldn’t a busy executive leverage technology to make her day more efficient?

Lo and behold, a CIO speaker at an event I attended was asked about the different content types he leveraged to get his job done.  He mentioned that he takes a 30 minute ferry boat ride to and from work each day.  While most boat passengers are reading the daily newspaper, this CIO would listen to IT-specific podcasts on each ride – and, he insisted that each downloaded podcast be 30 minutes long (or less), so that he could listen its entirety on the ride.

With virtul events, I’ve heard from event organizers and event sponsors who wonder whether the CIO (and her companions in the C-Suite) will adopt virtual events and virtual tradeshows.  I think the answer is “yes”.  First, let’s characterize some of the C-Suite occupants:

  1. CEO – may be too busy to attend virtual events – but, will occasionally make the keynote appearance to kick off a virtual event.  Many CEO’s do not use a computer, but most carry PDAs.  This means that the path to CEO participation in virtual events may be via the PDA.
  2. CMO – they see the value of virtual events as a marketing and lead generation vehicle, so one of their key roles today is in funding and approving budget.  As for attendance, my feeling is that they’re interested in doing so.
  3. CIO – like with podcasts, virtual events enable and empower an executive.  The CIO can attend a virtual event to peer network with like-minded CIO’s and not miss a day in the office to do so.
  4. CTO – intimate with technology, the CTO is virtually a slam dunk to participate (pun intended).
  5. CFO – not so sure about CFO’s, but I will note that IBM Cognos produced a virtual event called Virtual Finance Forum 2009 that targeted finance executives.  Cognos produced the same event in 2008 as well.

B-to-B publishers have caught on to the notion that CIO’s will attend virtual events, as past virtual events have specifically targeted the CIO.  Two upcoming events are taking a similar approach:

  1. CIO Virtual Forum: Navigating Through Dynamic Times (May 19, 2009 – CIO.com and Cisco)
  2. CIO Summit:  Driving Business Value and Customer Value in the Global Economy (June 10, 2009 – InformationWeek)

In my experience with technology focused virtual events, I found that of all registrants, 7-9% had senior IT titles (CIO, CTO, VP of Technology, etc.).  So an event with 1,000 registrants would have 70-90 of them be CIO’s or CTO’s.  Why would the C-Suite attend a virtual event?  I think there are a few primary benefits:

  1. Conveniently network with like-minded peers – one of the draws of attending an event is the ability to network with other attendees.  With a virtual event, a busy executive can do so without losing a day outside the office.
  2. Efficiently connect with partners and customers – an online experience can’t re-create the dyamics of an in-person interaction, but it does allow a busy executive to connect with many more partners and customers than could have occurred in-person.
  3. Extend your social graph and social presence – some C-Suite execs have enthusiastically adopted Twitter, Facebook and other social networks.  Industry-specific virtual events allow the executive to further expand the social graph.  And of course, they’ll be tweeting about the event as soon as they login.

What has your experience been – has the C-Suite at your own company attended a virtual event?


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