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 – 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?

IBM’s Second Life ROI: The Headline Beneath The Headline

March 4, 2009

Source: Linden Lab Case  Study

Source: Linden Lab Case Study

A Case Study published by Linden Lab (the company behind Second Life), documents IBM’s use of Second Life to hold a Virtual World Conference and Annual Meeting.  The meeting, organized by IBM’s Academy of Technology, brought together 200+ participants from across the globe (virtually) and had an ROI estimated (by IBM) to be $320K.

The $320K is derived from taking initial hard costs of $80K, then factoring in $250K in savings from travel and venue costs and $150K from productivity gains (since attendees participated from their desks – and could presumably do on-the-job tasks while in-world).  So that’s ($80K – $250K – $150K) = $320K in total savings.

So that’s the headline story – and what a great story it is.  I can understand why the Case Study led with this angle – in this economic environment, any talk of significant cost savings is going to score points with the CMO, CFO, CEO and Board.  And while I’m not one to diminish cost savings that’s simultaneously eco-friendly, what excites me most about the ROI equation here is the value add that virtual provides – the headline beneath the headline.

If IBM had convened this meeting at a physical location, I’m sure the event would have been equally valuable – but, at the event’s conclusion, the walls come down and participants leave with some photographs, business cards and memories – and may never be incented to re-gather and collaborate again, aside from the next scheduled (and organized) gathering.

With virtual, however, what IBM discovered was a build it once and reap the continued benefits phenomenon.  The island(s) built for this virtual event remain available on an ongoing, 7×24 basis.  So, participants who met and collaborated with specific colleagues may want to arrange for follow-on in-world meetings to further brainstorm their ideas together.

Additionally, IBM found a way to leverage the event to support an unrelated gathering – the Academy of Technology’s Annual General Meeting, originally scheduled in Florida.  The general meeting moved virtual and included live webcasting and videoconferencing – while leveraging the pre-built island in Second Life to support 120 poster sessions.  The beauty with the ROI equation here is that the more IBM can leverage what they’ve already built, the more “R” they generate in “ROI”.  And of course, this sort of re-use is eco-friendly.

What Cost Per Lead (CPL) Should I Pay for Virtual Tradeshow Sponsorships?

December 28, 2008


Flickr (TheTruthAbout)

Source: Flickr ("TheTruthAbout")

For online marketers responsible for lead generation, the name of the game is Cost Per Lead (CPL).  While it’s not the be-all, end-all, CPL is certainly top-of-mind for marketers – and in this economic environment, CPL is receiving heightened attention from the online marketer, her CMO and her CFO (and possibly even the CEO).

So let’s get the numbers out of the way first.  For B-to-B virtual tradeshows (VTS), I’ve seen CPL’s in a range of $15-$50 for worldwide leads.  The low end reflects events where the organizer has over-delivered on leads or priced the sponsorships reasonably (or both). The high end reflects a more focused event or an event that has slightly underdelivered.  I’ve seen a few events fall outside this range, with CPL’s as low as $10 (or even lower) and as high as $70.

So you’d want your sponsorship to be within this range.  But, I think that for VTS, “What is my CPL” is not the right question!  The following questions are more applicable:

  1. What’s the quality of the audience and does it match my target profile (e.g. geography, purchasing authority, has budget, etc.)
  2. What level of interactions did I have with the attendees
  3. What was my cost per sales engagement and how does that compare to my other marketing activities
  4. What was my cost per customer acquisition and how does that compare to my other marketing activities

So as an example, I’d be fine with paying a CPL of $60, if the resulting cost per sales engagement was lower than my other marketing programs. Remember a key point about these leads, though – they are shared with the other exhibitors at the event.  As such, it’s important to:

  • Distinguish your company at the event – attract visitors to your booth and generate interactions with sales prospects.  If you put in the hard work here, you can short-circuit the lead nurturing and lead follow-up stages – as you can find prospects who are in the later stages of their purchasing decisions and very receptive to hearing more from you.
  • Distinguish your company after the event – follow up with prospects intelligently and promptly.  Don’t forget that if you do your job at the event, then the after-event steps become much easier.

Like with most purchasing decisions, shop wisely – and rememer that there’s much more to the equation than just the CPL price tag.

Utilize Surveys in Virtual Events

December 19, 2008

Online marketers often speak of hard ROI (explicit return) and soft ROI.  In this economic climate, soft ROI is being cut and marketers are focusing (with rare exception) on hard ROI.  But what if you could generate hard ROI and soft ROI simultaneously?  Would your CMO or CFO like that?  I’d bet that the CMO would, at minimum.

So consider the use of surveys within your virtual events.  Let’s say you generated 200 visitors to your booth.  And let’s say 70% of those visitors completed an online survey that was available right there in your booth (equalling 140 survey completes).  You might think I’m crazy to suggest that 70% of visitors would actually fill out a survey.  But what if you provided a prize?  And, you qualified visitors into the prize drawing via completion of the survey?  I’ve seen it with my own two eyes – one particular event had 70% of booths visitors completing the exhibitors’ in-booth survey (i.e. for those who chose to utilize a survey).

140 survey completes results in a statistically significant sample size.  And you’re likely not going to generate such a high response rate if you message to these visitors post-event.  Here are my Top 3 reasons for doing a survey in a virtual event:

  1. Plan your marketing content – let your target audience tell you what they’re interested in, what media formats they like to consume, what content they want (from you)  as they evaluate your products and services.  Leverage this valuable information to plan your White Papers, webinars and follow-on virtual events.
  2. Generate insights for your Product Manager – partner with your company’s product managers and ask them what info they’d like from customers and prospective customers.  You’d be a hero to Product Management and the success will certainly bubble up to the CMO or VP of Products.  And, by the way, this may help your company design better products.
  3. Intelligent lead follow-up –  survey questions are very similar to the qualifying questions that online marketers use on lead gen registration forms.   Don’t be afraid to review individual survey responses to better plan your lead follow-up with selected leads.

Now, what’s the cost of doing the survey?  Well, the prize will set you back a few hundred dollars (e.g. for a GPS, Nintendo Wii, iPod, etc.).  When evaluated against the soft ROI you can  generate,  I think the investment is worth it.  As Richard Dawson may ask, “Survey says?” – YES.

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