Book Supplement: Virtual Event Lead Management (#leadmanagement)

January 22, 2011

Introduction

In “Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events,” Chapter 6 is titled “Score and Follow Up with Leads”.  This really could have been Chapter 7 – and instead, Chapter 6 could have focused on important steps to consider before scoring.  Before you import your virtual event leads into your CRM system, consider these important steps first.

Step #1: Beware of the “Drive-By Viewing”

Someone visited your virtual booth – congratulations! Not so fast.  Make sure the booth visit was not a “drive-by viewing”.  I define a drive-by viewing as:

  1. One (and only one) visit to your booth
  2. “Visit time” of 5 minutes or less
  3. No engagement with others while in the booth (e.g. group chat, private chat)
  4. No interaction with booth content (e.g. booth tabs, documents, links, etc.)

I see plenty of drive-by viewings from booth visitors. Some visitors simply want to see which companies are exhibiting at the virtual event.  And, some virtual platforms have “previous” and “next” buttons in the virtual booths, which means that drive-by visitors may simply be doing a quick tour of all booths.

Drive-by visitors are not leads – they’re NAMES!  My recommendation for drive-by visitors:

  1. Go ahead and import them into your CRM system
  2. Schedule a “thanks for visiting” email
  3. Using simple text links, provide them with a few options (e.g. receive more content, schedule an appointment, etc.)
  4. Respond accordingly – and, if they do not open the email or respond to the offers, cease communications [for now] and nurture them over the long term

Step #2: Beware of Existing Leads and Business Partners

Your virtual event leads can look like a pile of dominoes.  You may not be aware that within that pile of dominoes are existing sales prospects, along with current customers and business partners.  When you exhibit at a virtual event, your sales team is inclined to invite current prospects to come visit – and, your existing customers and partners are inclined to stop in to see what’s new.

Warning: LEAD IMPORT CAN BE DANGEROUS TO YOUR HEALTH.

If you don’t manage your leads well, you may import “hot prospects” (who are already in your CRM system) and trigger a follow-up email to them.  The result is a turning back of the clock with those prospects – imagine finalizing your purchase decision, only to have one of the potential vendors call on you and ask if you’re in the market for their product!

Personal Story: I attended a virtual trade show and did a “drive-by viewing” through an exhibitor’s booth.  I’ve been a long-time subscriber to this exhibitor’s email newsletter and know some of the employees there.  My drive-by viewing was done simply to see who was staffing the booth.

A few days later, I received an email from the exhibitor, asking if I’d like more information.  This exhibitor probably should have known that I was a long-time subscriber – and, routinely click on the links in their newsletter.  Given this, the follow-up should have been more tailored, or skipped entirely.  If I was contemplating a purchase  decision with this exhibitor, that follow-up email could have cost them my business.

Step #3: Build and Import Engagement Profiles

Virtual event platforms have built-in RFID, which means that all interactions from sales prospects (with your content) are tracked and recorded.  The platforms assemble a detailed “engagement profile” for you – the worst thing you can do is throw away that profile when the lead is imported into your CRM system.  My guess is that the majority of marketers today do just that.

Instead, create custom fields in your CRM system to capture this data (e.g. number of visits, documents downloaded, transcripts of chats, etc.).  The more data, the more informed your sales team.  Just like an auto insurer reviews your past driving record and a loan officer reviews your past credit history, your sales team should have the benefit of a prospect’s past engagement data.

Step #4: Curate Leads as You Would Fine Art

You can automate portions of lead management, but you can’t automate the entire process.  It’s easy to automate the de-duping process, which ensures that new records are not created in your CRM system when there’s an existing lead record.

However, it’s not as easy to automate the business intelligence that needs to be applied to your leads (e.g. you can’t do AI on your BI). Examples of business intelligence rules:

  1. Knowing (and spotting) competitors
  2. Knowing (and spotting) existing business partners
  3. Knowing (and spotting) industry experts, analysts, media [who should not be followed up with]
  4. Spotting “creatively submitted” leads, such as “Mick E. Mouse” or “Barack Obama”

Sure, you can automate part of this by filtering on a list of company names, but there are bound to be some leads that slip through the cracks.

For instance, users may have a typo in their company name – or, may list their company differently that what you’ve entered in your filter list.  Your leads are the lifeblood of your business, so you should curate them as if they were fine art.  This means that manual review will always be a part of the lead management process.

Conclusion

Lead Management is not easy.  However, perform these steps before your first virtual event lead hits your CRM system – and you’ll be better off.  Your sales team will receive a far higher percentage of qualified leads – and they’ll thank you for that.


What I’ve Been Tweeting (Edition 1.1)

August 2, 2010

Because tweets are temporal, while blog postings are permalinked…

Virtual Events

  1. Virtual Meetings and Exhibits Still Coming of Age: http://bit.ly/aFZF3B #eventprofs #virtualevents
  2. RT @CiscoIBSG: Can Virtual Experts Smooth Expat Transition? How P&G Is Successfully Using Cisco #TelePresence: http://bit.ly/afrmsS
  3. From @CiscoLive & @dveale: embed event video across the web, drive new registrations! http://bit.ly/9CWvxC #eventprofs
  4. Event Planners ‘Check In’ To Location Based Services: http://bit.ly/cFMH9A #eventprofs #wec10
  5. Getting started with #virtualevents? Download my eBook, “Virtual Events: Ready, Set, Go”: http://bit.ly/asJqFs #eventprofs
  6. RT @InXpo: We’re excited: “Latest Cisco Offering: ‘Collaboration for Events’ features INXPO Virtual Platform”: http://bit.ly/apKOH6
  7. Virtual Events ROI Case Study: @virtualedge Hybrid Event: http://bit.ly/cRJt2b #eventprofs #virtualevents #ROI

Social Media

  1. RT @clickz It’s All Fun and Games for Brand Marketers: http://bit.ly/aV8H3r (by @tessawegert)
  2. Twitter time-savers by @markwschaefer: Success in just 20 minutes a day: http://bit.ly/9aHoiu via @addthis
  3. RT @mashable How Twitter in the Classroom is Boosting Student Engagement: http://bit.ly/bmgxpw #classroom #education
  4. From @MarketingSherpa: #Webinar Promotion that Delivers: Use Email, Social, Viral Referrals and Video: http://bit.ly/ddDbhY
  5. 5 tips for lively Twitter chats: http://bit.ly/dqjQlL via @addthis – great article, @leeodden
  6. RT @mashable SCVNGR Launches Sophisticated Rewards Program http://bit.ly/bEQz5l #foursquare #marketing #rewards

Product Ideas

  1. Idea for @LinkedIn: ability to add “Notes” to a Connection (e.g. “Met at SXSW”, “Ask for recommendation”, etc.)
  2. Idea for MLB: for fans’ favorite players, send mobile alerts for “check ins” from home plate, 1B, 2B, 3B
  3. Next move for Facebook: embedding “Like” capability into rich media (e.g. video, audio). Let me “Like” a song from my iPod
  4. Idea for @Facebook: use Facebook Questions (itself) to address users’ questions about the new service
  5. Idea: integrate a brand’s CRM w/their Facebook Fan page – brand mgr sees user’s likes and comments superimposed w/their CRM records
  6. Idea for Google: when search results contain an address, embed Maps functionality, so I can see driving directions right there

General

  1. Good quote from Ask.com: “Google is a verb. But don’t forget that ‘ask’ is a verb too”
  2. Excited to be working for one of Lead411’s hottest companies in the Midwest (@INXPO): http://bit.ly/b2g1Ox – we’re also hot on West Coast!
  3. Physicians confirm we’re alive by checking our pulse. Bloggers, check the ‘pulse’ of your own blog – is there a constant, steady beat?
  4. Event and meeting planners have so many tools at their disposal these days that they’ll need to start wearing Craftsman belts
  5. ESPN and Playdom now under the same parent company (Disney). Wondering (and excited) about possible tie-ups…
  6. Interesting POV from @kimmaicutler: “Why the Facebook/Amazon integration is bigger than you think”: http://bit.ly/bVwz5J

Previously, I posted “What I’ve Been Tweeting” Edition 1.0.

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How To Create A Vibrant (And Virtual) Business Community

September 25, 2009

Source: flickr (User: Samuele Storari)

Source: flickr (User: Samuele Storari)

The virtual events industry got its start in replications of a physical trade show or conference – the very first virtual events were virtual tradeshows, whereby platform providers re-created the look and feel of a physical trade show within a web-based environment.  These sorts of virtual events continue to gain traction and I expect to see continued growth as additional corporations (and entire industries) enter the mix this year and into 2010.

Due to the flexible nature of virtual event platforms, however, we’re seeing parallel growth occurring via many other virtual applications that ride atop the same shared infrastructure and platform.  As I wrote in a blog posting titled “Virtual Events: Available In Many Flavors“, we’re seeing virtual job fairs, virtual sales kickoffs and virtual partner summits running on vendors’ virtual event platforms.

Another application/venue that’s gained traction in 2009 is the virtual business community.  Rather than a discrete and fixed event that occurs over a live date (or a series of live dates), the virtual business community is a 365 day/year service that users leverage for explicit business benefits.  In my opinion, the Intranet of 2001-2008 will be moving towards virtual business communities, powered by the same platforms that service virtual tradeshows.

For me, the concept of intranet does not inspire much excitement or enthusiasm.  I’ve used intranets to find information (specifications, pricing, a phone number, etc.), but have never yearned to log into the intranet while bringing up my morning email.  “It’s just there” was the mentality I used to have.  I believe that virtual event platforms can create a vibrant and virtual business community, significantly moving the intranet concept up the value chain.  In fact, the business community becomes a virtual office, tearing down physical walls (and cubicles) to turn a globally distributed workforce into a close-knit and collaborative team.

Here are key tactics in building a vibrant business community:

Get users to keep coming back

You want your user base to login to the business community each morning before they even fire up their email client.  In fact, a truly successful business community may support email-like communications within the platform, making users less dependent on email.  To get your users to return over and over, you need:

  1. Content – it needs to be timely, relevant and useful.  Business-critical content should be housed here – the type of information that users need to get their job done – pricing sheets, internal contact information, customer contact information, product documentation, competitive analysis, etc.  Don’t lose sight of the timely angle – have your executives post company updates/news and make them available via videocasts or video webcam.
  2. Network effect – a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem here – but, you need to get a critical mass of engaged and sought-after employees interacting in the business community.  Once you have that critical mass, you’ll see the community grow, as the “draw” will be access to and interactions with key colleagues.  This is the same network effect that AOL Instant Messenger, Facebook and Twitter enjoyed – users sign up because their friends, family or colleagues were already there.
  3. Enable social and interactive tools – today’s intranet needs to be empowered with the capabilities of AIM, Skype, Twitter and Facebook.  This way, I not only find documents to download, but I interact with key people who have the answers I need.  If I’m a product manager and need an answer from a lead software developer, he might not answer my phone call or return my email right away, but if I connect with him via text or video chat, perhaps he will.  After all, I’m finding him in an (online) environment that he’s most comfortable operating in.

Enterprise-enable your Business Community

Today’s most successful social networking sites/services are used in a consumer setting (i.e. friends and family) – ask yourself what makes them successful and determine how those features can be adopted in a 100% (internal) business social network.  I could see parallels of the following services made available internally within the business community platform:

  1. flickr
  2. Yahoo Answers
  3. Skype
  4. Facebook
  5. Twitter
  6. StumbleUpon
  7. del.icio.us
  8. Google
  9. digg

The key, I believe, is not just to enable social tools for the sake of being social – it’s to enable social tools while simultaneously connecting those tools to your business applications and business processes.  Possible ideas:

  1. Integration with your HR / Human Capital Database – if you have a rich profile on each employee (birth date, interests, job function, etc.), expose shareable information within your social tools and auto-fill that information to make it convenient for all users.  So if I’m sending out an internal tweet, my user ID is hyperlinked to a rich profile that describes all shareable information about me and my job role.
  2. Integration with CRM Database – are users posting links to industry news and analysis?  How about doing a keyword search by company and matching those up to sales opportunities in your CRM database?  If an article was posted about Acme Corporation’s latest product launch, let Acme’s sales rep know, so that she can contact them about applicable services that you offer.
  3. Integration with ERP systems – perhaps a crazy idea, but what if you could tweet about your latest business trip and have the expense management system parse your (internal) tweet and auto-generate a row in your online expense report?

All told, the possibilities are endless and quite exciting.  I foresee the virtual business community (powered by a virtual event platform) to be a significant trend in the coming year.  I believe this to be the future of the intranet for 2010 and beyond.


Virtual Event ROI

May 31, 2009

Virtual Edge 2009 Panel on Measurement & ROI

Virtual Edge 2009 Panel on Measurement & ROI

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.).
  2. 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.

Activity Profiles

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.

Related Links

  1. Blog posting: Increase Your Virtual Event ROI
  2. Blog posting: Virtual Event Adoption by the C-Suite
  3. Blog posting: What CPL Should I Pay For VTS?

How to Handle Those Hot Virtual Tradeshow Sales Leads

December 31, 2008

It’s the holy grail of online lead generation – you generate sales leads that pursue you and your company (rather than the other way around).  This holy grail scenario often plays out in B-to-B Virtual Tradeshows.  Some attendees come to the virtual event with approved budget, purchasing authority and a specific need.  As such, they’re shopping around with the various exhibitors to see who offers the solution that best fits their requirements.

These attendees will ask you (or your colleagues) very specific questions, covering technical specifications, product features and pricing.  At the conclusion of their visit, they may ask to be connected to a sales representative from your company.  How better can it get for you as an online marketer?  For this opportunity that fell into your lap – be sure to close the loop (with sales) on this lead or else the happy ending may be told by your competitor.

Here’s a sample chat that’s representative of what I’ve seen in virtual events:

Attendee: Thanks for the information about your products.
Exhibitor: You’re welcome!
Attendee: I’d like to set up a meeting to price out a configuration and discuss a few requirements that the product needs to meet
Exhibitor: Where are you based?
Attendee: New York City
Exhibitor: (a few minutes later) OK, the area sales manager for NYC is Bob Johnson.  His email address is bjohnson@acme.com and his phone number is 212-555-1212.
Attendee: Thanks, I’ll contact him.

Not good enough!  The exhibitor missed out on a golden opportunity here.  Additional steps that I’d recommend:

  1. Copy/paste the transcript of the chat and immediately email it to Bob Johnson
  2. Connect with Bob via email, IM, etc. – letting him know about the hot lead
  3. Update your CRM system (e.g. Salesforce.com, SalesLogix, etc.) with the transcript of the chat and a summary of the sales inquiry
  4. Urge Bob to follow up immediately with the attendee — let the attendee know (during the chat session) that “Bob is ready to take your call right now” – or, “Bob will call you first thing in the morning”
  5. Get Bob to login to the virtual event right now – you already know that there’s one hot lead from his territory – a sales opportunity waiting for Bob to close
  6. Provide your own contact info to the attendee, letting her know that you can be contacted if Bob cannot be reached

Remember, leads in a virtual tradeshow can be very hot.  Handle with care and don’t treat them like hot potatoes.  If you do, then your competitors may be eating your lunch.


Online Marketers: How to Sell Virtual Tradeshows to the Boss

December 15, 2008

Has Bruce Springsteen (The Boss) ever participated in a Virtual Tradeshow (VTS)?  I’m not sure, but if I were an online marketer, here’s how I’d convince my Boss on them.  The first thing I’d do is look for B-to-B publishers who are “flooring” industry virtual events that align with my product marketing initiatives.  Go find out (from the publishers) who’s already committed to sponsor the VTS.  If you’re picking the right events, you’ll notice that your competitors are already on the list.  If they’re not there, then perhaps you need to seek out alternative events.  But wait – you could also be “first in” with the right event – so just be sure the event’s theme aligns with your marketing plans.

So the first point to make to your boss is that your competitors are already on board.  So, NOT participating in the same event is a lost opportunity to have a place at the table alongside your competitors.  I do see attendees at virtual events ask, “Why isn’t <COMPANY> here?”.  If it’s a prominent industry VTS, your absence can speak volumes.  Next, develop an explicit goal for your boss  that clearly demonstrates the ROI.  For instance, how about a goal of 5 late-stage sales engagements – where you’d have to come up with a clear definition (for your boss) of “late-stage”.

Now that you have your boss’ ear, go with the lower tier sponsorship available.  These sponsorships are priced less because rather than receiving all leads (including no-shows), you only generate leads from attendees who directly interact with you (e.g. visit your sponsor booth or download your content).

This puts the onus on you, because you become directly responsible for the success of the campaign – the more visitors you can drive to your booth, the more leads you generate.  The upside, though, is that you can influence the cost per lead (CPL) that you achieve.  And there’s a possible win-win scenario: low CPL’s and a better qualified lead.  Your boss might like to hear about the low CPL, but make sure to emphasize the qualified leads – they’ve had direct interaction with you and their actions with your people or your content tells a lot about them.

Now, to get you to those 5 late-stage sales engagements, you have more work to do.  Remember that these are shared leads, not exclusive leads.  If a VTS had 10 exhibitors, a given attendee might have visited 7 of the 10 booths.  This means that they become leads for 6 other companies, some of whom are your direct competitors.  You’ll need to convert these leads more effectively than your competition.  And often times, this comes down to the simple determinant of, “who acts first”.  Don’t let those hot VTS leads sit in limbo in a spreadsheet or CRM system queue.  Get those leads over to telesales (or direct sales) and call them tomorrow.  If you don’t, you can be sure that your competition is.  And that hot lead suddenly becomes your competitor’s customer.  A shame!

So in summary, here’s an approach that leverages VTS to fuel the sales pipeline at a reasonable cost (making you and The Boss look good):

  1. Convince the boss
  2. Go with the lower tier VTS sponsorship (costs less – but places onus on you)
  3. Be an All-Star performer at the VTS (see related article)
  4. Close the loop by having Sales follow up with the hottest leads
  5. Reap the benefits
  6. Lather, rinse and repeat!

If you’ve never exhibited at a VTS before, enjoy the ride.  I think you’ll find it to be fun.


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