RainToday.com Podcast: Accelerated Lead Generation via Virtual Events

November 30, 2010

Introduction

I was interviewed by Michelle Davidson, Editor at RAIN Group, on RainToday.com’s “Marketing & Selling Professional Services Podcast”.  Michelle and I talked about lead generation via virtual events – a process I call  “accelerated lead generation”.

About RainToday.com

RainToday.com “is the premier online source for insight, advice, and tools for growing professional services businesses. Marketers, rainmakers, and leaders in consulting, accounting, law, AEC, marketing, advertising and PR, training, financial, IT, and other professional services industries, turn to RainToday.com for research, tools, training programs, and recommendations to help them market and sell their services.”

Virtual Events Questions

The questions Michelle asked me:

  1. What is a typical virtual event?
  2. What’s the cost of a virtual trade show compared to a physical trade show?
  3. Do people worry about the lack of face-to-face interaction in a virtual event?
  4. What kind of success have B2B service professionals had with virtual events?
  5. You wrote on your blog that generating leads with virtual events is a process, not a discrete project – tell us about that?
  6. Is the use of virtual events growing?
  7. How does a company get started with virtual events?
  8. If people want to get more educated, do you have any resources to recommend?

You can find the podcast here:

http://www.raintoday.com/pages/6575_podcast_episode_96_accelerated_lead_generation_via_virtual_events.cfm

Additionally, you can directly download the MP3 here:

http://traffic.libsyn.com/raintoday/Shiao_Virtual_Events.mp3


Virtual Mingle Rooms: Show Them What You’re Talking About

November 1, 2010

The following is a guest post by Daniel Ruscigno of Mingleverse.

Introduction

Mingleverse is a new service offering browser-based virtual rooms where 2 to 50 people can get together to talk using 3D audio while watching various types of media together (pictures, presentations, videos, webcam, screen broadcasting, etc).

Although predominantly a consumer-facing service, Mingleverse is used not only by friends and family in Facebook, but also by teachers and trainers, and small businesses.  However, the most interesting adoption has been with authors and athletes who are using their Mingle Room to mingle live with their fans.

Use Cases

For example, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell had a live virtual mingle with 25 of his fans, where they were all able to ask him questions about his books and his future writing plans.  Gladwell mingled from the comfort of his New York apartment and came into the room via webcam for all of the fans to see.  He commented afterwards that it really did feel like meeting 25 new people, and the fans were ecstatic that they got to meet their favorite author.

The Vancouver Canucks NHL team have also taken advantage of Mingleverse’s virtual Mingle Rooms by embedding one directly on their website.  After each home game the Canucks invite their fans to join the Mingle Room to talk about the night’s game, watch live post game interviews and press conferences together, and watch highlights streamed directly from YouTube.

There are now several professional sports teams who are looking to be the leaders in live fan interaction and are excited about providing fans the opportunity to mingle live with players and coaches.

Conclusion

As Mingleverse has shown, virtual world technologies allow us to become more interactive with people from all over the world and can afford us new opportunities not regularly available in our daily physical lives.  As we adopt these new technologies, perhaps our celebrity idols will ask you to meet them in their Mingle Room in their next tweet!

You can try Mingleverse for free at http://mingleverse.com or through the Mingleverse Facebook Application.

Related: Mingleverse picks up $1.4M in seed funding for video conferencing with cardboard cutouts (from VentureBeat, Dec 2010)


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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Top 3 Ways To Improve Virtual Event Experiences

July 30, 2010

We need to create better and more engaging virtual event experiences.  We need to better approximate the valuable face-to-face encounters and experiences that physical events create.

1: Create a stronger feeling of “there”

There’s nothing like walking into an over-crowded trade show floor and hearing the buzz of attendees and exhibitors.  It’s similar to walking into a popular restaurant or bar.  The buzz permeates the environment.  If I were to login to the world’s most popular virtual event, there’s hardly an indicator to tell me so.

The closest thing we have today is a list of avatars (also known as profile images) in a given event area.  If I see a long list of other attendees listed, then I know the area is quite popular and there must be something going on (e.g. perhaps there’s a live chat session occurring).  Beyond that, it’s hard to tell that “there’s a ‘there’ there”.

To address this, event platforms and event planners should consider augmenting the experience with sensory stimulation.  The two relevant senses are sight and sound.  With sight, one could imagine  “heat maps” that signal to attendees where the action lies.  Or, animation to direct users to a popular area – or, that something is important is happening in a given location.

Incorporating sound can be a challenge in a B2B environment, since many users mute their computer speakers while at work.  So perhaps one uses visuals to encourage attendees to enable their sound.  Then, platforms could “inject” show floor chatter into the environment, adjusting the level of intensity based on the amount of activity or people present.

Better yet, platforms could allow attendees to speak into a common audio channel.  If I’m in the Networking Lounge, I’m then able to converse with others (via audio) in addition to text chat.  Perhaps the system allows for comment moderation, so that one person is enabled to speak at any one time (a challenge that takes care of itself when folks assemble in person).

2: Create stronger person-to-person interactions

Text chat is great, but virtual events need to go beyond text to create richer and more engaging person-to-person interactions.  That means audio (as outlined above) as well as video.  Bandwidth availability varies depending on where you’re located – but if you have sufficient bandwidth, virtual events should allow you to network and connect with others the “old fashioned way” – with a smile, a greeting and a hello.  Not with a “LOL” or a smiley.

In addition, virtual event experiences need to better enable a community to form.  This is done with effective tools to connect like-minded individuals – and, applications to encourage and foster person-to-person interactions (e.g. blogging, status updates, etc.).

3: Use imagery to strike a deeper emotional connection

In any event experience (whether physical or virtual), imagery can be used to strike a deep, emotional connection with attendees.  In a virtual event, we all too often create this effect:

That is, the imagery that may create that emotional connection is covered by functional elements overlaid on top.  What you’re left with is edges of the “pretty picture” – that is, the small segments that are not covered by the functional elements.  A few options to address this:

Combine imagery and function

Build the functional elements into the imagery.  For Flash-based platforms, the images and the functional areas occupy the same SWF.  There are cost and “repeatability” considerations in going this route, so other options can be considered.

Determine function element placement up front

Before the creative team designs an image, determine what functional elements are included in the event area.  Size these elements (by pixel counts) and then have the creative team design around that.  For instance, if you’re designing at a width of 1024 pixels and you embed a chat window 512 pixels wide, then you have 256 pixels on each side of the chat area.

Have your designers make the most of each 256-pixel segment, rather than designing an elaborate image that has its most compelling 512 pixels covered and never seen.

Conclusion

I’ve listed 3 ways that virtual event experiences can be improved.  Drop a comment below to let us know how you’d improve virtual events.

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5 Tips For A Successful Virtual Trade Show

June 22, 2010

The following is a guest post from Craig Rosenberg.

On the 29th of June from 8AM to 4PM Pacific, I’ll be running my first virtual trade show: Mastering Lead Management.  At Focus, the company I work for, we’ve been doing webinars for our clients for years. But this virtual event is our first day-long comprehensive show.  To differentiate and make it as successful as possible, there were a few critical decisions we made during the show’s development:

We called it an interactive summit — To us, a virtual trade show or trades hows in general give the impression of a vendor bazaar where everyone’s main goal of the event is to get buyers introduced to vendors. Buyers expect more.

We leveraged all unbiased, third party content (no vendor pitches) — We have sponsors, but our approach to any content we create is all about making it “buyer-helpful,” that is, information that helps buyers do their jobs better or make more informed purchasing decisions.

We gave all sponsors full booth functionality — Instead of worrying about creating different pricing schemes for different features in the booth, we gave everyone everything we could.

    We think these decisions are at least in part the reason why we’ve garnered thousands of registrants to the event so far. Based on what I’ve learned and past experience with all kinds of trade shows, here are my 5 tips for successful virtual trade shows:

    1. It’s all about the content, it’s always about the content – All the blog posts and marketing we find today about virtual events is about minimizing environmental impact, shrinking travel budgets, etc.  While I think these points are interesting, we believe that if the content is compelling, they will come.  Think about it, despite all the marketing we are producing about people avoiding live events, they go and they go because they see value.  White papers, webinars, you name it, they all still work. But it’s about the content. Why would virtual events be different?  The answer is they are not.
    2. It’s all about the variety and volume of content – A virtual summit gives you multiple opportunities to peak a buyers interest with all kinds of content.  In a white paper or a webinar, it’s a one-shot deal.
    3. Content drives the types of leads you get – The biggest factor for the future of the virtual trade show market is ROI.  I can tell you that if you try to be something for everyone, then that’s what you’ll get.  Guess what, that is the problem with the traditional trade show market.  For successful lead generation, I’d suggest creating more targeted content and be prepared for less numbers.
    4. Virtual events are scoring machines – From a lead management perspective, virtual shows provide amazing activity data on attendees.  There is a lot of content available to participants and a lot of opportunities for interactivity. All of this should be collected and sent to whomever cares, such as sponsors.
    5. Understand why trade shows don’t work – This is a bit of a “reset” of the points above, but trade show attendance isn’t only down because of shrinking travel budgets. Trade shows are down because buyers have A LOT of choices for content to do their job better.  15 years ago, trade shows had a pretty solid hold on information. Now with the internet, information is everywhere without the time and resource commitments that make it harder for live trade shows to compete. What can you learn?  Well, people aren’t going to come to your event just because your show is virtual (and you don’t want them to), they are going to come because they see value.

    Craig Rosenberg is Author of The Funnelholic, his very popular B2B sales and marketing blog. He is also Vice President of Products and Services at Focus where he oversees product creation, management, and delivery. Prior to Focus, Craig spent years as a consultant for SalesRamp where he designed, built and managed lead-generation and inside sales strategies and processes for high-tech startups.

    During that time, Craig built lead generation machines at over 25 different companies in a variety of different high-tech verticals ranging from business applications to IT infrastructure. Because of his extensive experience, Craig acts as an advisor to Focus‘s clients, helping them solve a variety of different marketing and demand-generation challenges  You can visit Craig’s B2B Demand Generation Blog at www.funnelholic.com.

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    Telepresence In Virtual Events With G2Events

    June 15, 2010

    In the mid-year report card on my 2010 virtual event predictions, I wrote about the first telepresence-enabled virtual event – the “Sustainability Virtual Summit: Smart ICT”, produced by G2Events.  Subsequent to my posting, I heard from Bruno Castejon, Senior Vice President and Co-Founder of G2Events.

    “G2Events is the first Virtual event management services firm to truly integrate Telepresence”, notes Castejon. “We captured the Telepresence feed (high definition video and audio) straight out of the Telepresence racks and rendered the true Telepresence experience over IP in our virtual event platform.  It provided the Virtual Conference attendees a truly immersive experience, as if they were sitting in a Telepresence suite”.

    Sustainability Virtual Summits

    “Sustainability Virtual Summit: Smart ICT” had 8 sessions (out of a total of 35) that included Telepresence enablement.  Five of the eight sessions were round-table discussions with panelists participating from different geographic locations. G2Events is looking at physical events as well, where Telepresence can serve to bridge on-site and remote participants.

    According to G2Events, there is a science behind the technology and process for bringing Telepresence into physical events, especially when one factors in cost and scalability considerations.  “G2events believes Telepresence is one of the most promising technologies to bridge the physical and virtual event worlds and optimize the value of a true hybrid model”, said Castejon.

    TelepresenceWorld 2011

    Hemisphere, the parent company of G2Events, and NAB recently announced a partnership to launch “TelepresenceWorld 2011” at the 2011 NAB Show (April 9-14, 2011).  Telepresence World 2011 will be a hybrid event, combining an on-site conference with a concurrent virtual event, “TelepresenceWorld 2011 Virtual Live!”.

    Notes Castejon, “This will really be a showcase hybrid event demonstrating how Telepresence, in addition of being a very powerful collaboration solution, is also an impactful channel to efficiently reach out to large audiences for marketing purposes”.

    Telepresence and Virtual Events

    At Sustainability Virtual Summits, Telepresence-enabled panels had increased attendee satisfaction – delegates were most engaged with that format.  Castejon notes that the viewing “completion rate” for the Telepresence-enabled panels was by far the highest of all content broadcast during the show.  “They constituted the very reason why the average time at the event was over 2 hours and 50 minutes per attendee”, notes Castejon.

    Bruno contributes two of his own predictions for 2010:

    1. Before 2010 is over, the technology integration will be mature enough to bring Telepresence Live into Virtual Event platforms.
    2. Before 2010 is over, the Virtual event platform leaders will release “full screen” capabilities for video content.  This will take the delegate experience even higher and make Telepresence-enabled panels even more enjoyable.

    Hosted Telepresence

    Think of it as “Telepresence as a Service” – you receive the benefits of Telepresence without the capital investment and hardware support.  “You can now show up at a public Telepresence facility (e.g. Cisco, Marriott, Taj, Starwood) nearby and rent both the room and infrastructure at a cost of $300 or lower”, notes Castejon.  The “Telepresence footprint” (both private and public) is reaching critical mass.  Castejon adds, “The number of rooms is now such that it provides proximity with most, if not all the main business hubs in the world”.

    Telepresence Interoperability Protocol (TIP)

    At the InfoComm conference last week, Cisco announced “interoperability between Cisco and Tandberg TelePresence systems, and with other third-party systems, by integrating the Telepresence Interoperability Protocol (TIP) on Cisco’s newly acquired Tandberg TelePresence Server”. Castejon says this “is a BIG deal”, since it allows one vendor’s system to interoperate with another’s (e.g. in theory, a session betweeen Cisco Telepresence and HP Halo systems).

    While TIP does define interoperability at a protocol level, Castejon notes that telcos will need to follow suit on carrier interoperability.  “Existing private and public Telepresence deployments are on private networks. As of today, I do not believe these carriers have found a way to manage Telepresence roaming. If two parties use different carriers (e.g. one AT&T and the other BT), they still might not be able to communicate”, notes Castejon.

    Conclusion

    Telepresence is a technology to watch – it can facilitate a “virtual meeting” or “virtual event” on its own.  Combined with a virtual event, however, it can significantly expand its audience reach and power.  If you plan to integrate Telepresence into your virtual events, leave a comment below and let us know of your plans.

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    Virtual Events 101: Common Use Cases For Virtual Events

    April 28, 2010

    Some event planners just know that they want to produce a virtual event.  Others take a circuitous route to a virtual event, considering other options first.  For those of you “on the fence” – you’re interested in virtual, but not sure if a virtual event makes sense right now, read further about common use cases of virtual events.  Based on what others have already done, perhaps you’ll find a similar use case for your business need.

    Corporate University, Virtually

    Consider a conventional corporate training program – employees travel to the training site and receive instruction.  Training is often in the form of long and elaborate PowerPoint-based presentations, with some intra-class interaction mixed in.  Some training programs may incorporate hands-on learning (e.g. in a lab or in the field, where the company’s products are used).

    Now consider virtual training or virtual university.  First, employees (and instructors) skip the flight and hotel – instead, they all participate from their office or their home.  Next, each student enters a virtual university environment, with a customized learning program created by the instructor(s).  In a virtual university (like in a virtual trade show), the attendees’ actions are tracked.  The result – heightened accountability for the students.

    Sure, students are still able to view their BlackBerry or iPhone while an instructor is speaking – in virtual, however, learning effectiveness can be measured with precision.  For example: number of sessions attended, average session stay (or, “non-idle time” during the session, if the platform tracks that), number of questions asked per session, number of polling questions answered, number of “engagements” with other students, etc.

    Quizzes (e.g. certification) can be given, with automated grading provided by the platform.  In addition, a variety of learning formats and learning tactics can be employed online: live presentations with “pass the baton” (students take turn as presenters), on-demand presentations, interactive games, online quizzes, user-generated content, Q&A sessions facilitated in a group chat room, etc.  Relative to a physical classroom setting, the possibilities are nearly endless, with tracking on a per student, per activity basis – powerful.

    Test The Waters in a New Market

    Event planners need to consider the creation of new events and new event franchises in order to generate revenue growth and explore new markets.  Consider the commitments required for a physical event vs. a virtual event.  For a physical event, you’ll need to find and secure an event site and pay a deposit to lock in your event date(s).  Then, delegates, exhibitors, presenters and the event staff make travel arrangements to the event site.  Finally, exhibitors and the event staff make arrangements to ship booths, printed paper, computers and related gear to the site.

    For a virtual event, there’s a commitment (to secure the virtual event platform), but no physical site, no travel and no shipping.  In other words, the upfront cost commitment and “overhead” is significantly reduced.  This means that you’re more free to test the waters in a new market and evaluate attendee response and sponsorship sell-through rates.  If you discover that the market is not right for an event (virtual or physical), you can move on to the next opportunity.

    If, instead, you determine that the market is ripe for ongoing events, you may choose to continue the virtual event – or, create a physical event around the footprint you’ve created virtually.  If you managed to create a loyal community around your virtual events (i.e. attendees are visiting the environment and engaging with others outside of scheduled events), then you have a natural outlet for promoting your corresponding physical event.

    Cancellation of Physical Event

    The economic downturn of 2008-2009 caused many physical events to be canceled due to budgetary factors.  Despite the cancellations, events planners were left with a mandate from management that “the show must go on” – it was not an option to cancel the annual customer conference or the sales kick-off meeting.

    What resulted in 2008-2009 was a lot of virtual event innovation, stemming from savvy event planners who migrated their legacy on-site event or conference into the virtual world.  The result for these planners?  A larger and wider audience (virtually) that appreciated the opportunity to connect and interact – you can’t replace the handshake or the post-event cocktails, but connecting virtually was better than not connecting at all.

    As economic conditions improve and budgets for the on-site conference come back around, event planners are not abandoning virtual to return 100% to physical.  Instead, they’re leaving the virtual component in place (in some cases, the virtual component grew into a vibrant online community) and pairing virtual with physical to create a hybrid experience.

    Real Products, Virtual Launches

    Microsoft made a big splash with its product launch for Windows 95 (in 1995) – the product was ushered in by the Rolling Stones’  “Start Me Up”.  These days, you’re more likely to see Microsoft produce a virtual product launch, rather than a multi-city, on-site road show.  A virtual product launch allows for effective and efficient dissemination of product information to a global audience.

    Audience segments can be conveniently managed, with hosting of analysts, media, customers, prospects and partners in areas that are virtually “walled off” from one another.  This event model is analogous to “computing virtualization” – whereby logical “sub events” can ride over a single event platform.  So rather than separate analyst day, media day and partner summit meetings, your analyst relations, PR, product marketing and partner marketing organizations can leverage a single platform to engage with all of their constituents simultaneously.

    Virtual Events as Listening Platforms

    In my mind, we (as marketers) speak too much and listen too little.  In a challenging economic environment, it can be easier to grow existing accounts than convert new prospects.  To do so, you need to listen more to your customers and become more in tune to solving their business needs.  This is where a virtual events platform can help.

    Today, we have the virtual customer conference and the virtual partner summit – those formats, however, are largely focused around “vendor to the customer” content, rather than “customer tells vendor what they need” content.  I think a “virtual focus group” should become a part of most virtual customer conferences, where the given “focus group” can be as small as a single customer to as many as 20.

    Virtual event platforms can effectively provide listening tools (e.g. chat rooms, webcasts with “pass the baton”, etc.) – to enable better listening, the platforms may need to build better interpretation and analysis tools.  For instance, the ability to parse all of the chat room content, summarize the key points made and generate a sentiment rating.  Without such tools, event organizers are forced to read through reams of chat transcripts themselves.

    Conclusion

    I’ve covered a few of the use cases of virtual events – there are many more.  What interesting use cases would you like to share with us?  Leave your thoughts via the comments section below.

    Related Links

    1. Browse the Virtual Events 101 Index Page
    2. Download the eBook, “Virtual Events: Ready, Set, Go

    Note: I invite you to connect with me on .


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