Virtual Meetings Are the Key to ROI at Hybrid Events

June 17, 2021

Ravi Chalaka

Ravi Chalaka is the CMO of Jifflenow, and a marketing and business development expert who creates and executes business strategies, generating demand and raising brand/product awareness in competitive markets. As VP of Marketing at both large and small technology companies, Ravi built strong teams and brands and enabled faster revenue growth for a wide range of solutions based on Big Data, SaaS, AI and IoT software, HCI, SAN, NAS. 

One interesting characteristic of virtual and hybrid events is that virtual (or digital) attendees can significantly outnumber those on-site. For example, February’s MWC Shanghai registered 25,000 attendees on-site and close to 125,000 virtually. 

At large hybrid events, meetings and networking are key objectives for attendees whose business depends on making critical business relationships and decisions. Whether they’re participating in-person or remotely, attendees want to see the latest technologies and products and learn how they can apply them in their businesses.

Similarly, exhibitors want to connect with these attendees, who are either existing customers or prospects, and help them with that decision. For event marketers who manage their brand’s presence at a hybrid event, the question is how to design a presence that engages optimally with both in-person and remote attendees in order to establish meaningful dialogue with key prospects and customers — and drive business opportunities.

The first step is to define specific event objectives. Will the focus be a product launch, or to showcase a new partnership? Are we looking to build awareness for innovations in an existing technology, or take orders for a new service? The answers to these questions from your sales, product, leadership and other teams will shape our communications strategy.

Next, define the time period over which you want to connect and engage with prospects and customers. For example, while the in-person component of a hybrid event may run three to four days, think in terms of extending interactions with prospects and customers well beyond the event. 

Also, think globally. Keep in mind that there will be remote attendees participating from numerous time zones, so your organization will meet more of these people if you can let them schedule a time that works best for them — before, during and after the event.

In the weeks leading up to your next hybrid event, the following five audience engagement strategies will maximize your ROI by increasing the number of valuable customer and target prospect engagements. To scale up your potential, consider using a robust meeting automation platform; this will simplify the process of scheduling, managing and also reporting on the many prospect and customer engagements you’re aiming to book.  

1. Set up your inbound meeting mechanism

Ideally, you should funnel all your event attendees to a central web location where they choose where and when to meet. Perhaps they want to meet at the booth for a demo, meet their sales rep or book a meeting with your industry or product expert. By creating an “inbound meeting request page” that automatically offers available time slots, you can make it easy for prospects to book that meeting while the idea is top of mind. Your system should include a vetting and approval process, and automate calendar invites and video-conferencing information for meeting attendees. 

2. Build momentum by pre-scheduling

You want to maximize the number of meetings associated with the event, so 6-8 weeks out, integrate links and buttons into all your digital marketing programs. These links should enable your prospects and customers to book specific activities, such as register for a session, sign up for a demo, book a meeting, meet the expert and so on. Meanwhile, your sales team should schedule meetings with customers and prospects based on opportunity data, previous discussions and other indicators.

3. Focus on scheduling demo meetings

At any major industry hybrid event, in-person attendees can easily walk up to a booth and schedule a demo. Over in virtual event land, we can also schedule demos. To book more demos with qualified prospects, define a variety of demo types that are optimized for specific lead categories. You can then map these demos to different topics, products or services and presenters — for both in-person and virtual attendees. Then, promote these demos in your outbound activities so that attendees can self-book while you capture details to pre-qualify them and ensure the right team members attend. 

4. Integrate tracks and sessions into the meeting mix

For most B2B brands, events are an opportunity to educate prospects and customers. Tracks and sessions are part of most hybrid events, and these can easily be extended for your remote attendees. Integrate these into your pre-event promotions, and don’t forget to invite your sales team to nominate their top prospects and customers. Again, consider how you might extend the availability of these sessions months after the event.

5. Offer “Meet the Expert” and “Meet the Executive” opportunities

Some prospects and customers may want to get the information they need from someone other than a salesperson. Here’s where the “Meet the Expert” or an exclusive “Meet the Executive” program for VIP customers plays a vital role by making your internal industry, product or department experts available for scheduling. This program can be added to your inbound meeting request page and then completely automated. We saw one customer schedule hundreds of MTE meetings surrounding a week-long customer event: all virtual, all completely automated.

In some ways, hybrid events offer the best of both worlds. Whether it’s an in-person meeting onsite or a virtual meeting in the weeks that follow, there are hundreds of ways to engage prospects and customers so you can educate, boost consideration and build your sales pipeline and revenue potential. The trick is to provide as many pathways and opportunities as possible for key prospects and customers to self-book and define their own buyer journey. If you can also automate the entire meeting set-up and follow-up process, you’ll be well on your way to maximizing the ROI of your virtual, hybrid and in-person events this year.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.