I had the great pleasure last week of attending the SiriusDecisions Technology Exchange event in Austin, TX where marketing leaders from some of the world’s greatest technology companies came together to share how technology is being used across sales, marketing, and product organizations to enhance alignment and drive better business results. It’s always enlightening to hear your peers share how they are transforming their organization to meet the promise of more effective, personalized marketing that meets prospects and customers exactly where they are in their buying journey. Events, of course, are a critical part of that journey and I was excited to have two of our largest customers, Microsoft and National Instruments, share stories of how they are digitally transforming their event strategy and how they arrived at the decision to invest in this critical area of the marketing stack.
Here are a few key takeaways I noted specifically about the role of events that marketers can use to build a case for digital transformation:
1. Events Are a Key Pillar of the Marketing Stack
While we sometimes hear speculation that marketers will pull back on event spend, the opposite is true about many leading companies including Microsoft and National Instruments. This year, National Instruments will spend nearly 50% of its discretionary marketing budget on events, with in-person events taking near 90% of that spend. In fact, across B2B companies, events are the largest single line item in the marketer’s budget at an average of 30% spend. Why? Because events are truly one of the last places where marketing, sales, customer success, product and senior leadership teams can engage with prospects and customers and get a true pulse on satisfaction, success and where they are in their buying journey. Additionally, events are a catalyst for action, helping to generate new prospects, accelerate existing pipeline opportunities, and assist in closing deals. Because in-person engagement is unique and offers signals that may not be available to marketers from digital signals alone, events aren’t leaving the marketer’s toolkit anytime soon.
2. Events Drive Demand
We heard from National Instruments that one of the primary reasons events are consuming almost half of the marketing budget is because marketers in countries and regions across the globe laud events as the most effective demand generation vehicle. Microsoft echoed that sentiment. With a massive event program that spans over 11,000 events per year globally or nearly 30 events per day, Microsoft cited events as a prime driver of lead generation across multiple product lines. And the demand that comes directly from events converts into qualified leads and sales opportunities, providing a direct contribution to revenue goals. Across technology companies, this story rings true with over a third of marketers claiming that events are a driver of demand. In fact, according to a brand survey run by EventTrack last year, 65% of brands stated that in-person events are directly correlated to sales.
3. Marketers are Dependent on Timely Data
With increasing spend on events and dependence on events driving demand generation, what emerges as a limiting factor plaguing marketers in executing the most successful event strategy possible? Historically, one of the most difficult issues to overcome across both companies was getting timely lead data from the event into the hands of a sales executive to have a sales conversation. In the past, at National Instruments, it would take eight touches through internal data processing and anywhere from four to fourteen days to process a lead from the time of an in-person interaction to the time it was ready to be sent to sales. Furthermore, with events being hosted across the globe and event management being run differently from country to country, lead processing would often be managed by Excel spreadsheets or even paper. Marketers know that the shorter the time it takes for a salesperson to follow up with a lead from an event, the higher the rate of conversion. So, decreasing this time is imperative for National Instruments’ success in effectively rolling out Event Automation and increasing sales in the process.
4. Marketers are Shifting Marketing Automation into High Gear
Real-time and interconnected data is the core of what’s powering the modernization of marketing at Microsoft. In fact, they have retired over ten old-world systems with a new marketing technology stack that includes marketing automation and Event Automation. They employ best practices including multi-touch attribution, scoring, and real-time data flows between their marketing automation platform, Marketo, and their Microsoft Dynamics CRM to ensure prospects and customers are met with the right engagement opportunities at the right time in their buying journey. And, as part of this technology transformation, data from every step in the event marketing lifecycle is now synced in real-time with marketing automation. This includes pre-event data collection from registration forms, during event data collection such as registration, session check-in, surveys, and mobile application data, as well as post-event data collection from email nurturing and other outbound activities, all which ensure prospects and customers are being met with the experience that best increases engagement.
5. Events are a Key Part of Digital Transformation
Many of the sessions at TechX covered how to deploy specific technology to solve some of the larger issues marketers face in digital transformation. A popular topic, of course, was Account-Based Marketing and J.J. Kardwell of EverString gave a thoughtful overview of the tech stack required to specifically support ABM, with orchestration, attribution, execution, and measurement as core to a complete solution. A key takeaway was that to truly pull off a successful ABM strategy, it requires a commitment to transforming the overall go-to-market strategy with buy-in across the business including sales and marketing. ABM is not just an advertising approach — success comes from remaking the first marketing touch, all the way through to customer advocacy. Similarly, marketing teams are capitalizing on the opportunity to transform their event strategy by rolling it out as a key part of their overall digital transformation initiatives. We heard this from both Microsoft, where this is part of their effort to modernize marketing technology, as well as National Instruments, who is coupling Event Automation with their effort to move from country-by-country management to regionalization supported by digitally powered marketing teams. Since events are driving business results for many teams — marketing, sales and customer success — it requires thinking holistically about the approach to ensure events are working for you as a marketer and not the other way around.