With marketing budgets being pruned and B2B buyers working from home, 2020 has been a tough year for sales and marketing to fill the pipeline. In response, many organizations seem to be increasing their investment in ABM (Account Based Marketing). ABM has been likened to spearfishing—an intensive and skilled effort focused on a smaller number of highly specific targets, versus traditional demand generation programs which cast a much wider net hoping to bring in a few of the desired targets along with whatever else the net pulls in.
Investment in ABM has been rising for a number of years. According to a 2020 report from Demandbase, budgets dedicated to ABM increased by 40 percent from 2019 to 2020. That trend is likely to hold, since a well-executed ABM program has been demonstrated to provide superior ROI. According to a benchmark study from research and advisory firm ISTMA, 77% of respondents saw a 10% or more return on investment (ROI) from their ABM programs compared to more traditional marketing activity. Those kind of results play especially well in difficult economic times.
ABM and virtual events
Where do events fit into an ABM strategy today? Like traditional demand gen programs that assign individual leads a score based on their interactions with your company, ABM programs also use scoring models to gauge interest at the account level. In both types of programs, the highest scoring interaction has always been the in-person event. Attendance at an online event typically scored lower, and consequently tended not to get the budget and attention lavished on their in-person counterparts.
So with virtual events the only events, do we have to settle for second best? Not at all. I would actually argue that right now, attendance at an online event is even more of an indicator of interest. Think about it. When you’re attending an in-person event, that’s usually on company time, and almost always on the company’s dime. Now, when everyone is working online all day, being bombarded with webinar invitations, suffering from Zoom fatigue and quite possibly trying to juggle childcare, home schooling and other family obligations, it means a lot more for someone to take time out to listen to you.
But with everyone shifting to virtual events, you have to create some sort of unique experience to break up the monotony of long days online and set yourself apart from the crowd. There’s near perfect alignment of those goals with the goals of ABM, which is all about reaching different members of the buying committee with content tailored to their interests.
Understanding your audience
If you’re going to host a unique and engaging virtual event, you first need to understand your desired audience. That’s also one of the first things you need to understand if you’re doing ABM, so chances are you’ve already figured out your target accounts, created a set of buyer personas, and mapped out the buyer’s journey for each. Instead of creating content for a mass audience and driving a whole bunch of leads, as you would do with traditional demand gen, you’re perfectly positioned to focus on those 10, 15, 20 accounts that have already signaled interest, and figure out the most valuable type of content you could present to the different personas within them at different stages of their journey.
Picking the right platform
One thing you’ll want to make sure of is that you have the right virtual event platform, one that is designed for sales and marketing events. Of course, you’ll want to know who registered and attended, and from which accounts. But with next generation event platforms you can also see how much time people were in the event, what questions they asked, and what part of the presentation they paid the most attention to. You can see if they put anything in the chat or downloaded the recording afterwards. That gives you an idea of what kind of engagement and interest each person had, and you can then score them and feed that information back into your CRM. You might even consider putting a call to action at the end of the event to request a demo or other next step straight from the webinar platform.
Adapting your content
What kind of content should you offer? I think what you’re really trying to replicate is the intimacy and engagement of the localized lunch and learn session where a sales rep might rent out a room in a nice restaurant for a couple dozen people, do a quick presentation, and buy everyone’s meal.
One online approach would be to take your popular pieces of content, or your lunch and learn presentations, and adapt them to a webinar format. That doesn’t always generate a great level of engagement, so if you take that approach, be sure to have plenty of Q&A, breakout rooms, or chat rooms where people can interact, as this is probably the element that’s most lacking in virtual events.
Panel webinars are playing well; the most successful online event we did at Banzai this year featured an expert panel in a fireside chat format where people could see their faces, hear them speak and ask plenty of questions. That generated a high level of engagement. Be prepared to spend a lot of time recruiting participants and coordinating their schedules if you use this format. The upside is you’ll save a lot of time on content creation. All you have to do is set the theme, and the conversation among panelists and attendees does that work for you. As a bonus, some of your participants may join in promoting the event.
We’re also hearing customers have success with events that are more interactive, such as wine tasting or bourbon tastings, or having a chef send ingredients to people's houses and walk them through preparing a recipe. These can even be localized by finding a well-known local provider that’s doing events. Even though these types of events aren’t super product oriented, they still build brand awareness and affinity and can be a good conversation piece for a sales rep to make a connection. As marketers, that is the best thing that we can ask for in any era.