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Reimagining events marketing through an ABM lens

Author's avatar By Daley Robinson 01 Aug, 2019
Essential Essential topic

An account-based twist to your experiential planning

In the B2B marketer’s toolkit, events are pretty much stitched into the fabric.

For as long as there have been buyers and sellers in a market there have been events that bring the two together with varying degrees of structure in the middle.

It’s not all been plain sailing though. Over the past twenty years, it’s had a rocky ride. Digital developments have meant that investment in experiential were put under pressure. The tide is turning though: Bizzabo found that 63% of marketers plan on investing more in live events in the future both in budget and number of events.

In my experience, one of the main drivers of this increased focus is ABM. Creative ABMers the world over are turning to tried and tested techniques like events and giving them an extreme account-based makeover (without the Hollywood tears).

How to think about account-based events

Account-based events are organized occasions that are either attended by or organized with specific accounts in mind.

This is counter to the way event marketers usually think about the success from putting on a shindig, such as:

  • The level of engagement at a conference or trade show
  • The number of people who visit your booth or stand
  • The total number of registrations and attentiveness to a webinar
  • The number of leads that come from an event, or event series

In keeping with the ABM philosophy, these metrics mean nothing. We put them to one side as being an extension of our ego and the things we used to hide behind to make other people in our respective businesses feel like we were doing a good job. Something I refer to as the ‘ABM paradox of numbers’.

In the ABM world, we want our target accounts to do deals and write revenue. With a clear and concise standard of success, the sky's the limit when it comes to reimagining your event mix.

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Obviously, you've come to this page for ABM tactics. That's why the rest of this article is dedicated to the specific channels that do and don't work for bringing in more accounts from your list. But don't forget ABM is just one aspect of a strong omnichannel marketing strategy.

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Examples of ABM events

Here are a few different ways I’ve used events as part of a wider ABM approach:

1. Supplier roadshows

It may come as a surprise to learn that some of the big companies that you’d really like to sell to have set their stall up to make it as easy as possible for companies like yours to do business with them.

Across the public and private sector, supplier roadshows and Meet the Purchaser events are found pretty much everywhere nowadays. It makes life easier for the buyers, as they can efficiently meet with new companies to check out their wares as all on the same day, or days, rather than individually.

Such events will often be held in a workspace of the respective organization, or regionally in a conference suite or hotel. Existing and would-be suppliers will usually pay a small charge to cover the event organization costs.

If you’re thinking at this stage you will be able to just rock up to these events with a pull-up stand and a loose hope of maybe flogging some stuff and you’ll be successful, then think again. You've got to be laser-focused on a very clear message.

All the people you think you would compete with will probably already be there, and you’ll learn of a few more too. As such, your positioning and communications will need to be exemplary.

As an immediate action point, go down your ABM target list and reach out to the purchasing teams at your target accounts to ask what schedules they have to support would-be suppliers. Be professional and courteous and leave out the sales patter. Their answer may surprise you.

2. Be the perfect host

In the absence of any supplier hosted events, what to do? You've got a killer proposition that you know is a great fit to a target account and you’re beside yourself trying to put it in front of them before someone else beats you to it. This is where you need to turn event host.

This can be thought of in a couple of different ways depending on the situation.

Some target organizations are inherently open, making them ideal bases to host sessions.

Further and Higher Education, for example, a common sector for many B2B organizations to target, are quasi-public places that always have awesome catering and are structured superbly to host ABM events.

It can prove to be easy and cost-effective to host a breakfast or lunchtime session in an on-campus coffee shop to give an internal tech the chance to get hands-on with something new and exciting.

You’re also making it really easy for them to say yes with a level of on-site convenience that would be impossible to beat - neatly overcoming any actual or perceived challenges that can often come with ‘getting out of the office for a bit’.

I have found that you get a better take up on-site, so you should start there if possible. But don’t fret if you have accounts where this isn’t an option. You can tweak it to incorporate a local landmark or handy hotel where some of the same principles still apply.

If you have the budget, the time and are somewhat of a glutton for punishment, roadshows can give you a sustainable benefit over a longer period of time.

For product-oriented businesses, this could mean getting a branded rock-star style articulated lorry kitted out with your wares. For those of you in services businesses, think about setting or a mobile suite that can be used to educate your audiences workshop style.

As long as you keep in mind the value that they’re going to get from the interactions, these kinds of initiatives can make a huge statement to your target accounts that you want to partner with them.

3. Corporate hospitality

Corporate hospitality

Over the past 10 years, corporate hospitality has been suffering from a reputational crisis. Following new anti-bribery legislation aimed at businesses in the UK (the Bribery Act 2010) and subsequently in France (updates to French Criminal Code in 2016), overzealous compliance folks working on behalf of businesses sought to outlaw completely any corporate gifts and hospitality.

As is often the case with such legislation changes (GDPR anyone?), over time brands soften their approach towards the middle ground and now corporate hospitality is back in the game.

As ABM practitioners, we should all rejoice at this news! When considering events through an account-targeted lens, corporate hospitality can offer incredible bang for your buck.

Whether it’s cementing relationships with existing customers as part of a retention strategy, or getting face time with the decision maker at a business you really want to work with, the right corporate hospitality gig goes a long way.

During my time as an ABM practitioner, I’ve found that hospitality really comes into its own when nurturing or strengthening an existing relationship. That can be a relationship at any level, by the way, so we’re not talking about someone who did a speech at your wedding.

I say this because you want an activity that includes the broadest amount of ABM accounts as possible. To do this, you’ve got to know what pushes their buttons.

Us humans are richly diverse in the things we like. It’s crucial to have a real understanding of the organizations and the individuals you need to target as part of an ABM campaign.

With this understanding, you can tread carefully. We’re talking about the difference between crushing your ABM return metrics and a wash-out event that costs you a small fortune for zero return.

Just think for a second how easy it is to get wrong. Sports is a common one: you need to go to a certain degree of depth to get the right fit. It’s not enough to know they like sports or even football. Imagine getting a die-hard Manchester United fan a ticket to the Etihad Stadium to see Manchester City play. You might as well slap them in the face with a wet fish.

You should be asking yourself how to make activity relevant to the individuals within your target list, Make sure you consider logistics too as this can prove to be a challenge (where, where, how etc).

Be integrated

None of these tactics will work in isolation. ABM is a strategic move and much like any other area of B2B investment, areas of niche spend are unlikely to make a dent. You’ve got to think how events can be complemented with the rest of the ABM promotional mix if you’re going to succeed. You need a multichannel touchpoint that gives you multiple brand impressions and conversion points.

Get on with it

Lets do this

Hopefully, that's whetted your appetite to give your event spend an ABM flavour. Clearly, some of these tactics work well in different scenarios, so the actual mix of activity will depend massively on your business, the space you operate and the types of organizations in your account list.

But if you put some concentrated time and effort into getting it right, ABM and events can be the perfect partner for your wider B2B demand generation approach and take your returns to the next level.

Author's avatar

By Daley Robinson

Daley is the Marketing Director at midland-based ABM agency Inflowing. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn

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