By Lisa Masiello, president and founder, TECHmarc Labs
Whether a multi-day conference and expo, industry trade show, convention, one-day seminar, or thought-leadership workshop, surveys of B2B companies prove that live event participation is not only alive and well but a required component of both your channel development and customer acquisition strategies.
The challenge for both vendors and their channel partners is that there are so many events and so little time. The solution for you and your partners is to divide and conquer.
Here are two of the most common (and beneficial) ways in which you can present yourself as a knowledge expert, your company as a leader in your industry, and attract potential partners who are eager to sell your solution.
Option 1: The Possibility to Speak is Free and Open to Subject Matter Experts
Many shows open the opportunity to speak at their event to anyone who has expertise in the topics the show organizer has chosen to focus on during their educational sessions.
I’m guessing you already know the channel-specific events which are most important to your business. Visit each of their websites to see if they have a call for speakers and are accepting abstract submissions. Depending on the size of the show, the first request for speaker submissions could be released up to eight or nine months before the show takes place.
Select a topic or two on which you are an expert and prepare your abstract. This is normally a one-page overview of what you will discuss and what the attendees should expect to learn. Be sure to submit your abstract by the due date which can be approximately four to seven months before the show takes place. This gives the selection committee enough time to review the submissions and choose the speakers and allows you time to complete your presentation.
Option 2: Pay to Play
Some shows incorporate a speaking session into their exhibitor or sponsorship packages. The expo sales department knows that people want to get additional exposure for their business, so they’ll often include a speaker session in their sales package. It entices potential participants to spend more money on a larger booth or expensive show sponsorship.
I would recommend this opportunity if, and only if, you’re already considering a specific show. If you’re interested in purchasing a booth or sponsorship because the event is important to your business and will help you generate more interest in your partner program, then speaking is a good opportunity to get extra exposure for the company. But, don’t pay more for this opportunity to speak if it’s not a show in which you already see value.
While your partners interact with end-user customers on a daily basis, the reality is that they may not have a marketing team in house and will often look to you to educate them on in-person marketing opportunities with the best ROI.
Speaking opportunities abound at the local and regional levels including chambers of commerce, small business expos, and state-wide chapters business organizations such as the American Institute of Architects, Associated Builders and Contractors, Hospitality Association, Society of Professional Engineers, and the Society of Certified Public Accountants. Local association chapters hold monthly member meetings and welcome outside speakers to educate their members on a topic of interest. Encourage your channel partners to seek out associations or business organizations which target their ideal customers.
Large annual conferences focused on a specific industry vertical can also deliver highly targeted prospects. However, your partners may not have a relationship with the conference organizers or the opportunity to speak could be by invitation only. In this case, you may be able to use your company’s influence to reach out to the conference on your partner’s behalf and suggest a panel discussion that includes a member of the association, your channel partner and one of their customers successfully using your solution. Examples of these conferences which occur annually include:
Providing recommendations and insight into the events in which your partners should participate and educating them on how to select a topic which will be of interest to attendees will help position them as a thought leader and encourage the attendees to see their company, and yours, as the ones with whom they should do business.
Consider teaming up with a select group of your channel partners by providing them with event funding, promotional incentives, or staffing. While a small channel partner may not have the budget or the human resources to be able to exhibit at an industry trade show on their own, your support could be a critical component in their success.
Market development funds or other financial assistance provided by you can help pay for the booth space, signage, collateral, or additional items needed for the show.
Offering an additional three free months of service could be an added incentive for prospects to become customers right at the show. In addition, providing extra product for your partner to raffle off in their booth can help fill the pipeline with leads which should be provided to their sales team for follow-up after the show is over.
If members of your marketing, sales or engineering teams will also be attending the show, they can help staff your partner’s booth for a specified period time, providing in-depth product knowledge to potential customers.
Once the show is over, evaluate its ROI by requesting information on how many qualified leads your partner received, how many became customers, etc. As the vendor, you have every right to request that your partner reports on their results. Evaluating their success will enable you to make an informed decision regarding your support again next year. You may decide to increase your participation in an event which resulted in a significant increase in sales or scale back if it was determined not to be the right audience.
Joint trade show or conference participation can be a win-win opportunity for both you and your channel partners so don’t hesitate to discuss it with them.
Whether it’s a one-day seminar or a four-day industry conference and expo, in-person event participation enables you to:
Even in a B2B sales and marketing environment where we often focus on online interactions, it’s important to remember that every business contains human beings with an innate desire to build personal relationships. We want to get to know our customers, just as they want to get to know us. As industry analyst reports have shown, vendors and channel partners who understand the true value of these relationships and allocate marketing funds to live, in-person events will drive exponential growth for their organizations.