Building trust at in-person events

Events have been a key element of the marketing mix for years for both large corporations and small start-ups. An effective way to bring prospects and customers together to connect about the challenges they are facing and learn about solutions, more tech firms are hosting in-person events. This was the topic of discussion at the latest SMA/ITAC Marketing & Sales Think Tank, where leaders from technology organizations in the marketing and sales fields gathered to share insights on how to reach customers through events.

The team discussed a number of ideas surrounding developing effective events that really engage customers and convert leads. Three key aspects came out on top:

Goals: Different kinds of events serve different purposes, and the team agreed that online events can’t be used to replace in-person ones. Large industry-wide tradeshows achieve different objectives than small, intimate dinners, and recorded webinars play a different part than live ones. When it comes to converting prospects into customers, in-person events perform better than online ones.

ROI: The kind of event an organization participates in is often related to ROI, but what is actually measured differs from company to company. Many organizations look at the number of MQLs that emerged from an event, while other companies forgo that metric altogether and instead focus on the effect the event had on the total pipeline.

Internal Synergy: Ultimately, the size of the marketing team and the marketing budget will have a major impact on the kinds of events a company hosts and attends. However, it’s vital to have synergy between the sales and marketing teams, with transparency in the roles and responsibilities to ensure each event meets its attendance goals.

This SMA/ITAC Technology Marketing and Sales Think Tank was hosted at Salesforce in Toronto by Shirley Wright, Marketing Director, Canada, at Salesforce. The discussion was moderated by Bob Becker, Principal, SMA.


  • Vicky Filipchuk, Manager, Marketing – Arrow ECS
  • Elif Tokat, Marketing Manager – Commerx
  • Chub Letenyei, Canada Field Marketing Manager – Dell EMC Canada
  • Dave Freeman, Director & VP Business Development – DLT Labs
  • Luis Paveloski, Marketing Manager, Canada – Hitachi Vantara
  • Jason Bremner, Research Vice President, Industry & Business Solutions – IDC Canada
  • Mariana Kutin Morais, Director, Membership and Business Development – ITAC
  • Craig Taylor, Client Executive, Channels – Lenovo (Canada) Inc.
  • Erin Thompson, Marketing & Strategy Program Manager – Lenovo (Canada) Inc.
  • Alexandra Lasinski, Marketing Manager – Newcomp Analytics
  • Anu Vijh, Country Marketing Manager – Palo Alto Networks
  • Erin Hochstein, Director, Communications – Rubikloud
  • Shirley Wright, Marketing Director, Canada –
  • Anastasia Phillips, Marketing Manager, Datacenter Storage – Softchoice
  • Kristen Schwecke, VP, Marketing – SS&C Technology
  • Diana Moore, Country Marketing Manager, Canada – WorkDay

Content is, and always will be, king

The overarching message from this Think Tank was the importance of content. Experts in technology sales and marketing from a range of organizations congregated to share insights on how they use events to reach their customers. Time and time again, the discussion came back to the idea of offering valuable content to the audience. Without good content, the team agreed that the audience had no reason to attend.

The idea of effective content differed from organization to organization. While some provided demo-heavy content to their audiences, with interactive screens and gamified options, others preferred to stay away from leading with technology and instead offer a way to solve a problem. One organization designs each event around the idea of solving a specific problem for their audience. Instead of offering a demo of their technology, they develop content around the solution for the unique issue their audience is facing. This leads to greater event attendance and audience engagement.

Designing the perfect content is inherently related to the target audience for the event. The Think Tank participants agreed that the C-suite doesn’t engage in hour-long webinars, so it was fruitless to design content for that medium that spoke to the executive level. Instead, when trying to reach the CEO or CTO of an organization, many companies had success in creating intimate dinners or taking small groups out to sporting events. At large tradeshows and industry-wide conferences, companies opted to host an invitation-only breakfast in lieu of having a booth to reach the decision makers directly.

Defining Clear Goals for Events

The participants agreed that live webinars no longer have the same effects now as they did a few years ago. While many customers and prospects are quick to register for a webinar – because they offer convenience and valuable content – the actual attendance rate can often be measly. While low in cost to host and develop, webinars don’t aid marketers in achieving their lead acquisition goals.

However, one of the benefits of webinars is their place in the content marketing strategy. Once the live webinar is over, the recorded content can be used as a lead magnet to attract new prospects and reach out to those in the sales funnel in order to move them along the sales cycle.

Proprietary or hosted events serve an entirely different purpose and are becoming the most effective way to convert prospects. They are often used to build a customer community and develop a kinship amongst groups who are facing the same kinds of problems in their day-to-day business lives. Most participants held intimate hosted events, inviting under 15 key prospects, while some preferred the larger route, hosting events with thousands in attendance.

When attending industry tradeshows and conferences, having a speaking engagement was key for those organizations who were focusing on brand awareness and showcasing their expertise in their area. The participants agreed that having a booth at a tradeshow wasn’t always the best use of their resources. Many were inclined to ditch the booth in favour of hosting one-on-one “speed dating” style meetings with important decision-making customers during the conference instead. The goal for this kind of meeting was really to have an open discussion about technology and business problems.

Establishing Metrics to Gage ROI

Understanding the return on investment for events can be tricky for technology marketers, because many software, hardware, and services have long sales cycles which can go up to 18- 24 months. In this case, it’s difficult to determine whether an event yielded any revenue right away. As a result, the majority of participants agreed that their organizations measured the level of success based on the number of Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) the event generated and how many were able to move along the sales cycle based on internal levels of leads.

One organization in particular went against the grain, and instead looked only at pipeline generation as a whole. Understanding that one event does not usually result in a sale in itself, this organization focused on the idea that there are multiple touchpoints along a customer’s journey, with the event being a part of a larger whole. As a result, it was not useful to determine the success of an event based on leads generated, but instead to look at the overall marketing strategy and see what kind of pipeline it created.

While not a formal measure of success, many marketers looked at the cost of acquisition per attendee for each event in order to determine its success. In some cases, the cost was several hundred dollars – which sometimes only resulted in an unqualified lead there to enjoy the buffet.

Creating Sales and Marketing Unity

The participants agreed that it’s not enough to just get “bums in seats”, but instead organizations now really need to focus on getting the right bums in seats: this means not expecting a CEO to show up for a live webinar or expecting a mid-level technology manager to make a purchasing decision at an intimate event. In order to use the resources an organization has available to them wisely, technology marketers need to develop complete transparency with their sales counterparts when it comes to events.

The relationships the sales team cultivates with their accounts is what drives customers and prospects to attend events. It doesn’t matter how flashy your email invite is; ultimately, it’s the trust and relationship that will encourage someone to show up. As a result, one organization is changing their pay structure so that sales and marketing teams are compensated the same way, establishing more accountability on both ends.

Other organizations hold sales enablement sessions for each event, big or small, to equip the sales team with the talking points they need to “sell” the event to their accounts. Through this process, sales teams are also able to provide key feedback on the value proposition, often providing nuanced adjustments so that the right customers and prospects are captured enough to attend.

In the end, it all comes back to content: If the value proposition isn’t on target, the audience won’t see any benefit to attending an event – regardless of whether it’s in person or over a webcam. The key takeaways for all participants at this Think Tank was to ensure that the content is highly tailored to the audience – only then will the event have any success.

This SMA/ITAC Think Tank clearly hit the mark when it came to content: the event was over-attended, which is a good problem to have! A few participants mentioned that this was almost like a support group; it was therapeutic to hear that many other organizations across the technology landscape were facing the same challenges for developing and executing events.

The SMA/ITAC Think Tanks, held at different host locations across the GTA, are one of the benefits of membership in the Information Technology Association of Canada, or ITAC. To find out more about the Think Tanks or ITAC, contact Bob Becker, Principal, SMA at 416-275-6782 or email at

Posted By: SMA

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