Traditionally, B2B sellers have relied heavily on tradeshows, user conferences, and other in-person interactions to launch products and services, generate leads, and nurture relationships with loyal customers.

B2B event marketing was, among all sales and marketing channel initiatives, third in engagement effectiveness and first in conversions, 2020 research from Demand Gen Report found.

But COVID-19 has wiped almost all in-person events off the calendar, so B2B marketers have been scrambling—sometimes successfully, sometimes less so—to develop and refine virtual event experiences that can still engage.

In short, B2B sellers must now replicate the impact of in-person events, but virtually.

Conversations with a cross-section of marketing executives at B2B sellers and my own colleagues over the past few months have revealed various levers that are helping drive the most successful virtual event experiences.

The following 12 approaches, derived from those conversations, address key variables across three categories crucial to B2B buyer engagement and relationship nurturing:

  1. Capturing attention in the virtual setting
  2. Driving demand and registration for virtual events
  3. Creating differentiated experiences for global-scale audiences

Compare the following tactics and statistics with those of your own virtual events, including your metrics, to see whether there are paths to improvement.

Capturing Attention in Virtual Settings

1. Offer both live and on-demand media

Our data at Accenture shows that upward of 40% of registrants attend livestreamed events as they happen. The necessity of making presentations readily available on-demand is clear: It will likely be how most of your attendees are watching.

2. Keep presentations to the point, and direct attendees to next-step content

Whether a virtual event is 60, 90, or 180 minutes, most live attendees tune in for only about 50% of an event. The most frequent drop-off points occur at the half-hour marks, as viewers drop to attend meetings.

That means virtual events need to get their most critical points across in the first half. Virtual presentations should also clearly provide—much earlier than you might otherwise think—a path to next steps that prospects can take. Don't save that for the last five minutes, or they might never hear it.

3. Offer recap videos and on-demand replays

Only one-third of viewers watch virtual events in full-screen mode (and even those viewers do so for only the first 10 minutes). Assume that much of your audience is multitasking. Offer highlight recaps and replays to make it easy for attendees to revisit and digest information when they need it.

4. Avoid changing the event dates

Changing the date of an announced virtual event will slash attendance: Registrants who sign up before a date change become 50% less likely to attend after a reschedule. Avoid reschedules as much as possible.

Driving Demand and Registration for Virtual Events

5. Encourage attendees to share event content to their social networks

Recent data has found that paid media drives event awareness—but not higher registration or viewership—during the event itself. In contrast, attendees' sharing content to social media drives a 2x higher conversion rate compared with role and title-based targeting mid-event.

Create governance around a content newsroom that generates pull quotes, infographics, and other shareable media for attendees and their networks to circulate during the event.

6. Measure content effectiveness, and use paid media to drive replays of that content

Within your event measurement strategy, gauging content effectiveness is crucial. Identify content that performs best during the event, and amplify it with paid media to lookalike audiences on LinkedIn and other social channels your audiences use. If your event is part of a series or learning track, use high-performing content to attract new interest.

7. Cross-market events with other product or business groups

To drive attendance by marketers who work at large B2B buyers, a relatively low-cost strategy is to combine efforts across business groups. Cross-marketing has proven to double (and, in our experience, even triple) registration page traffic.

For platform companies with a series of products, cross-marketing events can broaden interest in multiple products and solutions versus singular products.

8. Offer one-click registration with pre-populated forms

Shifts to one-click virtual event registration emails earn immediate success in the form of 50% more registrations than other forms. Although the rate of attendance from those registrations average about 8% off the norm because of the lower commitment involved with a one-click registration, the net increase is still significant.

Make one-click part of your ongoing effort to simplify the customer signup experience and ensure you have a deliberate approach to incremental data collection rather than resorting to long and arduous forms.

9. Encourage early registration

Since the shift to virtual events began in March, an average of 75% of B2B webinar registrants have been signing up during the week of an event. That's a significant increase over 2019 levels, when only 43% did so. To project attendee counts earlier and more accurately, offer early-bird registration incentives.

Creating Differentiated Experiences to Scale Audience Reach

10. Create modular event tracks that can be reused and repurposed

Instead of simply moving in-person events to virtual formats, consider individual event sessions as elements that can be combined to achieve particular purposes. Modular event tracks—like trainings, roundtables, and vertical subject matter—can be repurposed and reconfigured for use at different buyer group events.

To make the most of such modularization, revisit virtual engagement tactics and place events within customer journeys and sales cycles, applying the techniques most appropriate to each purpose.

11. Create video keynotes ahead of events and combine them with live Q&As

Q&A functionality is increasingly commonplace—which means it's increasingly expected. Digital experience platform ON24 reports that Q&As are being included in 90% of webinars this year, up from 80% in 2019.

Pre-recorded video with live Q&A ensures higher-quality video performance and allows speakers to save their energy for interaction . High energy and the ability to create real connections and interactions with audiences are musts for successful virtual events.

12. Ground virtual events with tactile experiences

Many B2B event hosts are now mailing out conference kits to attendees that come fully loaded with swag, snacks, cocktail recipes, and other goodies. Including tactile touchpoints helps attendees feel more connected to the event, and reaching an attendee in their home can provide new opportunities for B2B brand creativity.

Such efforts are more common for high-touch, smaller events, but modest direct mail swag can also perform well at scale.

Revenue and Results

Determining an effective overall revenue model for virtual events is a largely unsolved challenge. Right now, about 70% of virtual B2B events are offered free or at a discounted virtual attendance rate. Some are charging more to participate in the networking portion of the event.

A possible solution is to treat sponsorships like media advertising—think branding overlays, pre-rolls, and built-in paid sponsorships. Another option might be to allow attendees to earn badges that encourage virtual exploration and attendance so that event organizers can credit event partners based on attendee engagement levels.

* * *

By implementing all or even some of the above-outlined techniques, B2B event marketers can refine their virtual event strategies and determine which levers work for their company. Using the data-informed insights in this article will help businesses deliver more cost-efficient virtual events with higher engagement—not just during the pandemic but well beyond it.

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B2B Virtual Events: 12 Ways to Ensure Impact and Drive Topline Growth

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image of Jason Michaels

Jason Michaels is the B2B marketing strategy lead at Accenture Interactive.

LinkedIn: Jason Michaels

Twitter: @50champ