Has your boss given you an unlimited budget, without any particular goals or objectives you have to hit? Of course not. You are under a lot of pressure to achieve and report on your virtual event ROI, aren’t you?
Between all of the time you’ve spent planning a virtual event, to all of the costs associated with the virtual event platform, speakers, advertising and more, this online summit of yours represents a big investment for the company. It’s reasonable to expect reports or a retrospective on what that virtual event delivered.
What kinds of returns can a virtual event produce, and is it only about revenue? More importantly, how do you measure and report it all?
If that’s what you’re wondering, you’re in the right place, because that’s exactly what we’re going to break down in today’s episode of The Virtual Event Strategist Podcast.
In 2018 and 2019, I planned a series of virtual events for Agorapulse that we called Social Success Summit. Each was an online summit sporting a dozen or more speakers on a variety of online marketing topics. From Facebook Ads to graphic design, and everything in between, thousands of registrants signed up for these events!
I had a relatively small budget back then. The virtual event platform was one I’d picked up in an AppSumo deal and gotten a lifetime license. The speakers were all friends and colleagues and ambassadors of the brand. We also weren’t using a very robust system internally to track leads and sales, so, after each event, I had a CSV file with thousands of names and email addresses that all we were really prepared to do was import them into our email management system and start sending them emails.
I had no idea how many of these registrants were existing customers or real leads, and I didn’t have a clue whether there was any ROI at all. We were just sending, sending, sending… hoping that it would all work out in the end.
According to the most recent virtual event statistics, 74% of event organizers say that it takes longer than one month to configure their virtual event platform. Most companies allocate between 10-20% of their marketing budget to virtual events, and the majority of the budget per virtual event is spent on the hosting platform. The second-largest pool of costs is speakers and moderators.
That’s a significant amount of time and money that’s being invested into you and your virtual event projects. It makes sense, of course, because we know businesses can make money with virtual events, as well as use online summits and webinars as incredible tools for customer discovery. Where I know you’re struggling though is how you actually prove the benefit of your virtual event. You have to be able to show your CMO or CEO that their investment in you and the event had a positive return, right? And that can be quite a challenge.
But, there’s hope. 80% of the marketers who use a virtual event platform don’t have any trouble proving virtual event ROI.
A solid virtual event platform will not only house your event and provide the venue in which attendees will register for and participate in your event, it will also track and record their information and activities, and sync that to your business reporting systems, to give you insight into how well those attendees proceeded and converted in your sales pipeline.
We are definitely going to spend some time talking through what that means and how that works. And I’m also going to share with you many other benefits of virtual events that your organization will realize and how you can measure them and include them in your virtual event ROI reporting.
By the end of this episode, you will understand all of the ways virtual events provide incredible return to your organization and, more importantly, you’ll know how to recognize, track, and report on them, ensuring that your post-event retrospective is comprehensive and hits all of your objectives.
We’re going to talk about leads, qualified leads, and how those are converted into sales. We’ll cover content, as well as relationships and partnerships, brand awareness, thought leadership, earned media, and paid media, and how to represent all of those accomplishments within a virtual event ROI report.
Goals & Objectives for Virtual Event ROI
But before you can begin to plan a virtual event and hope to achieve any kind of ROI, you must always start with your goals and objectives. Why you’re hosting a virtual event and what you want to accomplish needs to be thought through, discussed, communicated, and approved, from the outset. This is what we talked about in our very first episode of The Virtual Event Strategist Podcast and if you haven’t yet, I recommend listening to that and the next three episodes that represent the core of what you need to consider as you’re planning your virtual event strategy.
Knowing why you’re hosting a virtual event, and having buy-in from your CMO or CEO, is what will drive every other decision you need to make.
A virtual event where the goal is to achieve certain volumes of leads and sales will look very different from a virtual event where the goal is to nurture customer relationships and decrease churn rate.
At least it should look different.
A virtual event for leads and sales should target prospects and speak to their pain points, and offer deep dive sessions to help them with the things they’re struggling with the most – things which may not necessarily tie directly to your own business solutions. Whereas a customer nurturing event should target your existing customers and be all about the problems your business helps to solve, creating an environment that helps those customers even more.
Make this determination now because as we discuss the different ways you can drive virtual event ROI – and there are even more that we aren’t going to cover today – if you know your Why, you’ll know which of these are a priority to focus on and measure, and which aren’t.
The first and most common metric for virtual event ROI is leads, though this is often reported incorrectly. Too often, virtual event planners and professionals will report their registrants and consider every registrant a lead.
But that’s not the case.
You first need to remove all of your own staff and existing customers who might have registered for your event from your total. These clearly aren’t virtual event leads.
Second, you need to remove all unqualified registrants from any reported metric, so that what remains are actually qualified leads.
What qualified means will vary from business to business, of course. For you, qualifying attributes might be the size of the business, or the job title of the attendee, or their business revenue. When I am running virtual events for Agorapulse, since we’re a social media management SaaS business, our qualifying attributes are the number of social profiles the business has and the number of people currently involved with managing social media. Our sales team looks at those qualifications to help determine the potential pricing plan and value of a prospect, and your sales team will have similar requirements.
If someone can sign up for your virtual event without providing the qualifying information you’re looking for, then you’ll be in the dark on whether your event is actually generating leads. All you have to do though is make sure you know what information your sales team needs and then ask that during registration.
Typically this is just a few questions with some specific drop down or checkbox options for answers, so that all registrants will answer the same questions the same way, and give you clean, consistent data. If your sales team truly requires more than a few questions answered, I recommend having some questions as part of the registration process then ask the remaining questions on the day of your event either upon entry or as a survey, otherwise you will lose too many prospective registrants during the registration process who drop off.
When you initially launch your event and begin to promote it, the metric you will have easy access to is “Registrants” and it’s fine to use that as your gauge as to how well your campaigns and virtual event signup progress is going. However, after your event, that’s when you will want to make sure your virtual event ROI report reflects the true number of “Leads” that your event brought in. I’ll share automated ways to determine and report on this in a moment.
THE Virtual Event ROI: Sales & Revenue
The next virtual event ROI metric is Sales & Revenue, whether that’s direct sales or MRR or something else, and of course this is the big one for most virtual event planners. We talked at length in our last episode about how to make money from virtual events, covering all of the ways the event can actually drive revenue. And there are a lot. From up front ticket sales to upsells during the event, to converting those attendees and leads into prospects and customers afterwards.
The key is build out in your virtual event plan what your monetization strategy is and then work on putting systems in place to not only make those sales, but to also track the results.
If you’re bootstrapping a small event, this might involve simply using PayPal to accept payments and manually entering sales data into a Google Sheet for tabulation. But for most SaaS companies, particularly those with a sales staff, we’re going to have a CRM that we’re using to track leads, prospects, funnels and, ultimately, sales and revenue.
Nimble, Salesforce and HubSpot are great examples, and since HubSpot is what we use at Agorapulse, that’s the reference I’ll use for you.
Whatever virtual event platform you’re using, it will, at a minimum, give you a CSV export file that you can then import into Google Sheets or HubSpot for contact tracking and to associate specific attendees with specific lead opportunities and sales. Most platforms also support Zapier or even a direct HubSpot integration so that you can seamlessly automate this process, and that’s the preferred method. Our preferred partner for virtual events at Agorapulse is Airmeet, and all of our event registrants are automatically synced to HubSpot.
As your target audience learns about and signs up for your event, answering your qualifying questions in the process, the virtual event platform will automatically send that data to your CRM and you can build Lists, Reports, and Dashboards to visualize and utilize that information.
You will be able to see your current total number of registrants, filter out employees and current customers who are already identified and segmented within your CRM, and then break down the remaining registrants according to how they answered your qualifying questions. As a result, you’ll not only know how many qualified leads you’ve brought in, but you’ll have all their information at your fingertips.
And more importantly, your sales team will have that information too.
In 2021, I planned the Agency Summit virtual event that netted nearly 2,600 registrants. Of those, there were a dozen or more employee and test registrations to filter out, and about half of our registrants were existing customers, leaving me with roughly 1800 leads. We’d asked each registrant to tell us how many social profiles they have and how many employees were in their marketing or social media department, and that allowed us to segment out hundreds of leads who pre-qualified themselves for one of our higher level plans. While any lead could potentially become a customer and therefore would receive follow-up email sequences, those leads that seemed more likely to need a higher priced plan received direct outreach from our sales staff and invitations to VIP demo meetings.
And because we’re using HubSpot to track all of those contacts and all of that activity, we have dashboards that can report on the registrants, leads, qualified leads, subscribers and, ultimately, Monthly Recurring Revenue or MRR, that each event I’ve run resulted in.
Imagine after your online summit, being able to go to your CEO or CMO and let them know that your virtual event cost $5000 to put together and that it’s netted $2500 in new MRR. They will be thrilled, and approve whatever budget you want for the next one.
One topic that I spend a significant amount of time consulting with clients on is repurposing. The idea is, once your event is over, you now have a wealth of terrific content from your speakers and panelists that other people who perhaps didn’t have the time or opportunity to watch live, may still want to learn from the recording.
You can, at a minimum, put those videos on a YouTube channel or playlist and start building a subscriber audience thanks to YouTube search. Or you could put short 5 to 7 minute snippets on YouTube, then house the full session recordings on a learning platform like Thinkific! You can create blog posts, eBooks, podcasts and more, all from that initial set of content. In fact, you aren’t even limited to just one repurposing technique. You can actually plan to leverage many different techniques at once!
This is one of the steps in the virtual event plan checklist available for free download, so that you can plan in advance. You will want to know, for instance, how you plan to make replays available after the event so that when attendees ask, you will have a good answer. That might even be part of your monetization and ROI strategy! Many virtual event planners charge for long term access to the replays. While other SaaS brands like Agorapulse use them for ongoing lead generation.
That’s entirely up to you.
Just note that the content you create as part of your virtual event, and whatever benefits you get after the fact, are part of your virtual event ROI. If you use the content for lead gen, HubSpot can include that content as first touch attribution or influencing any additional new MRR that accrues. Similarly, if you’re repurposing the content into blog posts, videos or podcasts, that content will receive views and engagement, and will result in additional attributable traffic and conversions.
I’ve long held that one of the most valuable things to come from any event, both for the attendees and the organizer, are the relationships that are developed, nurtured, and furthered. Someone who attends your event tomorrow could go on to be one of your most vocal and visible advocates.
But since there’s no automated tool to track and report on relationships in this way, most event organizers and brands don’t bother to measure relationship building.
And that’s a mistake.
Sure, if the summit is already so successful in other areas, like sales, that you don’t need to look for other ways to prove virtual event ROI, then you certainly don’t need to spend a lot of time trying to track relationships or some of the other benefits we’re going to talk about next. But I still find it incredibly helpful to note what fruit came from which event.
Starting with the speakers and sponsors.
As the virtual event planner, you’ll already have all of your speakers and sponsors in a Google Sheet or perhaps even in your CRM, which is great. Make sure those people are noted in a centralized place along with any indications of the status of the relationship and where you might like to take it. You might use a speaking slot at your event as a way to introduce yourself to and court an influencer in your industry. After your event, then, you’d follow-up and work on turning them into an ambassador.
You can also make note of attendees that stood out, either through personal conversations, how engaged they were, or how they talked about your event online. These might be your next channel partners.
Initially, your virtual event ROI report might simply cite how many new relationships you formed on behalf of the brand, and how many existing relationships were deepened. Over time, as some of those relationships develop and have other measurable results, if you’re tracking activity in HubSpot, you will be able to trace tomorrow’s successes to today’s new friends.
Another metric that’s typically ignored or written off is Brand Awareness. While it’s actually critically important to long term business success, brand awareness is often viewed as a fuzzy, indeterminate metric that cannot be reasonably and accurately attributed to specific sales.
And that’s largely correct.
We have no way of knowing within HubSpot how many times a particular contact saw our brand name or heard about us online before they clicked onto one of our properties. Or even while they’re in the sales process.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t track it. But what we track are things like virtual event page views, mentions on social media, visibility of a branded hashtag, opens of emails sent by virtual event partners, and so on.
If the virtual event was a product – and many are smart to view their events as a product – then what we’re looking at is the top of the funnel. All of the social media and email (and dark social) buzz that was happening during the promotion of our event, as well as the people who visited the event page – many of whom will learn about our brand and may simply decide, for whatever reason, the event isn’t what they need right now.
That doesn’t mean they won’t need our brand’s solution sometime down the road. And when they go looking for a solution and see your brand name, they’ll recognize it. The more often they’ve seen that name – the more familiar they are with your brand – the more likely they’ll be to take a closer look and strongly consider it. That’s brand awareness, and it’s not to be discounted.
Just like many influencers in business now discount thought leadership. They say it’s not a thing, and point to other people who are self-described thought leaders doing nothing more than regurgitating other people’s thoughts in vain attempts to draw attention to themselves.
I, ah… may be venting a bit here.
But just because some people aren’t real thought leaders doesn’t mean thought leadership doesn’t exist. Quite the contrary. Brands and their leaders are uniquely positioned to drive compelling conversation and offer unique opinions and insight into their respective industries.
Virtual events offer a terrific platform for such conversations.
Since it’s you and your brand that is hosting and planning this virtual event, you get to decide what visibility your brand and key stakeholders have. If you want to establish your CEO or CMO as a thought leader in the space, have them open the virtual event with a thought-provoking keynote! You’ll be able to promote them alongside other key speakers and partner brands leading up to the event, then repurpose the keynote like we discussed a moment ago.
When we decided we wanted to position Agorapulse as the best solution for marketing agencies and large businesses that want to prove social media ROI, and establish ourselves as a thought leader in the space, we arranged to have our CEO, Emeric Ernoult, deliver a keynote at Social Media Marketing World in front of 2,000 marketers. We hyped up his presence beforehand and, afterwards, continue to leverage his recording. Not only are we repurposing his presentation, we’re using it to book him additional speaking opportunities at events around the world.
Thought Leadership, however, is even more challenging to report and track than Brand Awareness. For this metric, you’ll begin keeping a record of speaking engagements, interviews, press coverage, and other citations. If you target and highlight specific individuals within your organization, such as your CEO, you might also incorporate their personal LinkedIn profile and track profile views, how often it comes up in search, growth of followers, and other metrics offered by LinkedIn.
Earned & Paid Media
Which brings us to the final aspect of virtual event ROI, media, both earned and paid.
In addition to any thought leadership coverage you pick up from media, also be mindful of any coverage your brand or the virtual event itself garners. Ideally, publications that cater to your specific audience will learn about and take an interest in your event, and share information with their subscribers.
Which is why PR should be part of your virtual event promotional strategy. We cannot plan and host a virtual event and simply assume relevant organizations will hear about it. It pays to proactively issue press releases and have established relationships in the space so that you know who to reach out to and inform. It will always be up to them whether your event warrants coverage but, if it does, be prepared to note what was said, when, and an estimate of who or how many people might have seen that information.
Similarly, most virtual events use paid advertising to reach their target audience. It’s particularly effective if your event is free and designed to be of interest to your prospects at the top of the funnel. But most virtual event organizers only report the success metrics of ads – clicks and registrations and cost per click.
If we’re trying to be thorough in our virtual event ROI reporting, we also need to include how visible those ads were. That way, the $2000 you spent on Facebook Ads can be considered an investment. Certainly it will drive event site visits and registrations, and some of those registrations will go on to become leads and sales. But the ad is also helping brand awareness. Additionally, all of the clicks through to the event website can be retargeted later.
Include both of these activities in your report and be mindful of the larger, long term impact they might have on the success of your brand.
Reporting Virtual Event ROI
Ultimately, as we said at the outset, what you focus on and what you report on will first depend on what you determine your goals and objectives to be. If you and your CMO are only concerned with leads and sales, then clearly that’s where you need to be laser focused. If your organization is also interested in brand awareness and thought leadership, now you know how to look at those aspects as well.
Your CRM will certainly be the core reporting vehicle for your activities and to demonstrate virtual event ROI. If you’re using HubSpot, you can build a dashboard for your virtual event and additional text information to reflect some of the other metrics, like earned media mentions. Or, alternatively, build a report from scratch using Google Docs or Slides.
Since your event will absolutely be a success now that you’ve made so much progress, it is a good idea to build out your ROI report in such a way that you can easily replicate or duplicate it for the next event. The more we’re able to streamline and template workflows, the more efficient we will be with each successive summit.
Just like I’m more efficient today in how I’m not only planning, but measuring and reporting on my own virtual event ROI.
After those first few events in 2018 and 2019, reporting was painful. To know whether or not any of those event registrants had gone on to become a paying customer, we needed to import them into a Sheet, formulate and run a SQL query against our subscriber database, and update the Sheet accordingly with plan and amount information. In the end it demonstrated that these events had been a huge success, with thousands of dollars per month in attributable revenue coming in for each. But we knew there had to be a better way.
Today, I’m using a robust platform for all of my virtual events, Airmeet, and we have HubSpot at Agorapulse to immediately begin reporting and sorting those registrants, attendees, and leads. And a dashboard that shows me real time how all past events have and continue to perform, whether that’s an online summit on Airmeet or a webinar on eWebinar, or something else.
Doubtless you’re excited about being able to show your boss just how effective your event was for the business, but if you want more help, that’s what I’m here for. I work with brands and event organizers just like you to help them go from wearisome webinars to Sold Out Summits. Whether you need a quick consult on some specific challenges, or want a full VIP Strategy Day, there are options for every need and budget. Ask me how.
In our next episode, we’re going to geek out about virtual event platforms for a bit because, more often than not, the platform you choose to use for your virtual event is the single biggest element of your investment. One way to ensure a return on that investment is to explore other ways you can use and leverage it. And if you’re trying to get buy-in from your boss to give you budget for the tool you want, one way to help that argument will be to list more than one way the tool benefits your business.
So make sure you’re subscribed, either on your favorite podcast platform or via email at TheSocialMediaHat.com, so you don’t miss this important episode to help you get approval for that virtual event platform you have your eye on.
Talk to you soon.