While there are many different types of virtual events, such as webinars, summits and meetups, and many different benefits virtual events can offer, there’s one purpose that hasn’t been considered often.
The most common purpose and strategy for putting on a virtual event is for leads and sales, and while that’s a terrific reason to plan a virtual event, I want to share with you an idea that you might not have considered. An approach to utilizing and leveraging an online summit and a virtual event platform that can create tremendous value and insight for your brand.
What Is Customer Discovery?
Let’s first make sure we’re all considering customer discovery similarly.
According to Harvard Business Review, “Customer discovery involves defining and prioritizing personas and is applicable to both early-stage companies and big companies when developing new products, seeking to target new personas, or entering new markets. Discovery should encompass the entire customer journey.”
It is through the process of discovery that we learn about our customers and their needs. That might help inform product development, marketing asset creation, or sales assignment. The most common approach is that of surveys and focus groups and interviews – talking to customers and prospects as directly as possible in order to discern what they’re thinking, struggling with, and in need of.
The problem with those approaches is that they’re largely antiquated and challenging to scale. It’s quite possible, instead, to build several types of virtual events that can effectively inform our product and marketing teams. With that virtual event strategy in mind, and a solid virtual event plan, your brand can still use virtual events to garner leads and sales, but also so much more.
Virtual Event Registration
It starts with giving careful consideration to the registration process online event attendees go through at beginning of their virtual event experience with us.
Typically, if you’ve ever signed up for a virtual summit or webinar, you’re asked for your name and email address. This is the bare minimum information that is needed to grant access to the event, and which generates a contact for a brand. The event organizer can then import a CSV of event attendees into their CRM system, like Hubspot, match existing contacts, and know that all new contacts are leads to be followed-up with.
The flaw in that approach is that it’s too manual and simplistic. I talked in a podcast episode about how, in the first virtual events I organized years ago, I’d made the same mistake. I’d hosted an event that attracted 1,000+ – both those were just registrants. I knew little about them and therefore they weren’t qualified in the slightest bit. Today, it’s quite different.
While we should not force new event registrants to answer twenty questions – that will lead to a poor completion rate of our registration form – we absolutely should be asking for more than just name and email. What are a few key pieces of information that you could reasonably ask for up front that would help you identify and qualify your attendees?
At Agorapulse, we’re interested in the number of employees in their marketing department, and the number of social profiles they manage. Perhaps you’re interested in overall company size or scope, other tools they’re using, or how often they’re challenged by a particular issue you happen to solve.
When you start to think along those lines – qualifying the degree to which a registrant experiences a particular challenge – now you’re utilizing customer discovery and learning about your attendees, and the market overall.
Whenever a new marketing agency signs up for Agorapulse, they’re invited to join an exclusive community of other agency owners and when they do, they’re asked to share what their most pressing challenge is right now. This is a great, open-ended question that, as soon as we analyzed and categorized the results, we learned that the top issue facing our agency customers, by far, was figuring out how to grow and scale their business. So we took that learning and launched an entire show and podcast, Agency Accelerated, to serve that audience.
Imagine how much you can learn from your audience if you simply add two additional questions to your virtual event registration form. Most virtual event platforms give you the flexibility to customize the registration form fields and add questions of your own. And if the virtual event platform doesn’t support that natively, you can opt to use HubSpot or Typeform or some other external form for the initial registration, then import attendees into the virtual event platform automatically or through bulk import.
With data like that funneling into your CRM, it’ll be easy to create reports and dashboards that provide excellent and informative summaries.
The other benefit at that point is that you can have email sequences already set up.
Now, virtually every online event is going to have some basic email sequences, such as a confirmation of registration, and an email the day of the event. When I work with clients, we spend time thinking through all of the event-related emails they’re going to need scheduled or prepared in advance, and I caution them not to rely blindly on virtual event platform email settings.
However, what I’m referring to here is a separate kind of email that you could send to attendees. Consider how beneficial it might be if one of your registration questions determined what each attendee’s top issue that relates to your industry is right now, and then you CRM, depending on how they answered, sent them an eBook, blog post, video or podcast episode that spoke directly to that issue.
You could even use these emails as a gauge and indicator to help qualify the attendee even further. This will require some strategic planning and creative consideration on your part, but what if you could send an attendee an email with links to two different blog posts, and whether they clicked on one blog post or other would inform you as to their specific interests and needs?
Allow me to illustrate.
Suppose I was hosting a meetup for SaaS brands on growth marketing channels, and one of the registration questions allowed attendees to respond whether one of their challenges was planning a virtual event. All of those attendees, I would send them an email after they register offering them these two linked articles:
- How to set up your virtual event platform for speed networking.
- How to get budget approval from C-suite to host a virtual event.
Every recipient who clicks on that second article, I know that they haven’t even begun to map out the strategy and details for their virtual event, as they’re still working on getting the idea and budget approved. That’s good to know!
Once an attendee has registered for your event, you can use a succession of emails like this to keep digging and refining what you know about each attendee by allowing them to self-select.
Virtual Event Polls & Surveys
Another tactic that you can employ thanks to your virtual event platform and email integration is polls & surveys.
Surveys you might send out before or after your event via email. Many event organizers send surveys after the event to gather feedback and create net promoter scores, but what if you send a survey before your event?
You could use the survey to help build the virtual event agenda and specific topics, as well as more general customer discovery and interview-style questions. While it’s likely that most of your presenting speakers and topics will have been determined before you attract your first registrant, there are still opportunities to have customized table talk topics, breakout sessions, workshops, and other activities which do not have to be determined until days before the event is scheduled.
Surveys are also a great opportunity to explore topics and information that need quite a few more questions to suss out than what you’d be comfortable asking in a virtual event registration form. But again, if you ask the right key questions during registration, you can make sure that the attendees you choose to survey are indeed a good fit for additional questions and follow-up.
Polls, on the other hand, or more of a real-time tactic during your event itself. Whether an event-wide poll or a poll that you activate during a specific keynote or session, each poll should essentially be a multiple-choice question that attendees can answer quickly and easily.
As a result, you’ll have instant insights and statistics thanks to your attendees! It could be questions regarding your industry and business which, once you have a bunch of attendees answer, you’ll now have a unique statistic that you can use elsewhere. Or you could let attendees vote on product features, messaging, and many other topics of interest.
Just note that polls are universally going to be aggregate tallies. You’ll be able to see the number of responses and how those responses added up, but you will not know specifically how an individual attendee answered. If you want to leverage individual answers, use a survey.
Virtual Event Session Attendance
The final benefit of virtual events for customer discovery is the most powerful, but definitely requires support from the virtual event platform you select. Not every tool can offer the insights needed for this to work.
If possible, you will want detailed analytics for each attendee that reports which sessions they attended, which ones they were most engaged with, and have that data funneled into your CRM along with everything else. This will add incredibly detailed and insightful information to each and every attendee profile that you’re going to be able to use in a variety of ways, which I’ll get into in a moment.
First, you’ll need to make sure that whatever virtual event platform you choose to utilize, it records session attendance and engagement data for each attendee. You should be able to see which sessions, for how long, whether they engaged with the session through comments or reactions, and any other ways they engaged with your virtual event. That might include networking, table talks, visiting sponsor booths, and more. Everything should be tracked.
Second, the virtual event platform has to sync with your CRM to make that data useful. A CSV dump of the data will work in a pinch, but a direct CRM integration or at least a Zapier integration that allows full automated pass-through of attendee engagement data is preferred.
With those two technical aspects in place, you’ll now have a wealth of additional information applied to every contact in your CRM that attends any of your virtual events.
But what good is that, you ask?
Recall how we described customer discovery at the outset. We said it’s about defining personas, and that it should encompass the entire customer journey.
Which means, regardless of whether your virtual event attendees are prospects or have been clients for years, it’s valuable to continue learning about them. And when you plan your virtual event well, and have key topics and sessions and activities available for them to self-select and indicate interest, that information is valuable.
Turning Virtual Events Into Actionable Customer Discovery
First, while every virtual event platform will report how many attendees attended a particular session, if you’re pulling that data into your CRM, you can further segment and report on those attendees. Your Marketing Ops team can build you reports and dashboards that tell you how popular certain sessions and topics were among key segments of your audience, or illustrate how certain sessions were attended broken down by segments.
Perhaps a particular talk saw 15% sales staff, 45% CMOs, and 40% CEOs, whereas another session was attended by 68% account managers and only 32% directors. Now you’re learning exactly which personas are most interested in those topics and the content that you might repurpose from that event.
This could inform future session determination, as well as prioritize session video repurposing and utilization. If you have a session that performed particularly well with your target decision-makers, I’d want to use that session to build a lead generating evergreen webinar and video snippets to promote it, wouldn’t you?
Second, as your CRM collects session attendance data for each of your qualified leads, you can use that data to further qualify them and even route them through appropriate workflows.
Suppose you have several sessions within your event, or even spread across multiple events, that offer information that’s most useful to your target audience when they’re poised to purchase a solution like yours. It’s at that moment that I would want my CRM funneling those highly qualified prospects into my pipeline and let my SDRs know that these leads need to be reached out to immediately.
An easy example would be if you were to have a virtual booth set up for your own brand within your virtual summit (a tactic I strongly recommend). Even if the booth is just informational, a robust virtual event platform will be able to report to you which attendees visited the booth, which ones watched your embedded video, downloaded materials you offered, or talked to sales reps you had in place.
Your SDRs can now reach out directly to those attendees, thank them for visiting your booth, and invite them to hop on a call to discuss their needs and answer more questions.
What do you expect their close rate is going to be on those leads?
And when you host a virtual event that brings in thousands of registrants, that ability to target and prioritize for your sales staff becomes critical.
When you combine qualifying leads with all of the other data and information you can glean from your virtual events, it’s clear that the savvy brand can benefit immensely from an event strategy.
If you’ve never organized a virtual event before, and want to make sure that your first is a Sold Out Summit, learn more about how I can help you with a Virtual Event Intensive.