A virtual event platform sales person I was talking to about potentially investing tens of thousands of dollars into using his solution told me he didn’t want me to abuse his platform.
Did he honestly think I was going to spend that kind of money to, what, create spammy junk virtual events?
Is it possible for me to use a virtual event platform too much? Run too many events?
I don’t know what his perspective was, but it got me thinking. I obviously didn’t invest in that virtual event platform, but I did allocate a lot of budget for another vendor for our events at Agorapulse. I have a few big virtual summits and a bunch of smaller webinars and social meetups planned every year, but what else could I do with this new tool?
If you’re making a case for budget for a virtual event platform, wouldn’t be nice to show your CMO that the tool has additional uses and benefits?
That’s what we’re covering in this episode of The Virtual Event Strategist Podcast.
Do you have a bread maker?
I got one as a gift for my wedding nie a decade ago. It sits, forlorn-like, on a shelf, staring at me when I walk by as though it’s my fault it’s entire existence depends on my lackluster need for bread.
I’m sure it’s a fine bread maker as bread making machines go, I just don’t have an overpowering desire to spend money on special bread making flour and eggs and baking powder (or is soda?), an assortment of other ingredients, and the time it will take to mix them up, drag out the bread maker, make room for it on the counter, plug it in, re-read how to use it, get everything poured in and set, then wait for the bread to arrive in an odd square-with-hole shape. Not when I can buy a loaf for a few bucks.
Maybe you can relate.
The Problem: A Virtual Event Platform Is Expensive
At Agorapulse, I’ve used quite a few different virtual event platforms over the years, and have been a speaker for other people’s events on even more event solutions. I’ve also worked with clients on yet more platforms.
When the time came for me to consider which virtual event platform we’d use at Agorapulse for the coming year, and the major virtual summits I had scheduled to organize, I started of course with the platform I’d used most recently, Airmeet. It’s a terrific platform that helped to make our Agency Summit a huge success in 2021. But because my event plans for the year are likely to result in 15,000 – 20,000 attendees, my needs are typically priced into the Enterprise range and the tens of thousands of dollars.
In order to justify that budget and investment to my CMO, I needed to do my due diligence and go shopping. I quickly booked demos for half a dozen virtual event platforms that I knew and wanted to get a fresh look at and quote from. Hopin, Kaltura, Cvent, Whova, Hubilo and Bizzabo. A few other platforms like Glisser, PheedLoop, ON24, Swapcard and EventCombo popped onto my radar while I was in the midst of discovery and before I knew it, my calendar was filled with 20+ demos and sales calls.
That was an intense week of Zoom meetings, let me tell you. And for the most part, all of these platforms are delivering proposals that are significant investments.
Now, I’m planning major virtual summits for Agorapulse that are going to bring in thousands of attendees as I mentioned, and our Social Media Pulse Community team is also interested in running social meetups. But that got me thinking…
How else could we use a virtual event platform?
Or put it another way: who says we only have to use this expensive tool once a quarter for a virtual event?
Is this the most expensive bread maker ever?
I imagine you, too, have your share of software or subscriptions that you’ve purchased that have very specific, unique purposes and benefits. But I also imagine your investment was far, far less than what I’m looking at for a virtual event platform.
If you’re considering hosting a virtual event this year, and I strongly recommend that you do, I’m happy to have a chat about it and just talk through whether it would be a good idea for your brand. But if you’re thinking about it, then you’ll need to be thinking about a virtual event platform, if you haven’t already. So wouldn’t it be nice to have other uses for the tool beside that big event?
I thought so too.
In fact, I think it’ll be easier for me to get budget approval if, in addition to powering my events and those of the community team, I’ll be able to tick off eight other boxes of ways we can leverage the investment!
The Solution: Additional Virtual Event Platform Uses
Certainly, we can run more events. That’s a given. In fact, I’d already considered that and added additional online events to my plans. I also think it might be great to run smaller, more interactive webinars and panels throughout the year, and the virtual event tools I’ve been looking at are supremely well suited for this purpose.
But wait, there’s more.
What if we set aside some time later this year to put on event that was devoted to our own customers exclusively?
No… Mike… you can’t do that, you won’t bring in any new leads, you say!
As a SaaS company, Agorapulse is definitely focused on new customers, new monthly recurring revenue, of course. But we’re also heavily invested in making sure our customers are successful so that they continue to want and need Agorapulse and, as a result, continue their subscriptions. We want to reduce churn and increase the lifetime value of our customers.
Imagine if I were to host an event where ten thousand Agorapulse users were invited to learn industry best practices, hear about the company vision from the CEO, see the roadmap of the product, and network with Agorapulse’s power users. They might even get their hands on some amazing swag and gear.
First, I think you’d agree, those users would come out of that event motivated and excited and eager to leverage their investment in Agorapulse even more in the coming year. There’s no doubt it would have a positive impact on customer retention, right?
Second, if planned well, the virtual event would have key features and opportunities, such as embedded gamification, that encouraged attendees to share their experiences to social media. Now suddenly there might be thousands of Agorapulse users tweeting and posting about how awesome this event is – oh and by the way, it’s only for Agorapulse users, sorry non-users.
That creates buzz and FOMO and brand awareness and interest outside of the existing user base.
Don’t think I can bring in new leads with a user conference? Watch me.
Virtual Trade Show
Another idea would be to host a Virtual Trade Show. While many virtual event planners incorporate a trade show or expo hall within a larger online summit and virtual event plan, what if the trade show was the main event?
In addition being able to introduce your solution to your target audience, you can partner with other brands and organizations in your industry to help organize the event and defray costs.
One of the truly effective virtual event ideas you can implement, rather easily, is to build and foster your community. Now, you could choose to define community as users, in which case this type of virtual event would be more of a user conference focused on networking and engagement. I would, however, recommend you broaden the scope of your community to include followers on social media and individuals within your target audience as well who may or may not be paying customers.
That way, your brand is perceived as a supporter of the overall community rather than just being focused on revenue-driving users.
The cool thing about a virtual event that’s specifically for community building is that as a virtual event planner, it’s easier to organize. You don’t have to line up speakers or sponsors or facilitate multiple tracks. Most virtual event platforms offer native networking and engagement capability (and if they don’t, they’ll at least let you stream a Zoom call with breakout rooms into the platform). All you have to do decide is what options you want to make available and how you’d like to schedule them, then invite your community to participate.
You can start the day with a Virtual Speed Networking session to give community members opportunities to get to know one another, then schedule a series of table talks and breakout rooms to discuss topics of interest.
This approach works particularly well with virtual event platforms where attendees create a profile once and then use that profile consistently across all your events. That’s something I’d keep in mind, if it’s an option, and avoid platforms where attendees have to re-register for each and every event.
Focus Groups & Discovery
Of all these virtual event ideas, the one you need to send to your Head of Product is this one. Great product development must include talking to clients and prospects alike to get their perspectives and needs documented. And while good SaaS companies schedule Zoom meetings and send out surveys, imagine how next-level your discovery could be if you used your virtual event platform?
First, with a platform in place, you could configure it once to support your discovery efforts and client journey, then use it again and again for each new conversation. You could have breakout rooms for specific features or planned upgrades, demo videos which could be watched on demand, embedded polls, analytics on how viewers engaged with the sessions, and automated email follow-up and engagement.
Second, within the same platform, you could now schedule small groups of users to view and discuss certain features or upgrades together. Add to that the capability to host larger town hall type forums where users can ask questions and offer ideas, discussing the best product improvements and integrations real-time, and now you have a tremendous virtual customer validation system.
Some platforms integrate forums, surveys and polling, which would further complement the idea of having a single place where all customer discovery and validation takes place.
Company & Team Retreats
Remember how I mentioned above how great it could be if you used your virtual event platform for other events besides your big summit! Imagine how useful the platform could be for your internal company use? With most virtual event platforms, you can schedule events, set agenda and speakers, mix live video with recorded content and other assets, create breakout rooms and engaging activities, and make everything available on demand over time.
As a result, a good virtual event platform makes for terrific internal virtual event ideas like company and team retreats!
While there’s hope that more companies will return to in-person retreats and corporate events now that lockdowns have eased, there’s no denying that virtual retreats have long term merit, particularly for distributed teams that are common among SaaS companies.
If your SaaS company is in a growth mode, it’s not just about experiencing tremendous numbers of new customers… it’s new employees, too! In fact, my CEO once told me that he believes, now, that his most important role is to make strong hiring decisions, as fast as possible.
You may find yourself going from 20 employees to a hundred and twenty or more, often bringing on dozens of staff at a time. And while learning systems and documentation archives are OK, there’s tremendous appeal to using a virtual event platform to help you scale your onboarding!
Welcome emails can be streamed and them made available on demand.
Cohorts and small groups can be assigned and discussions facilitated.
Analytics are instantly available for how new employees proceed through and engaged with elements of the onboarding.
Onboarding and training videos can be grouped into tracks for easier consumption and assignment! While some tools and processes may be unique to particular departments, other topics like benefits and HR may apply to everyone.
While the cost of a good virtual event platform may be too prohibitive to use solely for employee onboarding (or even client onboarding!), if it’s a tool you’re already using for external marketing, more virtual event ideas just help justify and utilize the investment.
Perhaps my favorite and most creative use of a virtual event platform would be for sales teams who are doing online demos.
Many SaaS companies today arm their sales executive with, what… Google Meet? Zoom? Sure, the prospect is familiar with those platforms, but they aren’t exactly delivering a Wow experience.
Imagine if, instead, you invited your enterprise prospect into a private meeting space hosted on a virtual event platform that is fully branded for your business and customized to suit the needs of your sales demo. You could have slides and resources and all of your video assets already loaded up and ready to play during any sales call, as needed.
Anytime a prospect brings up a more obscure question that perhaps isn’t covered in your typical demo, such as questions about the security of your platform and associated certifications, you or your rep would have that information ready to display and discuss at their fingertips.
One on one or group sales demos are suddenly a breeze and deliver an over the top experience for the prospect that will help your brand stand out.
More Virtual Platform Uses ≠ More Work
At this point you may be wondering, and it’s a good thing to wonder, whether or not all of these ideas are just adding more to your already over-burdened workload. Because most of these ideas involve other teams though, that means these would represent ideas and opportunities you would simply offer and pass on.
HR and management should be responsible for employee onboarding. Sales is responsible for demos.
Your objective here isn’t to assume more work, but rather point out to your CMO that a virtual event platform is a SaaS tool which can be used by every department, just like Slack or Asana.
Take note of the ideas here which resonate with you and make sense for your brand, and incorporate them into your budget request.
Oh, and that bread maker? I sold it on an online marketplace and used the funds to invest in a complete new set of baking sheets and pans. From bread to cookies to sheet pan dinners, I now have the equipment to create all kinds of delicious food.
And remember, if you or a brand you know is thinking about hosting a virtual event this year and wants to make it a Sold Out Summit, select clients can reserve a VIP Strategy Day and get their entire event strategy knocked out in an afternoon. Ask me how to get started.
In our next episode, I’m going to tackle a big question that’s coming up a lot right now, with the help of some friends, and that is, should brands even be investing in virtual events right now? Isn’t everyone going back to in-person venues? We’ll talk about that and I think you’ll be surprised with some of the perspectives.
Talk to you soon.