How to create customer conferences that drive results

Published on: April 2018

Written by: Andrew Dornon

Note: If you’re looking for advice about venue selection, physical space design and catering (although these things are all important), unfortunately that isn’t the topic of this article.

Why you should take a more strategic approach to customer conferences

Most organizations have some variety of a customer conference, which is often one of the largest marketing expenses of the year. For the most part, these conferences are very educational and fun events for your customers, prospects, users, and partners. However, the ROI on these conferences is often difficult to measure. Hosting a conference may drive your sales results incidentally, but there is no way to know exactly how much the business is improving as a result of the conference, and whether or not your organization is getting a return that is less than they could be getting. To generate the maximum ROI from your customer conference, it is necessary to take a more strategic approach.

What a strategic approach looks like

The best customer, user, and partner conferences enable attendees to envision their future success using your offerings, and thus inspire buying. They do so by aligning the interests of your organization with those of your participants. This demonstrates to participants that by partnering with your organization, they will add more value to their own business, therefore helping to generate higher sales and usage of your solution.

5 steps to plan a customer conference that maximizes ROI

1. Define the organizational results you want to drive through this event
For the most part, these will likely be your marketing and sales orgs’ goals for the year. Common goals include:

  • Increased revenue
  • Increased channel sales
  • Decreased churn
  • Increased average revenue per account
  • Increased referrals
  • Increased adoption/usage
  • Increased attach rate

2. Segment your attendees
You’ll want to create logical groups who will share priorities and generate additional value from networking together. You can continually segment each group to your desired level of granularity. The highest level groups will be:

  • Current buyers (who you can segment further by current account size, potential, etc.)
  • Prospective buyers (segmenting by their location in the buying cycle)
  • Channel partners (segmenting by current and potential sales)

For technology specifically you may also have:

  • Administrators (who can be segmented into advocates, neutral, and negative)
  • Power users (segmented by solution)

3. Ask attendees what they want
Perform customer research to understand their priorities generally and for the event. This can include:

  • Broadly surveying likely attendees about their current priorities, challenges and personal goals to help provide a better understanding of what attendees will value
  • Performing follow up qualitative interviews with each segment to dive deeper into what is most valuable for them

4. Define your goals for each segment
Your event won’t serve anyone optimally if your goals aren’t clear. An example of what your goals for each segment might look like:

  • Current buyers: increased revenue, reduced churn
  • Prospective buyers: net new revenue
  • Channel partners: increased sales of specific solutions
  • Admins: increased adoption, usage, attach rate
  • Power users: better internal advocacy

5. Create content and activities that drive results – for both you and your attendees
The attendees are your organization’s best friends, peers, and advocates. Your conference needs to drive their results through both introducing them to more of your offerings and through wraparound content and development opportunities. Based on your research, you should have a good understanding of each segments’ goals—ways to drive these include:

  • Speaking opportunities for attendees
  • Thought leaders giving talks
  • Workshops that build attendees’ skills

You will notice that these skill-building activities and learning opportunities for attendees are part and parcel of most customer events. If you throw in product launches and solution expos, it would describe most conferences. However, to have a truly results-focused customer event, you will need to include activities that drive your results within each segment and inspire attendees to take specific actions. These activities can be self-service or used by marketers and salespeople with attendees. What they can look like:

  • For buyers, this means having them run a simulated version of a company like their own, facing industry-specific trends and marketplace uncertainty. Let them examine the tradeoffs and have the option to potentially implement more solutions like the ones you sell. You will provide attendees with insight into how they will need to operate going forward, and you will get unparalleled insight into their decision-making processes and priorities
  • For administrators, a solution navigator can simplify the steps required in a customer’s journey to achieving results. Using your offerings, show administrators how implementing additional solutions will affect their operations and what would be required for them to do so
  • For prospects, provide them with insight into how they work and make decisions by offering an assessment that determines “Your Personality at Work” or something similar. They may be surprised by the results, and take time to reflect on their professional life. You’ll get an output that identifies which of your buyer personas they fit with and thus can customize your sales approach to how they want to buy

Customer conferences put even the best sales and marketing teams to the test by demanding that they deliver a great customer experience while producing a significant ROI. All too often, however, conferences don’t drive the results they could. With a strategic approach to designing content and activities that align with the goals of attendees, you can inspire them to act, and maximize the impact of your event.