Planning Great Events to Drive Customer Engagement

Now that the Spring conference season is winding down we can all take a breath and put our feet up. Or can we? The pause between the spring and fall conference seasons is the perfect time for savvy event marketers to take advantage of a change in the rhythm of business and the warmer weather and execute smaller, more intimate events with customers and prospects to achieve engagement.

Customer engagement is often overlooked as a worthy goal, but the return justifies a significant effort, according to research. The cost of sale to an existing customer is a fraction of that of new customer acquisition, and engaged customers stay around longer, purchase more frequently, and are compelling and credible brand advocates. What could be better?

Here are several ideas of how you can take advantage of the season to build customer engagement:

Take it outside

Get out of the usual business environment to transform the relationship to something more personal. The great weather is a great opportunity for a change of scenery, let alone costume, which really gets people thinking of their relationships in a different way. Great ways to engage with your audience range from the more traditional golf and baseball games (my personal favorite, but bring the sunscreen!) to a bit edgier. ReadyTalk reported great results from a customer appreciation day that included gas go cart racing and food/drinks (drinks after the driving was completed) catered by Ruth Chris. This was wildly successful with their customers and resulted in an ongoing dialog about product feedback that was tremendously valuable to the company.

Other ideas:

  • Chocolate tasting at a local Chocolatier
  • Sailing charter
  • Host a dinner cruise
  • Cooking class, with local specialties
  • Host a tailgate party at a sports event
  • Hot air balloon rides
  • Road Rally
  • Rent the IMAX Theatre for a special showing
  • Sports Fishing charter
  • Whitewater rafting trip

Mix it up

Include a broad mix of prospects, customers and your own employees. Your customers are great brand advocates. But your employees are, too. When you invite your own employees, reach beyond the sales staff.

As an example, Marketo does a great job of including their extended marketing team and other staff members that actually *use* the Marketo product day to day when they have casual customer and prospect events. This allows informal “non-selling” conversations to happen between prospects and those who use their product every day – a sincere testimonial to their product, and a great relationship-builder for all.

Include the “extended family” of your existing customers and prospects. Your happy customers serve as the best references for new prospects, having “been there, and done that”, and you find yourself in the role of trusted advisor and curator of this community by bringing greater value to your customers’ business, serving as connective tissue between the like-minded, helping them connect with others to share information – a tremendous value.

Leave a seat at the table

Include an opportunity for your customers to invite a friend, colleague or family member to your event. A customer may be hesitant to attend your event if they don’t know anyone well. So they will feel much more comfortable if they can include a guest if they so desire.

Plus you’ll be able to use the opportunity to get some customer referrals. Referred customers (those friendly +1s to your events) are typically less price sensitive. Because referrals come with an implied level of trust, there are often shorter sales cycles as well. They can also have higher total value to your brand over their lifetime than customers acquired through other methods. A broad study done by Goeth University found referred customers had both margins and churned less, as well as higher lifetime value than other customers.

As you think about including guests, it is important to be clear about the objective of your customer engagement event. Is this a customer referral event, or a customer engagement event? Being clear on the objective will help you in your preparation and coaching of your event staff as to whether or not this is a selling opportunity. Customer appreciation events are strictly engagement, with no selling. Customer referral events are selling opportunities, and happy customers are your best salespeople.

Wrap it up

In planning your event venue and activity, it’s important to know your audience and their preferences. So while the Segway polo game might be good for the developer crowd in Mountain View, you might want to do something a bit more reserved if you’re entertaining the high net worth investors out of Chicago. Just be sure to include the two must-haves: a meaningful activity and an opportunity for interaction.

And finally, include a thematically appropriate and thoughtful giveaway that reinforces your brand. One customer mentioned attending an event that gave away company-branded RayBan style sunglasses, “I thought they were so cool! I keep them in my car and use them everyday.” Now that’s a successful giveaway!

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