Strategic Approaches to Business Event Marketing

Strategic Approaches To Business Event Marketing

<< Back to Promotional Resources index

Bookmark and Share

Strategic Approaches to Business Event Marketing

Business events are at their most powerful when they are part of an integrated go-to-market strategy. Integration sounds logical, but how do you actually pull it off? First, you have to have control-or at least influence-over all the elements of the marketing mix. That's a given. Then, you must decide on which of several approaches to strategic marketing planning make the most sense for your company. Business marketers may select from among strategies based on the following:

  • customer life cycle
  • customer value segmentation
  • product life cycle
  • the customer's buying process
  • quarterly (or periodic) sales objectives
  • target audience

Business Event Planning Based on the Customer Life Cycle

A company's relationship with a customer or set of customers goes through a natural series of stages known as the customer life cycle. At each stage, the needs of the customer are different, so the strategies the marketer applies to meet those needs must be different, too. Ultimately, in life cycle marketing, the marketer's objective is to move every customer along the continuum toward the "core," where the customer is a loyal, frequent, and satisfied buyer. Once there, the company's strategy converts to defection prevention and customer value optimization.

Business event marketing can be applied neatly to support company objectives at each stage of the customer life cycle. Consider the following chart, which outlines in a typical series of life cycle stages, the marketing strategies that might be associated with each stage, and the business event levers that can best serve those marketing objectives. Keep in mind that this is an oversimplified view, intended to illustrate the thought process that goes into applying events to the customer life cycle.

Exhibit 1: Marketing Strategies for a Typical Customer Life Cycle Stage

Life Cycle Stage

Marketer's Objective

Best Business Event Applications


Evaluate potential and stimulate trial or purchase

Trade show

Trial user or first time buyer

Ensure satisfaction and stimulate repeat purchase

Road show

Repeat buyer

Ensure satisfaction and stimulate multi-product purchase

User group

Core customer

Keep them happy and buying; solicit referrals

Client conference


Solve problems and win back

Entertainment event

Do not take this chart as a turnkey formula for making lifecycle marketing decisions. Business event types can be applied to a variety of objectives-that is one of their key advantages. Trade shows, for example, are equally effective tools for communicating with current customers as for finding new prospects. And client conferences can help you persuade qualified prospects to join the customer fold.

Business Event Planning Around Customer Value

Companies that segment customers by value, or potential value, are looking to optimize the return on the customer asset. They seek to enhance the value of each account, either by improving sales and margins, or reducing the cost to serve, or a combination. To this end, each account's potential is assessed, and differentiated strategies are put in place. On a tactical level, this means that different customers will receive different treatment. For example, a high-value account might be covered by a face-to-face sales team, while a low-value account is directed to purchase through the Internet. Or, a set of new products might be developed to offer into particular accounts to capture a larger share of their spending in the category.

Business events can be applied similarly to the objective of customer value maximization and differentiated treatment. The strategy might be applied on an account-by-account basis, or within an account, for example, treating key decision-makers differently from purchasing officials or junior staff, or client conferences may be limited to senior executives in large accounts. User group meetings may be organized along with a special concurrent VIP conference. At trade shows, marketers will set up invitation-only dinners for key clients and prospects. The possibilities are endless. However you decide to apply your business event options, customer value considerations can provide a helpful strategic base for your thinking.

Business Event Planning Driven by Product Life Cycle

Marketers have long viewed business events as a natural fit with the product life cycle as it moves from introduction, to growth, maturity, and decline. For example, a new product may be scheduled for launch at a major industry trade show, where plenty of press representatives are in attendance. Road shows lend themselves well to a more thorough introduction to the features and benefits of a new product. User groups are ideal for managing customer usage and satisfaction with more mature products that are already in wide use in the marketplace.

Since business events are an efficient form of face-to-face marketing, they can be applied effectively at various stages of the product life cycle, with the possible exception of the stage of decline. While most marketers consider trade shows to be best applied at the product introduction stage, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research in Chicago conducted a study reporting that exhibiting has value through the stage of maturity. In the study, executives were asked to rate the effectiveness of various marketing options at the four stages of product life cycle. They ranked trade shows equally effective as print advertising, and second only to direct selling, in the first three stages of the product life cycle-introduction, growth, and maturity. In the stage of decline, however, they rated both advertising and trade shows as far less important than direct selling.

Business Event Planning Based on the Customer's Buying Process

Fortunately for marketers, most business buyers follow a fairly well defined process as they evaluate options and make purchase decisions. In some companies, the process is so well defined that it is codified, and prospects will share with you the exact steps they must go through to buy. The more marketers understand the buying process of their prospects, the more efficient they can become with their selling processes. The secret is to map the selling activity to the prospect's buying process stage.

See Exhibit 2 for a list of the typical steps a business buyer goes through. Of course, these steps will vary by industry and by company size. On the right of the table is a list of the seller's objectives at each stage. Notice how the seller's objectives vary as the prospect's needs and activities evolve.

Exhibit 2: Marketing Objectives at Each Stage of the Buying Process

Customer's Buying Process Stage

Marketer's Objectives

Identify need

Arouse interest

Research solutions

Be known to the research team

Develop short list

Be selected for short list

Request proposals/quotes

Submit winning proposal

Review proposals/quotes

Create preference


Preserve margins

Select vendor


Install and use

Satisfy and support usage


Up-sell, cross sell

The successful marketer will analyze the buying stages for each account, or customer segment, and understand who is involved at each stage. The marketer will then craft strategies to help the prospect move to the next stage-preferably toward a purchase from the seller, versus the competition. The ideal approach is to develop a contact strategy for each prospect or customer appropriate to the buying stage. Exhibit 3 suggests some of the tools the marketer may appropriately use to influence the buyer's behavior.

Exhibit 3: Marketing Tools to Influence Buyers at Each Stage of the Buying Process

Marketing Objectives

Options in Marketing Toolkit

Arouse interest

Advertising, PR

Be known to the research team

Advertising, PR, search engine, trade show

Be selected for short list

Direct mail, email, telephone, website, trade show

Submit winning proposal

Face-to-face sales, inside sales

Create preference

Face-to-face sales, inside sales, direct mail, webinar, road show

Preserve margins

Face-to-face sales, telesales


Face-to-face sales

Satisfy and support usage

Support, website, e-newsletter, user group

Up-sell, cross sell

Telesales, direct mail, trade show, client conference, webinar

There are two lessons for business event marketers embedded in the notion of the business buying process.

  • Trade shows and corporate events are not the optimal marketing tool for every stage, but can be superb when applied at the right point in the buying process.
  • Every visitor to your booth at a trade show or to your corporate event will be at some stage of the buying process himself or herself. The qualification process is designed to help determine that stage. Once you grasp that information, you can craft the best next step to offer the prospect.

Business Event Planning Tied to Sales Objectives

Perhaps the simplest strategy for business event planning is based on periodic sales requirements. The sales pipeline must be filled with enough prospective business to meet revenue goals. It is marketing's job to keep the pipeline stocked with the right amount of quality leads that will allow sales quotas to be met, at the company, region, or territory level.

Business events can play an important role in generating the sales leads needed to fill the pipeline. If you understand how many qualified leads are needed in any given territory and during any given period, you can back your way into the appropriate marketing programs to support those objectives. Of course, you need to take into account the following challenges:

  • Trade shows are scheduled on their own calendars, not yours. So, a certain amount of inflexibility must be considered. The best approach is to plan on exhibiting at your most productive trade shows to start, and building the rest of the plan to fill in the lead generation gaps.
  • Business events may not provide the geographic specificity you need for the pipeline supporting each sales territory. Other than regional shows, your trade show lead output is going to be fairly unpredictable in these terms. You will need to supplement the trade show leads with road shows, direct mail, outbound telemarketing, and other lead generation activities that allow more geographic control.
  • Business events can produce a glut of leads at one time, depending on their productivity. You can smooth the flow a bit with your post-event qualification and nurturing process. But there is the risk that an unusually high volume of leads will reduce the sales force's enthusiasm for working them all, resulting in a lower lead-to-sales conversion rate than usual.

Despite these potential pitfalls, planning your business events to support lead flow requirements is a fairly straightforward procedure. First, you examine the quota of each territory concerned, and subtract out the amount that will be self-generated through the natural course territory management. The remaining amount is what needs to be supported by lead generation programs. You divide this amount by the average order size in your company or category to arrive at the number of closed leads required. Then divide again by the lead-to-sales conversion rate, to arrive at the number of qualified leads required per rep. An example is in Exhibit 4.

Exhibit 4: Lead Requirements Worksheet

Revenue quota per rep


Percent of quota self-generated


Quota requiring lead support ($3 million*1-.40)


Revenue per order


Converting leads required ($1.8 million / $100,000)


Conversion rate


Qualified leads required per rep (20 / .25)


In this situation, each rep needs 80 qualified leads in the territory per year. Review your event calendar, and estimate how many of these leads will be generated from the programs you have planned. Fill in the gaps with other marketing programs. And make sure you are buying the highest ROI leads first. You will need to adjust the integrated marketing program to optimize the results.

Business Event Planning by Target Audience
Another strategy for integrating business events into your marketing plan is based on target audience analysis. Select the key audiences you seek to acquire or retain, and apply the most effective marketing tools to those objectives. Events and trade shows can play an active, and effective, role.

The chart in Exhibit 5 analyzes the best event applications against marketing objectives targeted to various audience segments. Here, the segments are organized by buyer type. But you can also set this up by any relevant business segment, like industry, company size or geography.

Exhibit 5: Best Event Applications, by Target Audience

Target Audience

Marketer's Objectives

Audience's Objectives

Optimal Business Event Options

End-users, current customers

Product information deliver
Identify problems and needs
Product demo

Learn about new solutions
Solve problems/ troubleshoot
Network with peers

User group meeting
Partner conference
Single-customer event (if a large account)
Educational seminar (product topics)

End-users, prospects

Consideration Preference
Product demo

Learn about new solutions

Road show
Trade show

Influencers, specifiers

Product information delivery
Product demo

Learn about ways to do job better
Compare vendor solutions

Trade show
Road show
Single customer event (if a large account)

Decision-makers, department heads


Solve business/financial problem
Network with peers

Executive briefing
Entertainment event
Educational seminar (business topics)

C-level, senior management


Solve business/financial problems
Network with peers

Executive briefing
Entertainment event

Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention marketing and teaches marketing to grad students at Columbia Business School. She is author of Trade Show and Event Marketing and The DMA Lead Generation Handbook. Reach her at

(Courtesy of JEM Promotional Products ©2007)

If you have any questions relating to promotional products, please don't hesitate in contacting us. JEM Promotional Products
Phone: (02) 8205 1334

Go to next Article >>

Quote Builder

No Quote Request Items

Feedback Form