Did you know that 69 percent of B2B marketers consider in-person events effective (Sensible Marketing)? In-person events allow you to break down barriers, make eye contact with someone and shake their hand.
As Marketing Manager of Micro Doctor IT, I’ve discovered the value of face-to-face interactions after three years of holding Joint Venture Marketing events. Originally inspired by premier IT marketing consultant, Robin Robin’s Technology Marketing Toolkit, we mix it up by capitalizing on the growing popularity of wine tastings. With all the new wineries and micro-breweries popping up, wouldn’t an event that brings in high-end wines for decision makers to taste be a success?
That’s what we’ve found with our Wine Down Wednesday Business Mixers. Since starting these events in 2014, Micro Doctor has landed two to five new monthly recurring revenue (MRR) clients per year. We are still working seven leads from our last event on October 19th alone, and I would expect to close at least half of those. Besides landing new MRR managed services clients, these events have helped us strengthen relationships with existing clients and build market awareness. Want to know our secret?
Partner with Local Businesses
Although we have been in business for 27 years, we still hope to get in front of local businesses and prospective clients that may not know what we offer or need further clarification. In hosting these gatherings, we’re able to network with new audiences by leveraging the client bases of others. How? We partner with six to eight non-competitive businesses that work with the clientele we are targeting.
Each business has its own circle of influence, so in order to extend our reach, every sponsoring business invites 50-100 guests. That normally brings about 100-150 business owners or decision makers to the event. And since only one business per vertical is allowed to sponsor, these lawyers, CPAs, insurance salesmen, etc. have exclusivity. This is important since sponsors get to speak to the audience and present themselves as the area’s leading business in their industry. By leveraging each other’s respective networks, everyone wins. Micro Doctor, in particular, benefits from forming relationships with sponsors, sponsors’ clients and the key decision makers that we are already targeting. As a result, these efforts catalyze the closing process, giving us the extra edge that we need.
Aside from helping us boost new client acquisition, partnering with local businesses also helps us offset the costs of holding these events. To plan an event to this scale, it could cost you anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000. Rather than trying to fund this and possibly generating a return on investment (ROI) – though more likely, breaking even – from the event, we recruit sponsors. That way, the event only costs each business $500-$700. I know this can still be a significant cost for some small- and-medium-sized businesses (SMB), but if you just land one sale from the event, you can cover your costs, plus more!
Invite Existing Clients and Hot Leads
Besides inviting awesome clients, we invite prospects to the event as well. When the prospects come to such a well-run event with great food and wine, and see other local business professionals they know, they gain a new respect for our company. This allows Micro Doctor, and other businesses involved in the event, to close business deals that have been lingering for over six months!
The value of face-to-face time really seems to be what seals the deal, especially with current clients. Often, if a business is running smoothly, they may not see us for over six months! When that starts to happen, they may begin to wonder why they're paying for our managed services. Remote support helps us solve IT issues quicker and easier, but it can also create issues when clients don't get their valued face time. These business wine mixers allow us to reconnect with our important clients in a more meaningful, yet relaxed atmosphere.
Create an Enjoyable Experience for All Involved
This should start the moment your event commences. When guests check in, we encourage them to drop their business card in a fishbowl. In doing so, they're entered into our wine bottle raffle. Since the event is free for attendees, we make sure to obtain every guest’s information to send to sponsors for sales and marketing efforts after the event. Each sponsor also has a specific wine at their table, so in order to participate in the wine-tasting, guests must visit sponsor tables and engage with each company. This allows our sponsors to strengthen existing relationships through the shared invite process, as well as meet new attendees others invite, without it feeling awkward or forced.
When hosting your own event, pay careful attention to the schedule. We always limit our mixers to two hours, and break up networking, sponsor presentations and wine tasting time. During the first hour, two sponsors at a time take turns presenting their wine and receive a two-to-three-minute elevator pitch for their company. These brief descriptions coupled with networking sessions every 15 minutes keep the attendees engaged and amused. We like to wrap up the business presentations in the first hour. During the second hour, people are normally deep in conversation. Also, we want to ensure our sponsors get their money's worth and receive the guests' undivided attention during their speeches. And since this becomes tricky the more attendees imbibe, we arrange for these speeches to happen earlier in the evening. The last hour is dedicated to building relationships, setting appointments, sharing information, and really driving business.
Follow Up After the Event
After the event, having a follow-up strategy is key to landing sales. We compile all attendees contact information in a spreadsheet. From there, we scan the list for any business owners in our target market to send to our Business Development Coordinator, who calls to set appointments for our technical sales staff. After that, Sales works on developing the leads with network assessments. Finally, we reinforce sales efforts and help close leads with targeted marketing support. Adding each new contact to our monthly newsletter send helps us maintain regular contact. Inviting prospective clients to Lunch & Learns or sending direct mail pieces has also really helped us convince on-the-fence decision makers! Lastly, we enroll wine mixer guests in email drip campaigns with targeted content pieces specific to the contact's job position, and sometimes even the industry the company operates in.
Why the Buzz?
These events have helped us, as well as other businesses, establish a foothold in the Ohio community. But the value of our business wine mixers goes much deeper than that. Micro Doctor grossed over $20,000 in sales from these events in 2015 alone, with one event generating a profit ROI of 262 percent and the other, 935 percent. We are still calculating our total sales and profit from this year's four events, but anticipate similar, if not better, results!
Are you interested in duplicating our success but worry that you don't have the bandwidth or budget to plan such an outing? Start small. In our first year, we only had about 80 people in attendance. Now, our audience has grown to 100-150 people per event. It just takes time and finding a formula that works for you. Above all else, you have to make your event valuable for all guests (including sponsors), not just your business. For us, this means free admission, wine raffles, strategic networking and helping others generate new business opportunities. For you, it could be something totally new. Just as you taste-test several wines to find the right mixture, we suggest you try a few of your own unique ideas to capture the interest of your local market. And if you're worried about funding your own in-person event, consider the payoff. For Micro Doctor, the first month of new MRR finances the event, and then we gain clients' ongoing MRR long after.
By Gretchen Hoffman
By Gretchen Hoffman