Monday, June 9, 2008

Making Thought Leadership Events Successful

By Mike Wien, Partner Creative Growth Group, Inc.

This past month, I attended many company sponsored gatherings that fell under the broad umbrella of marketing, business development and ideas & issues forums. While on paper, these can be very effective events, all too often, they only serve to reinforce negative feelings about marketing spending. So, in an effort to help our clients improve the probability of these events being effective and successful, I share with you what I have recently witnessed as best practices for running a business development event.

First, let me be a little more focused on what I am defining as a company sponsored gathering. My comments are for events that are being hosted for the following reasons (all apply.):

A. To demonstrate that your firm has an in depth understanding of the issues and opportunities that clients and prospects are facing.
B. To provide an opportunity for members of your firm to have quality “face time” with clients and prospects.
C. To give clients and prospects an opportunity to meet other business professionals in the community.
D. To provide a reason for you to have quality contacts clients and prospects, both before and after the event.
If these are the reasons, then here is a list of best practices that if followed, will dramatically enhance the value of the event.

Pre Event Planning and Promotion

1. Pick the right topic - Professionals are just too busy these days to attend conferences that provide “nice to know” information. They are looking for fresh perspectives on relevant issues. They want to be exposed to counter-intuitive ways to improve their business. They are looking for provocative topics that will help them develop realistic scenarios about the future of their business.
2. Have a compelling message – When developing the event, make sure to answer the following questions – Why should someone give up two or three hours of their day to attend this session? What benefit will they get by attending? Then make sure you include this in all communications. In addition, make sure the title of the event is provocative enough to generate interest.
3. Define the ideal targets - Now that you have developed the compelling message, determine who is most appropriate to attend. What level and function in an organization? What industries? What types of companies (public or private?)
4. Use multiple forms of communications - Busy people are inundated with information. The most effective way to break through is to send multiple messages using different the date) via regular mail and e-mail, a personalized invitation (regular mail or e-mail), a follow-up phone call and a reminder e-mail one or two days before the event.
5. Pick the right venue and the appropriate menu – Make sure the location, food and service is consistent with the sponsoring organizations. The place you select to host the event, the quality of food served, and the service provided are all a part of your branding, especially with prospects who do not know your organization.
6. Test the audio-visual equipment – There is nothing that can kill a good presentation, or throw a presenter off course faster than a problem with the audio-visual equipment. Make sure everything is set up and tested before the event when there is still time to correct any problems.

The Event

7. Develop a detailed agenda – Agendas help keep everyone focused on delivering the event as advertised. Have specific details on timing and content for each speaker to keep everyone on track. Leave appropriate time for discussion and finish in the allotted time frame.
8. Focus the content on thought leadership – You have attracted people to this event to help them think differently about their business. They are not coming for a corporate sales pitch. Focus exclusively on expanding everyone’s thinking. They should be impressed enough with the content to want to learn more about the sponsoring organization and how that organization might be able to help them.
9. Control the speakers – As a host, assert your right to control the speakers. Make sure you know their topic and how long they are planning to speak. If they are using slides or other visual aids, make sure they are readable to everyone including those sitting in the back. Confirm that their topic is on strategy and will be thought provoking. Make sure they are limiting their remarks about their firm to less than 30 seconds. Even better, ask them to say nothing about their firm and you include that in your remarks as you introduce the speaker.
10. Make it interactive – When developing the agenda, make sure to leave ample time for questions and answers. In a thought provoking forum, the questions and answers can sometimes be the most informative. And by definition, the discussion becomes audience driven. Plant questions in the audience to start the ball rolling.
11. Include a facilitator – Pick someone who can keep the speakers on track and will effectively manage the questions and answers. Pick a person who is willing and able to cut a speaker going too long or move off a participant monopolizing the questions. The facilitator also controls the energy in the room. Find a high energy facilitator.
12. Station a host at the door – Strangers will be coming to your venue to meet your organization and others associated with your organization. Make it easy and comfortable for them. Have someone welcome guests. Use name tags. Tell them about the flow of the event – where to sit, when to eat, what to do. Answer questions regarding the event, the sponsors, the people attending and the program.

Post Event Follow-up

13. Communicate after the event to attendees – The end of the session is actually the starting line for sales development. Everything before was just designed to create an environment for a warm reception. Start off by sending out a thank you note to those who attended. This will remind them of who sponsored the event. Provide a high level summary of what was presented and discussed. Include any key conclusion or insights in the summary. Provide links for additional information or relevant articles on the subject. Remind the attendees about the next event and include location and timing if available. Finally, if it is appropriate, provide a list of all presenters and attendees with contact information and a short background on each.
14. Let the missing know what they missed – If you had a great event, make sure those people on your target list who could not attend find out what they missed. Send them the summary of the session. Contact them and offer to come by and review the key conclusions or insights in person. If they were important enough to be on the invitation list, they are important enough for a face-to-face follow-up.
15. Follow-up with attendees – The thought leadership sessions are designed primarily to warm up a prospect and help them want to learn more about your firm. Make sure you leverage the success of the session with a plan to follow up with each prospect to discuss the implications of the information on their business. This is also the first time you can start identifying needs and recommending potential solutions.

By following these best practices, you can improve the chances that your event will be both appreciated by the attendees and will help the sponsoring organization or organizations see positive benefits from the event through improved relationships with existing clients and newly established relationships with prospects.

Our client Randy Hain, Managing Partner of Bell Oaks Executive Search said this about thought leadership events: “Many gatherings are thinly veiled events to promote a company’s service and the audience will see right through that and resent you for wasting their time. Instead, act out of enlightened self-interest and work for a win-win in that the speaker, the audience and your firm all gain some tangible benefit. It is often a good idea to not be a featured presenter at your own event. Instead, bring in a well known guest speaker and subject matter expert to present on leading edge topics that will engage your audience-you will gain the exposure you desire through hosting and sponsoring the event. Remember that thought leadership is often meant to be freely shared and is most effective when utilized as a way to build a bridge to a client.”

Another client, Carlos Quintero, Founder and Principal at Sales Effectiveness, Inc. shared the following about his success in hosting events: “When you host a quality event, your reputation as a company dramatically changes. You are seen as progressive and valuable. You have created an environment for everyone to meet new people. You have shared insights on your topic that make people think. And when you take the initiative to follow up, customers or prospect clients will open up to you quickly due to respect and the good will that the event created. Quality events help create a setting where you inadvertently create curiosity with a potential client, and that is the beginning of good business development.”

1 comment:

Matia said...

Great work.