Chris Wickson, CEO and co-founder of Akkroo, on where the B2B event, marketing and sales sector is heading and how technology will impact it over the next 10 years.
We live in a world where business is increasingly conducted online, from email marketing and ecommerce, to virtual communications and remote working. Yet despite this seemingly unstoppable shift towards digitalisation, the best business is still done face-to-face.
A renowned study from the late 1960s found that just seven per cent of effective communication is verbal, with the remaining 93 per cent consisting of non-verbal cues.
Face-to-face communication is paramount for making connections, building trust and ultimately securing sales – and nowhere is this more clearly evidenced than in the year-on-year growth of the B2B events industry. The UK now boasts an events sector valued at over £42bn which is driven predominantly by a vast calendar of conferences, exhibitions and trade fairs.
Events are “offline” experiences by definition, and business is therefore conducted almost entirely via face-to-face interactions. Consequently, the industry has lagged behind in the adoption of technologies that have radically changed the face of B2B sales and marketing in virtually all other channels. So, how can “Event Tech” keep up with MarTech?
Catching up with MarTech
There can be no denying there has been a surge in innovative event tech over recent years, from pre-event registration systems to on-site attendee engagement, tracking and lead retrieval. However, generally speaking, these advancements have largely been built by or for the benefit of event organiser That’s not to say the exhibitor doesn’t get value from it, but both parties have different objectives to meet which means misalignment is often inevitable.
From an exhibitor perspective, big challenges still remain. Consider a business that exhibits at tens or even hundreds of events per year. Given the disparate, disconnected nature of the events industry, that business faces the challenge of adopting and using different systems and processes at every single event, particularly when it comes to lead capture. In stark contrast to the modern, consistent approach to lead handling from every other source via existing Marketing Automation and CRM systems.
It is here where I believe the events industry needs to learn from what is going on in the rest of the MarTech landscape. When the overall success of an exhibition or trade show is inextricably tied to the success of the event’s exhibitors, enabling them to tackle these challenges through technology has to be the way forward.
A connected, integrated world
A quick glance at the trends emerging in MarTech today, particularly in the B2B space, will tell you artificial intelligence and machine learning is driving advanced profiling, segmentation and targeting, ‘hyper-personalisation’ and complex customer data management. All of this is achievable thanks to advances in connectivity through software integrations and APIs. Platforms and systems talking and working with each other, in real-time.
Now let’s revisit the case of our frequent exhibitor. Back at headquarters, they are likely to be leveraging technology advancements in every marketing channel apart from the black hole of events, where they are often still forced to hire badge scanners, use the organiser’s mobile app, go back to paper forms or dare I say it, the fishbowl for business cards.
The bridging of the physical and digital world is inevitable if not already here. GDPR and the spotlight increasingly on measuring and maximising event ROI is accelerating the need for businesses to be able to truly connect events with their existing marketing and sales ecosystems. This connectivity is where, I believe, technology has the greatest potential to revolutionise the B2B event space.
For event organisers, enabling exhibitors to leverage their existing marketing and CRM systems and augment the face-to-face interactions will ultimately transform both the exhibitor and attendee experience. Rather than enforcing exhibitors to pick up and put down different tools at every event, allowing them to utilise their own systems in conjunction with event registration and badging infrastructure is the future. The days of blindly scanning as many badges as possible, uploading a spreadsheet of generic contact information and optimistically sending out a vague or generic follow-up email 2 weeks afterwards are coming to an end.
Exhibitors and attendees alike now expect a more intelligent approach: the exhibitor wants to know if this visitor to their stand is a completely new opportunity; a current prospect in the pipeline; or an existing customer? The attendee meanwhile expects a more consumer-like experience, with a speedy, personalised and relevant follow-up based on their requirements.
With more than $500bn spent on B2B events across the world last year, it’s clear that the importance of face-to-face interactions isn’t diminishing. In fact, you could argue that the human aspect of sales at B2B events is only going to become more important as we increasingly rely on virtual communication during the rest of our working lives.
There can be no doubt that events will continue to play a key role in the wider B2B marketing mix, further strengthened by intelligent use of technology, connectivity and the leveraging of existing data. The result will be clearer, demonstrable ROI for both organisers and exhibitors alike, with a clear improved experience for all involved.