The Big Event Podcast: What Event Tech can learn from MarTech

In recent years, marketing technology has undergone phenomenal growth. There have been incredible advancements when you consider how technologies including CRM, marketing automation, conversational marketing and demand orchestration have developed over time.

But events, and technology built for use at events, have been left behind.

In this podcast, Stefan and Chris from Akkroo discuss crucial trends and transformations that we’re seeing now in MarTech, and what event technology providers can learn from the world of marketing technology.

In this episode we cover:

  • The contrast between sophisticated MarTech and technology used at events
  • Trends in MarTech that could transfer well to the world of Event Tech
  • How technology can really bring value to event attendees, exhibitors and organisers, beyond the gimmicks.

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No time to listen? Read the transcript

Stefan – Chris, welcome back to the Big Event Podcast. 

Chris –  Good to be back.

Stefan – Good stuff, for people who don’t know who you are, or didn’t check out the last podcast you were on, could you tell them what you do here at Akkroo? 

Chris – Yep, sure, my name’s Chris Wickson, I’m the CEO and co-founder here at Akkroo. 

Stefan – Excellent, all right. Well what I wanted to talk about today, this is off the back of a presentation you did last year, Event Tech Live I think it was the first time you talked about it, and that was kind of looking at what event exhibitors can learn from the growth of marketing technology. 

Chris – Yeah. 

Stefan –  So, yeah, it’s a relevant subject. Do you wanna talk a bit more around that, and why it’s relevant to exhibitors, trade shows?

Chris – Yeah sure, yeah, so the theme of that presentation which we ought to talk more about this morning, really, if you think about what’s going on in marketing technology in the wider landscape, and I’m mainly talking about B2B MarTech here. There’s incredible advancements in the last decade if you think about what’s going on in the world of CRM, marketing automation, conversational marketing, demand orchestration, these really hot topics in MarTech, and then events, for us, we feel like they’re an incredibly important part of that marketing funnel. They’ve still really been left out in the cold when it comes to everything else that’s going on in MarTech, and that was the theme of the presentation. 

Stefan –  Yeah I mean, I think last year definitely, any conference you go to about marketing, that MarTech landscape slide would come up.

Chris – Yeah.

Stefan –  The MarTech 5,000 that wasn’t actually 5,000, it was more like six or seven thousand pieces of technology, yeah, so a vast landscape of tools. 

Chris – Yeah, that’s it, there are literally thousands of solutions available to marketers now, just within the B2B space alone. And I think some of the trends that are happening I think it’s unfair or it’s not right to say that there’s major consolidation going on. You know I don’t think that any one player is going to be able to pull all of this together. But what I do think we’re seeing going on is this whole platformization, Scott Brinker’s written about this, the idea that platformization of MarTech, so this idea that a small number of major players are creating these vast horizontal platforms that span all areas of marketing technology. And then through APIs, integrations, connectivity, are enabling this whole ecosystem of other suppliers to fit in and really specialize on solving specific problems, and I think that’s where this trend, where the landscape is going. Where it’s allowed for this massive explosion and literally thousands of providers who are all solving lots of specific problems down the B2B marketing pipeline funnel.

Stefan –  Yeah, totally agree, and I suppose if you look at all those categories of solutions and the advancements there, and how quickly they’re moving forwards, if we then compare that to the exhibition space, the events industry, doesn’t feel like there’s the same sort of moving forwards. Can you talk a bit more about that? 

Chris – Yeah definitely, and I think that’s something that we really feel strongly here from speaking to our customers at Akkroo. Yeah, like I said earlier, no one can deny the power of events, they are incredibly important, strategic parts of any big B2B marketing strategy. I think maybe 10 years ago people thought, maybe longer than that, 15 years ago, perhaps people thought that virtual events will replace the face to face event, and people will do it all online, but that’s just not the case. And if you look at the stats and the data, the events industries continues to grow. And that’s because people fundamentally are humans and like to interact with each other, look each other in the eye, shake hands, have conversations. You can’t beat that, so there’s no denying events play a massively strategic role. However, when it comes to technology, you know we feel that all the advancements in event tech, and there have been a lot. You know there’s some real cool stuff going on, but they’re all really on an event by event basis and ultimately for the benefit of the organiser. And I think all the companies we work with and who we speak to, the exhibitors, they’re often left bottom of the pile. If you’re a company that does 200 events at every single one of those shows you have to go and use a different system for the number one reason you’re there, which is lead capture, for meeting people, for gathering those contacts and those leads. And that’s when we get into the world of badge scanners, of business cards, the paper forms, and this massive disconnect between all the real cool stuff that’s going on in marketing technology back at HQ and then you step out of that to go to your shows. Which you might be spending tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars on, over the course of the year. 

Stefan –  Yeah definitely, you know talking about lead retrieval specifically, I posted something on LinkedIn, I dunno why I did it. But I searched on Google for a badge scanner. I did a timed search, and I looked early 2000s and found a lead retrieval scanner brochure. And nothing has changed since then. So there’s an argument for, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, however if you look at, you couldn’t have that mentality with other marketing channels to succeed against your competitors and get that performance. You need to move forwards, so yeah I mean.

Chris – Yeah, as you say, it surprises me daily that the status quo is still to hire a bit of hardware for two, three, four, five hundred pounds, or you know, in some events there is a mobile app, which you can do some customization with. And it does take it a step forward. But again it’s all isolated to that individual show. And the output of scanning, of using an app, is a spreadsheet, that someone, some poor person in marketing invariably, a week or two later after the show has to wade through a spreadsheet. And this is where if you really start to peel back the layers, the problems here, if we just take badge scanners alone, stand alone scanners, they are, there’s so many flaws with this approach to, it is glorified contact gathering. It’s, you know, someone comes over to your booth, it might be a procurement, you know VP procurement, ready to buy in a tender process, might have a 30 minute conversation with one of your reps and at the end of it, she scans the badge. Five minutes later a post-graduate student comes over who’s doing some research, has a two minute conversation, picks up a free pen, she scans the badge. A week later, someone’s downloaded a CSV file out the system, is looking at rows on the spreadsheet. There’s no context of the conversations, no next-steps, and what invariably happens, they get slung into a marketing database. A generic email gets sent out, and hope for the best. And you just think it’s 2019 now. This just really is not good enough. And I love what Drift are doing in the online space. And I think there’s a lot of similarities that they, you know no two visitors see the website the same. So why treat them all the same? And the same should be applied for visitors to the booth, no two visitors to the booth are the same so why would you just simply scan their badge and then send out an email and hope for the best? And the knock-on effect to that is, we know people invest huge amounts of money in events, we know they’re invaluable. And they are great opportunities to generate leads, and move along, move people down the pipeline. But again, let’s keep coming back to this big disconnect. The problems are there, there’s that gulf between marketing automation, CRM, and what ultimately ends up just being a generic spreadsheet that everyone else in the whole has probably got from the badge scanners, if the data is correct, which is another pain point, which probably for another podcast! But the amount of inaccurate data we see from badge scanning, because you’re wholly relying on the organiser to have collected good data, three, four, five, six months in advance, forcing that attendee to fill in eight pages of registration forms. I could talk a lot about this.

Stefan –  Yeah well, like I said, next podcast definitely. You said about pipeline there, so let’s talk about the importance of exhibiting. Where would you say it fits in the traditional sales funnel? 

Chris – Yeah sure, so I think it’d be fair to say events are primarily a top of the funnel activity, if you think your across the top of the funnel lead generation tactics, you’ve got what the online activity do, PPC, content syndication, ABM, programmatic campaigns, and webinars you can put into there. And then events, face to face events, is a massive slice of that top of funnel activity. That then obviously allows you to get I think if we think about the value of events that by meeting somebody face to face, by having a conversation, by qualifying them, by really doing that, having that conversation, you can fast-track people down the funnel if you’ve got the right setup and you’re equipped to do that. 

Stefan –  Yeah definitely, no agree, and event qualified lead is a term that we use when we go to trade shows to exhibit.

Chris – That’s it.

Stefan –  Again, it’s that face to face thing, isn’t it? Usually people are coming to your website, they’re filling out a form, they’re downloading a piece of content, we’re starting to collect information about them, but you can totally fast-track that. If you’re, like there’s chatting and, you know people have taken time out of their day to come to a trade show, perhaps if it’s a conference perhaps they’ve invested in a ticket, these things aren’t cheap. Why wouldn’t you talk to them, and why wouldn’t you collect context about that conversation?

Chris – And I think they can have that focus on event qualified leads, it’s a mindset shift. You know we’re really trying to help companies we work with to move away from vanity metrics, of we scan this many badges, or we’ve got this many leads, they’re not leads, it’s just, again, we use the similarity to the web. In B2B, you’re not hearing people talking about volume or traffic to their website. Again, it’s just a vanity metric. It’s about conversion, it’s about how many leads your website is generating, and the same goes for the trade show, it’s not about how many people wandered past and you’ve managed to scan their badge, it’s about how many good conversations took place with action, with context with next steps, and how many of those then get into your pipeline and you’re able to progress with.

Stefan –  Yeah, so there’s a good slide in that presentation. That I remember seeing a lot of people nodding at. When you delivered it, which was, what does the whole event process look like typically today for exhibitors, because people listening to this podcast, perhaps they’re involved in parts of it. Perhaps they’re like me, involved in all of it. And it was you know, starting off with the multiple events, and then the different stages, do you wanna talk some more about that? 

Chris – Yeah sure, so, yeah again, if we take a business that does 20, 50 shows a year, so a big business, takes events seriously. Might be a company doing 100 events a year. The reality is, today, if you’re doing it the way it’s always been done, is that at every one of those shows, big or small, there will be a different approach to lead capture. It’ll be, it might be somewhere where it’s a really slick app, it’s RFID, it’s a really nice experience to some customization there, the next show, later that week, you might be back to business cards. Show after that, you’re back to hiring badge scanners and aside from the GDPR aspects of that, which we’ll not necessarily get into today, again the output is always, eventually, somewhere, down the line, whether it’s the next day, a week later, two weeks later is a spreadsheet. As I said earlier, someone in marketing is then gonna work through the spreadsheet, chase up sales reps, write any notes, have they got all the business cards, who’s doing the follow ups what are the next steps, and invariably we know this happens, a big chunk of those leads never see the light of day, they never make it into, never even get a generic email follow-up. So there’s a big drop off there, just because there’s poor data collected by the registration company months before. No next steps, no context, completely irrelevant people that just had their badge scanned because they stopped by the booth. And as I say, what ends up happening the spreadsheet gets dumped into marketing automation. A generic email goes out a week or two later, and then it’s kind of hope for the best, and to say it’s the fact that this is still going on today, it staggers me. But it’s the reality and obviously that’s something we’re trying really hard to change. So and then the impact of that, if you really zoom out, the drop off each stage is big and it’s costing companies money. They are spending a lot of money to exhibit, and they’re leaving money on the show floor because of these methods. 

Stefan –  Yeah, I totally agree. You know, people’s inboxes are noisy. And sure, if you send out a generic newsletter, you’re expecting there to be no personalization, perhaps there’s some content in there segmented for you as a subscriber. But really, if I’m chatting you to on a stand for a half hour, 45 minutes about some very specific goals, I’ve asked you some very specific questions about your products or service, I’m going to expect something back that I can use. just a, thanks for visiting us – I get that, you probably got a thanks when we spoke on the stand.

Chris – Yeah, I’ll just add on to that. You know, I think as the kind of, gap between the B2B expectation, and the B2B expectation as people, as humans, as attendees of the event, expectations are going up as to your experience and what that should be, and I just think if you think about the forward thinking business, who where we have a great conversation at the stand and at the booth, you know by the time I’ve walked away from the stands, I’ve already got an email from you. Just to keep warm you know, hey Chris, great to chat with you today, here’s the collateral we spoke about, here’s the information, and I’m gonna be following up with you tomorrow, early next week as agreed, and then that actually happens. That person gets a follow up email, with context, with the right information about the right topics, that is just a vastly different experience to two weeks later a generic, blanket email going out. And when you think about conversion rates, which lead are you more likely to progress with, which one are you most likely to have a next conversation with and move down the funnel? It’s pretty obvious.

Stefan –  Yeah, I’m conscious that all of these are our point of view, so there was some research in your presentation as well, so perhaps it would be good to delve into that and talk some numbers about, put this all in context really. So the first one was UFI and Explori, let’s talk some more about their report. 

Chris – Yeah sure, well they’ve done two big surveys. One last year was the global exhibitor insight survey, and then this, sorry, I’m a year out. So 2017 they the exhibitor survey, and last year they did the global visitor survey. They’re, I believe they’re the biggest surveys ever done in the events industry to date. And I guess there’s lots of great stuff in there, so I recommend people to go and check it out. But some of the things that were really interesting around this topic were, the top two exhibitor objectives globally are, as you’d expect, generating leads, generating potential new clients, yet the actual results of that were that they were the two lowest scored in terms of objectives that are met, so number one objectives, generate new leads and potential new clients, and then of those objectives, which ones get met, and they were the lowest scored. And that has to be a problem, and I put it down to obviously, there’s lots of variables in there, but ultimately, if you’re not actually capturing the right information, in the right way and then following up with those that is a problem, and unfortunately that is the reality. And then in the visitor insight survey, again lots of great data in there, but one in particular, I think there was a question around some of the frustrations that visitors experience. And one of the top ones in there was lack of follow up, or poor follow up, or delayed follow up, just like those problems we were talking about, so from an attendee experience. I’ve been at shows where I’ve had a great conversation with someone I’m genuinely interested in knowing more about, and never hear back from them.

Stefan –  It’s frustrating. 

Chris – Yeah and that’s happening day in, day out, across the world unfortunately. 

Stefan –  Yeah, and there was another, again, great numbers, Harvard business review. Some research there, event marketing evolution.

Chris – Yep. 

Stefan –  30% of global marketing on events. 

Chris – For a lot of companies we work with, it’s more than that, it’s more like 50, 60% but yeah. We know this is an area of massive, massive investment. And I think the, there are stats that came out of that. Over half of the senior marketing execs, in the kind of enterprise they surveyed, said that event marketing drives more business value than any other channel that they do. Yet crucially, I think it was less than a 1/4, yeah 23% stated they were able to actually calculate event ROI, so over three quarters, more than 75% of businesses are spending huge amounts on events but yet are not able to really see the results. Not able to measure any kind of attribution of events to bottom of funnel activity, and again in 2019 that should not be the case. 

Stefan –  It’s scary. 

Chris – Yeah.

Stefan –  I think, so, because we just hired an events manager to specifically look at exhibiting, and us going to trade shows around the world, and there’s budgets involved there. We need to get people to that trade show, we need to have a stand, we need to you know, collateral, everything that’s involved with an event, but to protect that budget, you have to be able to report results, so you can’t have them coming to you going, so this was our Q1 event plan, this is where we went, and you, of course the CEO are gonna wanna know, well, what’s the outcome of that? and if you can’t come back with figures, you can’t protect that budget.

Chris – Exactly, and this is where, like I said again, events are still stuck behind, if you think, I dunno, maybe 20 years ago maybe longer, yeah lots of print display advertising, you know you spend huge amounts of money on these kinds of advertising channels. Where it was really hard to measure any impact or result, you knew it was important, in branding, getting the message out there, but it was really hard to actually measure back from that. 

Stefan –  Yeah.

Chris – Whereas, if you think in today’s world, on digital, you know every Mike in our team, who manages those campaigns. You know every single pound, every single dollar he’s spending, in any kind of online advertising aspect he can tell me to the penny, what the result of that has been, eyeballs, clicks, conversion, and we can then look, with the sales team we can really look at the impact on the pipeline. Show me how many opportunities are being generated. And we, and our customers and forward thinking businesses have to be able to do this with events. You know I think for a lot of companies they struggle with that, they spend 20 million dollars on exhibiting, plus all the associated costs with sending reps out and hotels, travel, yet really struggle to actually pin down those numbers. Again, which is a problem we’re solving. And it was great actually, at the end of last year we were doing quite a lot of reviews with our customers as they came off the back of busy event seasons and so you actually see and hear from our customers who are now able to kind of, for the first time ever, we spent 300K on this major show six months ago and I can tell you we captured 500 leads at that show, of those 500, I can tell you 250 were event qualified leads, they went into our CRM, they’ve gone on to become opportunities, I can see that of those 250, 150 are still being worked by sales in the pipeline and there’s values associated with them. And I can see that 150 of them have now become customers and that’s the spend, and I can actually attribute bottom of funnel revenue back to that top of funnel activity like they can do with every other channel, and that has to be the holy grail, and then when they’re looking at planning their 2019, 2020 event schedule, budgets, yeah, next year we’re doing that event again, we’re gonna spend more, we want the headline space there it was a great show, this event over here, wasn’t a great show for us, we can see by the numbers maybe we downsize our stand, maybe we don’t go at all. You know given that quantitative data to the marketers when they’re making those decisions. Again, it’s something we’ve not necessarily had before.

Stefan –  Yeah and we’ve done exactly the same recently with our quarterlies, very recently and we reported back on, we did kind of a wrap up of 2018, but Q4 events. It was really good to just go, and these are the figures. And because every other channel we reported on was exactly the same, so we can report across everything. So that’s how it should be. 

Chris – Totally, and then when you throw into that all the great stuff about events. The kind of branding experience, just the networking with industry peers, the information gathering, seeing what’s out there, again, people know events are incredibly important, it’s just time to prove it for me. 

Stefan –  Yeah definitely, and maybe a good way to wrap this podcast up then, so you go to an overview example of, how our customers are succeeding with events, so you know, can you kind of delve into that a little bit? Because at the end of your presentation there’s some kind of key take-aways for those people. 

Chris – Yeah sure, so I think the main thing that we’re really seeing, and really trying to help our customers with now is that, revenue acceleration, events need to be seen. They’re a really powerful marketing channel as we talked about, and if you do them well, ultimately they will accelerate revenue, they will help grow your business. And why is that, well by using Akkroo or a platform like Akkroo, I think you can in a smart way, in a modern way about lead capture by gathering better, higher quality information on the show floor, accurate contact details, by gathering context of that conversation, the qualifying questions, are they a buyer are they ready to go are they in the tender process, what are they interested in, by capturing all of these at the point of conversation, and then with next steps what should happen with this lead? Getting that lead into the right place, so into your marketing information systems, into your demand orchestration systems, this person, we just had a, you know they’re just kind of doing some research, great, send ’em off to Marketo, this person here is ready to go, get them into SalesForce, create an opportunity, by doing all that quickly, and then following up appropriately, you know within a two, three working days of the show, conversion rates will increase. And when you’re talking about in the B2B space, when it may be multi million dollar deals, you know a small percentage increase in conversion at each of those stages down the pipeline it makes a massive difference at the bottom of the funnel. So we’re really seeing that our most successful customers think about events and lead capture in this way now, they are revenue accelerating activities. And then the by-products of that, as we just talked about the kind of ROI piece, the fact you’ve got data to prove that out, so yeah, what we’re seeing now, when we’re thinking about companies and their approach to exhibiting, and also organisers, you know I think organisers have got a big role to play here, they’ve gotta equip exhibitors to have successful shows. And sadly I think in some cases, they don’t often do that. So I think exhibitors, sorry, organisers need to be embracing the fact that companies are gonna wanna bring their own solutions to shows they’re going to want to really try and connect marketing automations into their exhibiting plans, so there’s a role for organisers to play in recognising that the tide is turning, there is a change going on. People are seeing this disconnect and they wanna close the gap, we’re certainly feeling that, and pushing that, so yeah I think from an organiser perspective and then just from the exhibitor themselves, having that mindset that events are not just a kind of branding exercise and a few days out the office to go and hand out some free stash. It’s much more powerful from that, and it should be viewed that way.

Stefan – I agree, and I don’t think I could top that. What you just said is sound advice. Well look, unless there’s anything else you wanted to talk about, I think we can wrap it up there. Presentation available online, I will include a link in the show notes so you can go and download that. And yeah, thanks. 

Chris – And we’ll do that, we’ll do a podcast on badge scanning, the pitfalls of lead retrieval and badge scanning, that can be our next one.

Stefan – Cool, well thanks for coming on, Chris. 

Chris – Cheers Stefan. 

Stefan – See you next time, cool.

This podcast was inspired by Chris’ talk at Event Tech Live in 2018. Watch a recording of that talk below. Thanks to Event Tech Live and First Sight Media for recording this and all the other talks during the event.