When It Comes to Events, Define Your Purpose and ROI First

I get invited to a lot of events. Without exaggeration, I entertain a couple of invitations a day. Some are as simple as breakfast or coffee. Some are labeled as fun – like a ball game. Some are conferences, panels, tradeshows, kickoffs, lunch and learns – you name it. If I accepted every offer, I could easily have an apartment in Las Vegas and another in New Orleans that I spent more time in than my home in Atlanta.

Events are an important part of a complete marketing strategy and can be a great way to connect with your customers and engage with new prospects.

In fact, with a simple Google search, you can find several surveys that show more than 65 percent of B2B marketers consider event marketing an important and effective part of their marketing strategy. You will also see that events typically account for roughly 20 percent of a B2B marketer’s budget.

Judging from my inbox, that 20 percent is going a long way. Maybe too long. I often see that the invitations, and even the events themselves, are not well thought out, planned, and executed. They are treated as a means to an end rather than a part of a larger effort. For an event to be effective, you need to consider two things: purpose and return on investment (ROI).


To plan and execute a great event, you need to first ask yourself, “What is the purpose of the event?” and “How will I engage, attract and close, and follow-up with my audience around that purpose?” In my experience, events fall in one of two main purposes:

  1. Education and brand awareness
  2. Lead generation

The easiest example of an educational event is a user conference. We are in the final stretch of planning and hosting our annual user conference this month and it is all about education. All of the attendees are current customers. They are coming to learn from our team, outside experts, and each other. Our user conference is not a selling event – it’s entirely about education.

We do believe, however, that well-educated, successful customers will tell their peers about us. With that logic, every event is a lead generation event, but a user conference is about education and customer success before lead generation.

Trade shows are lead generation events. While they also serve as awareness events, the primary purpose is to generate leads – companies pay attendance fees, trick their booths out with branding, and fly across the country to meet and court prospects.

Decide on the purpose of your event and carry it through from start to finish.

If your event’s purpose is education, from invitation through the event itself and follow-up nurturing, focus on educating your customer. Don’t clutter or confuse education events with hard-core sales pitches. Sales will come as your customers and prospects learn how your company will add value to their businesses.

If the purpose is lead generation, treat the event like any other lead generation activity – have a process for filtering and qualifying leads and moving them through the funnel at pace, which may mean right at the event. Have a nurture plan for follow-up that is germane to the event. Have a call to action and always, always measure ROI.


As you plan your event, remember, even free events are not free. Consider the opportunity cost of the attendee’s time – the higher the title, then the larger that cost, and the harder the decision. There are two types of ROI for an event:

  1. The attendees’ ROI
  2. Your ROI

Attendance is the biggest challenge, getting people to show up and minimizing no-shows. Once, you know your purpose, you can define your target audience and work to attract them. From here it is about ROI. The key questions you need to ask are, “What is the ROI for the attendee?” and “What is our desired ROI?”

I was recently invited to an Atlanta Falcons game. The invitation came from a company I am interested in learning more about and a sales person who has worked hard to earn my trust. The invitation was for a Thursday night game in a private box. It was billed as an educational event – come and network with other customers and prospects, enjoy the game, and learn a bit more about our solutions and company.

Further, the event was billed as free. And there is the rub. Free is a powerful word.

While the event – the game, the food, the drinks, etc. – wouldn’t cost me a thing, the event would cost me an evening of my time. Four-plus hours I could be spending on my business, with my team, or with my family (in this particular case, the opportunity cost is another event in New Orleans – crazy).

Free isn’t free – for you or your attendee. Work first to understand what it will mean (cost) to appeal to an ROI that is meaningful to your target audience. Then assess if delivering on that ROI for your target aligns with delivering the ROI you are looking for. If yes – great. If no – the event will not be successful. With each invitation I receive, I consider the ROI of the event as I make my decision. With each event we plan we consider the ROI of the target attendee. ROI for me comes in the forms of time and money. “Is this event the best way for me to spend my time and money?”

As you attend events and plan your own, take the time to define your purpose and calculate the ROI for your attendees and your company. Don’t turn your customer event into a three-day sales pitch and don’t plan a networking event on a night no one is available. Knowing your purpose and target ROI for you and your attendee first will help all of your other event questions and decisions fall into place.

Image via Shutterstock.

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