A question I have frequently been asked in 2020 is “why do businesses do events and can they live without them?”
This is something we spend a lot of time discussing with prospective and existing customers, especially when, during the pandemic, it has not been possible to organise in-person events.
While we’ve been sat at home during lockdown – watching The Crown and browsing the internet for our Granny’s Christmas present – what has become clear is that we all need, to a greater or lesser degree, human interaction. Whether that is a Zoom quiz with your friends or a FaceTime with family, we’ve all found new ways to stay in touch. But that is our personal life, I hear you say. But, I think it’s no different at work. Whether with our colleagues or customers, we want to stay connected, and events provide a channel through which to achieve this.
Typically, in the world of business, events have one of two target audiences – employees or customers. Every business the world over is laser-focussed on acquiring, growing and retaining one or both of these stakeholder sets. Events – whether in-person, virtual, or a mixture of both – offer a channel through which these objectives can be achieved. It is for this reason that, according to Forrester, in 2019 ‘23% of B2B marketing budgets were spent on events’ – demonstrating just how much emphasis businesses place on events to achieve these aims.
Revenue, or an associated metric, is important for most (if not all) businesses. In order to generate revenue you must acquire customers – events offer an important string to the revenue-generation bow of a business. At HeadBox we have a number of customers in the Financial Services sector and here we see events being consistently utilised for the acquisition of new customers whether it is an Investor Product Roadshow or a Breakfast Briefing for high net worth clients.
Financial services customers consistently seek to educate prospective customers about their products in a bid to secure their custom. Exhibitions and conferences are another example of larger-scale acquisition-focussed events – the Business Visits & Events Partnership (BVEP) recently published a report stating that these two event types make up ‘79% of the UK meeting & events industry spend per year’ (£31BN of an industry worth £39.2BN).
Given the context of 2020, we have seen a transition to virtual for many acquisition-focussed events. Personally, I have attended a number of conferences from The Meetings Show to the Institute of Travel Management, both of which were superbly organised. As a sponsor, I wonder if we secured the same exposure to potential buyers. It is often the conversations by the coffee stand or by the bar at the end of the day where you get to build relationships with prospective customers.
This is a point which has been discussed on the ”HeadBox Event Expert Research Panel”. The Procurement Director of a financial services firm emphasised the need to return to in-person events for “deal-making” events as it is hard to “build rapport and build trust” in virtual events. Whatever your view on virtual vs in-person, the importance of events to acquire customers is clear.
Growth is another metric which can be moved in the right direction by an effective meetings & events strategy. Learning & development is a huge part of an employee’s experience at work. According to Statista, companies spend an average of £1,299 per employee per year on training. This trend is evident in the booking patterns of HeadBox Business customers. In 2019, 32% of Event Bookings had “Learning & Development” as their primary objective. These ranged from Graduate Induction Weeks and Senior Management Training, through to Women in Leadership Programmes. The importance of L&D to businesses was highlighted further by the rapid pivot to virtual in 2020. We’ve helped our customers organise virtual L&D events for every tier of employee, from graduates to management and the executive layer. Training and growing your staff is clearly of vital importance and is something that would be significantly stymied without events.
Companies spend a lot of time and energy acquiring and growing their customers and their teams meaning that they are extremely motivated to retain these people for another subscription term or for the next stage of their career. Indeed, according to Forbes, it is 5x less expensive (and therefore 5x easier) to renew a customer than it is to acquire a new one.
In 2019 HeadBox Business customers booked 3450 private dining rooms, the ‘primary objective’ of 55% of these dinners was ‘customer retention’, while 14% were ’employee retention’ (the remainder, if you’re wondering, were for ‘customer acquisition’). These numbers paint a pretty clear picture: taking your customers out for lunch or dinner is a very effective way to retain existing relationships.
In 2020, private dining has gone virtual – we have organised private dining experiences across Europe for HeadBox Business customers, from Michelin Star Chef’s Table Experiences to Mexican Themed sombrero parties. Bain & Company research suggests that a 5% increase in customer retention can increase revenue by as much as 25% meaning that these long lunches and private dinners are money well spent!
Staff Parties are the next biggest event type when it comes to retention. Indeed, the Head of Events at one of the Big 5 media agencies told me last year that their Christmas and Summer parties were the centrepieces of their social calendar and are seen as one of the key reasons that graduates (up to 4 years in their role) stayed with the agency group. Having been lucky enough to experience one myself I can confirm that they were pretty good fun!
Events are Vital
Meetings and events have been very different in 2020 with the surge to virtual prompted by Covid-19. It is this surge which really demonstrates my point – events are vital to the health of businesses the world over. Hopin, the virtual event platform, has validated this by raising $125 on a valuation of $1.25BN there demonstrating that the number crunching west coast venture capital analysts see real value in events. And if it’s good enough for them then I’m not going to argue.
So, there you have it, the “why” is to acquire, grow and retain people and customers; and, put simply, no we couldn’t live without them.