Events are difficult and time-consuming to stage. They are also expensive, hard to scale and challenging to measure.
That said, events – whether your own company’s event, or a third-party show that your company exhibits at or sponsors – are surprisingly popular among principals of small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs). In fact, out of the 35 different sources of information we surveyed, events and trade shows rank fourth for learning about news products and services, conducting product research and making a purchase decision.
Given their importance, how can you make the most of live and online events to build awareness and acquire SMB customers?
To find out, we recently surveyed over 300 U.S. SMB principals. The results are instructive; there are some great learnings on what kinds of events SMBs attend, how often they attend them, how much SMBs value events, whose events they want to attend, and what SMBs want in events. There are also new learnings on who SMBs want to hear from at events; their preferred time of day and duration for events; and the effect on your brand perception, purchase intent and loyalty of providing live or online events.
The role of events in the sales cycle
We asked SMBs to rate 35 different sources of information they might use to first learn about, conduct research on, and then make a final purchase decision for products and services for their business. Out of all of those, SMBs rate events and trade shows fourth for awareness, research and making a purchase decision. The upshot? Events and trade shows can play a very important role in new customer acquisition.
Of all of the kinds of events we surveyed, SMBs are most likely to attend trade shows – 27% attend them “fairly often” or “a few times a year.” They are next most likely to attend industry-specific events (26%), local events not sponsored by a company (25%), and local in-person events sponsored by a company (12%).
The value of events
SMBs find trade shows to be most valuable, which explains why they are most likely to attend them. 70% of SMBs who’ve attended trade shows rate them valuable or very valuable – followed closely by industry-specific events (69%), webcasts sponsored by a company (65%), and local in-person events not sponsored by a company (64%).
Who SMBs want events from
SMBs are almost exactly evenly split in their preference for event formats, with 51% preferring live events and 49% preferring online events. However, their preference varies by the event sponsor. For example, SMBs prefer live events first and foremost from their CPA (30% are interested or very interested), followed by tech hardware companies (27%), and local tech solution providers and local / community banks (tied at 25%). SMBs prefer online events most from their CPA and office supply stores (tied at 30%), then tech hardware companies (29%) and software companies (27%).
In terms of presenters, SMBs strongly prefer their peers. 68% prefer another SMB principal as a presenter, followed by an independent subject matter expert (20%) and an executive from the sponsoring company (12%).
…and what SMBs want to learn at events
SMBs most want to learn about their industry at events. 58% are likely or very likely to attend an event focused on their industry, followed by events focusing on products and services for their business (44%), law and taxes (38%), and technology (33%).
In terms of what’s important about live events, it’s the topic. 55% rated that the first or second most important aspect of an event, followed by the location (41%), cost (36%), time of day (16%) and presenters (14%). The topic is also the most important aspect of online events – 69% rated that the first or second most important aspect. The presenter is next most important (29%), followed by the ability to ask questions of the presenter (27%), the time of day (21%) and length (20%).
When SMBs want to attend an event
Mid-to late-morning (9:30 to noon) is the most popular time for SMBs to attend an event. 37% of SMBs prefer that timing, followed by early morning (7am to 9:30am – 19%) and evening (5pm to 7:30pm – 18%).
The value of sponsoring events
What is the benefit of having events in your marketing mix? Brand perception, acquisition and retention. 64% of SMBs feel more positively towards companies that offer or sponsor events, 55% are more likely to do business with those companies, and 60% are more likely to remain customers of those companies.