40 Days and 40 Nights Without Events: How One Event Marketer Did It

After a long weekend watching people virtually celebrate with even more banana bread baking and Tiger King meme-making, it dawned on me that I had given something up for lent without even realizing it. My last event was on February 27, 2020—putting me past the coveted 40 days and 40 nights rule.

If you’d have asked me what I planned to give up for lent this year, a core part of my job would not have been my answer. But here we are! (My other vices are actually pretty pleased that they didn’t have to be eradicated this season, they sighed with relief I’m sure).

As a matter of fact, I received my very first ‘we’re cancelled’ email while in New York (away from my HQ in San Francisco) where I’d planned to be taking part in a customer-focused event. Talk about timing? Things moved at lightning speed from there, and each day has been a lesson since.

If you’re like me, events used to dominate your demand gen calendar. We were zooming into a packed finish to Q1 and planning for a similar Q2. Like most marketers, I was facing a pretty large program gap, yet still had lofty demand goals. Here are a few of the lessons I learned while trying to fill the void:

Lesson #1: Dig into the fine print and come up with a Plan B

Like many of you, I’m sure you spent quite a few sleepless nights combing through event contracts and waiting for a Plan B. You carved out the space for these events in your marketing plan, and you knew you’d need to backfill some of this demand to hit your quarterly targets and keep a happy relationship with your sales team, not to mention reaching your audience and helping educate them on the topics and solutions they were looking forward to by registering for the  event in the first place).

Before knowing what I could or couldn’t achieve, take an inventory of the work you’ve already done and then you can start brainstorming new ways to reach your audience in the way you need. Here’s what we did:

Lesson #2: What partners can you leverage?

Sure. During the event, you may side-eye the other booths, smugly joke about their cliche swag and try to figure out who has more booth scans. But now those folks in the (canceled) booth across the way are in the same boat and trying to reach a similar audience. Partners and co-marketing have and always been an integral part of any marketing strategy. Events are expensive so having a partner to split costs and demand goals was always an added plus. Band together and you could actually end up better off than had the event gone as planned. 

Approach partners to create co-marketing opportunities targeting common audiences

  • While we’re generally not fans of co-opting leads,. divide and conquer by combining lists from years past for a joint mailing to a broader list. 
  • Co-marketing campaigns could be webinars highlighting learnings or customers with topics similar to those that would have been covered by the cancelled event
  • Reallocate budget and hire an industry expert as your own ‘keynote speaker’ or orchestrate some other virtual event.

For trusted partners. Go Bold. 

  • Temporarily put a pixel on each others’ sites and expand your retargeting campaigns to target their customers as well. 
  • Select several partners for an ‘event in a box’ experience. Joint efforts and mailing not only help mitigate costs but create a better overall experience for the prospects.
  • Sponsor a few virtual events to stay top of mind 
  • Press Releases are not out of the picture
  • Writing a lot of content these days to make up the gap? Rely on partners for bylines and quotes

Lesson #3: Get your sh*t together aka get ready to project manage like a pro (Asana, Wrike, you name it)

This isn’t so much a set of expert tips on project management, but more so an ‘I see  you’ to all my fellow event marketers gone digital. If you were an event marketer a couple weeks ago and now webinars fall into your lap, you’re likely struggling with the adjustment because guess what? Virtual events are a whole new beast. Beyond getting up to speed on the tech specs (highly recommend getting to know your customer success manager for whichever platform you use), you’ll need to make sure you have all your ducks in a row.

If you’ve figured out how to juggle virtual events with little stress, I applaud you. For me, the saving grace has been the following:

  • Evaluate all of  your contracts and committed due dates ASAP to establish what you are required to deliver to vendors or partners 
  • Take these dates and plug them into Asana or whatever project management tool you have (that could be a spreadsheet, we know some tech stacks are getting lighter)
  • Hold a kick-off meeting to go over strategy, goals, and expected deliverables with all stakeholders to get clear of vision and execution
  • Hold special 10 minute weekly ‘stand-ups’ for bigger projects to check in on progress and blockers 
  • Re-purpose, re-purpose, re-purpose. You’re not the only one who’s feeling overwhelmed by a full calendar, your creative team is, too. Try to make their lives easier by seeing every opportunity for re-using content (can that abstract title shift and bullet points refreshed? can that ad be re-used with just a copy change?)

Lesson #4: Lean into your digital marketer, you’ll need their help reaching the right audience at the right time

While you can put together an amazing virtual experience, how are you getting people there? You used to count on event hosts to bring in a certain number of attendees (plus your go-to in-house promotion). Now that you are likely running your programs solo or with partners, band together to leverage your databases. 

Beyond that, this is a time you’ll want more than just your known buyers in CRM; you’ll need data partners to ‘meet’ new people you won’t have the chance to see at events. Make sure you’re getting the most out of your MarTech by expanding beyond just your marketing automation database; find ways to ‘pre-target’ high-fit accounts or buyers across digital. (We do this in-house with our own RollWorks and Marketo integration.)

Our team has seen positive trends that with more people spending time online, digital advertising inventory is going up and costs are going down. This is where it’s critical to evaluate your digital partner. With our workforce’s shift to WFH, your audience is now not reachable by IP alone. If your digital spend is being sent to empty desks, reevaluate and be sure to find a partner that is capable of targeting individual buyers, across devices, and comfortably at home. 

With the right targeting, a handful of our top customers have even seen improved CTR and CPA, meaning they’re finding the right people to take the right action despite the drop-off of in-person events. 

Lesson #5: Customers should still be your main focus during virtual events — how can you help them help you? 

More than ever, customer retention should be a top priority. While your marketing budget and time resources may have previously been 90% acquisition and 10% customer retention, you’ll likely need to reframe this mix. 

But how do you engage with customers in light of lower budgets and economic worries? 

  • Remember to engage with your customer success team to build out extra support for customers dealing with budget cuts or shifting strategies; you’ll want to meet them where they’re at, consider hosting more ‘how-to’ advisory webinars to make sure customers get the most value out of under-utilized features.
  • Work closely with your CSM team to monitor product usage stats and spot areas to develop campaigns to drive value (get your top list of under-using customers and set up a targeted ad campaign toward helpful resources or landing pages with special messaging/offers).
  • Move away from more lofty case studies and toward real, vulnerable blog or video content on how your community is overcoming the economic downturn.
  • Identify underutilized features or use cases that customers might benefit from in the here and now and educate them on the uses. 

Lesson #6: We’re proving marketing and sales alignment can’t just be a buzzword 

As account-based marketers, we are all too familiar with the buzz around marketing and sales alignment. The truth is, we need to be speaking the same language more than ever and stay ahead of the curve. This means anything that’s ‘monthly’ to check on pipeline or success of programs isn’t really cutting it anymore. Our market is volatile and what people respond to well seems to change by the week. We are having more cross-team check-ins than ever before, both looking at the same dashboards and the same metrics to drive shifts in our approach.

Here are just a few of the things we’ve done:

  • Work with SDR leadership to pause pre-COVID messaging and create more thoughtful, solution-forward messaging that doesn’t make us ambulance chasers
  • Develop more on-topic content offers that don’t just gloss over shifting channels and budgets in the face of recent events, making sure our sales team is geared up and ready to talk through what matters most, right now 
  • Get creative about ‘gone dark’ deals and see if  you can re-engage them outside of your typical ABM outbound (if you can’t leverage dinners or drinks, how about an UberEats gift card w/ a note to spend it at their favorite local spot?)

What’s Next?

While it feels like we ‘lost’ events, I can say for most marketing teams that we had to gain a sense of creativity and resourcefulness that brought our community together. My guess is most of you faced similar learning curves and are still trying to pave the path forward. We’d love to know what you did, how you pivoted, and of course, how we can look into the future to help our customers do their best in the face of a new reality. Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn or join our conversation on social #FillTheDemandGap.

About the Author

Katie Dunn, Demand Generation Manager

An event and demand gen marketing guru who drives all things demand at RollWorks.

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