Learn how Deborah Holton from ASME overcame the obstacles presented by the new event space including lessons learned regarding customer success along with her version for hybrid in 2021.
Picking a platform and mimicking an in-person experience is not the equation for success. Many event organizers have learned the hard way that it is not only ill advised to try to recreate an in-person experience, but that attendees and sponsors alike need training and guidance to ensure they know how to leverage the experience to extract value, build relationships, and gain knowledge and insight. With over five online events completed, from very large to small and intimate, paid and free attendance, Deborah Holton, Managing Director Industry Events at ASME, has learned many lessons regarding customer success.
During our Virtual Shake-Up 2.0 event, H2K Founder Heather Holst-Knudsen spoke with Deborah about her vision for hybrid in 2021 and the essential components that allowed her team to overcome various obstacles in 2020. Read below to learn some of the major takeaways from their discussion.
Key Learning 1: Use Content to Drive Connection
Not every event attendee is the type of person who is eager to meet dozens of new people, especially in a virtual environment. However, most are excited and motivated to learn more about the event topic. Therefore, it is important to align your content to best drive connections and facilitate conversations among your attendees.
One technique Deborah and her team have used with their audience of engineers is redirecting to a chat area once the session ends. Doing so enables attendees to ask the speaker questions and engage with them after the session and has proved to be extremely powerful in terms of keeping the conversation going and encouraging attendee questions. Another technique ASME has utilized is introducing Tech Talks in smaller face to face Zoom rooms. Instead of having sponsors present formal decks and then field audience questions (as if it were a sales pitch), they instead created more meaningful presentations to not only deliver knowledge to the audience but also to cater specifically to their prospects’ needs.
Key Learning 2: Create a Customer Success Strategy
In a virtual environment, it has become even more important to have a customer success team and strategy. This strengthens not only the relationships with your customers but also your partnerships with your sponsors. When your sponsors and customers feel that they are a part of the decision making process as well as your journey as a company, their trust and loyalty will only continue to grow.
When ASME introduced their customer success team, they were responsible for onboarding all of their sponsors and walking them through one-on-one exactly what they were planning in terms of virtual events, even before they were announced. They began with a town hall with all of their sponsors and potential future customers together. In that session, they spoke about everything from what parts of the event were successful to what needed to be fixed in the future. After each event, ASME conducted these town halls and received great feedback from both customers and clients. This strategy became so successful that their customers began asking for other ways to get involved.
Key Learning 3: Consider Hybrid Events as an Extension of In-Person
Initially, when events switched to online, event organizers were merely selling the event. Now with a better understanding of the virtual space, event organizers are selling a constant contact type campaign, which is a holistic approach versus just selling the one off event. In 2021, hybrid events will be more and more prominent as in-person events become available. However, it will not merely be a virtual event setup that is in a physical event space. There is not going to be a meeting on the screen for all the in-person attendees to view during the event.
Instead, hybrid events should be treated as an extension of an in-person event. This means selling an entire event ecosystem that includes not only virtual events, but also newsletters, webinar products, customer research, and other different opportunities -- all of which can create long-lasting customer relationships. Doing so gives you the opportunity to broaden your audience and extend your reach. Instead of the usual two to three day long events, you have the ability to go beyond that and extend into the full year. Maximize the potential with your platform and use it to connect with and create ongoing engagement with your audience. Event attendees are tired of event organizers continuously trying to persuade them to come to their event. Instead, create a long term relationship that provides value all the time to your customers.
Additional Highlights From Deborah Holton’s Session:
Question: How do you balance bringing your constituents into the planning process without making them feel like they’re doing too much work?
Answer: We’ve been doing a lot of post-event research, looking at NPS scores, and going out to the audience and asking them what they thought of the event. As we get feedback from our audience and sponsors, we come to them with potential solutions and ask if those are acceptable to them. In a very quick iterative loop, we say “hey, this is what we are thinking of doing.” In the virtual world, a lot of these things don’t require renting out rooms or ordering coffee. You can put out ideas to your audience to see what flies or what doesn’t fly. That’s part of the way without making them feel the burden.
Question: How do you handle employee fatigue in delivering virtual events at a short cycle?
Answer: We focus on team camaraderie, especially because some folks are relatively new and haven’t met one another in person. Some things we’ve done as an organization are virtual happy hours and trivia days. We like to try out different things to introduce new team members to the group and keep our employees feeling positive so the stress doesn’t get to them. We try to give folks what they need in terms of tools and also encourage them by saying that things happen and we’re all learning and improving. It has worked well.
Question: Would you say the COVID situation allowed you to become a thought leader to the customer base you serve? How do you plan to carry that momentum on in 2021?
Answer: The idea that everything went on hold gave us the opportunity to tool up for a different reality. While we were able to come in and become first to market, we continued to evolve over time and were honest with ourselves and our customers with things that didn’t work. We’re going to continue to evolve. I don’t think we’re at the end of this innovation curve nor the end of this new way of working. Our goal was always to build a community. This additive manufacturing community specifically was a group that responded to the COVID pandemic with resources, engineering expertise, and production. As an industry organization, we were able to connect with different groups to help funnel the resources where they needed to be. Being able to be a meaningful partner to people in our industry and provide value and opportunities to our sponsors is the core of what we do. There’s definitely more to come here.
Want to watch the full session recording? You can do so here.
More About Deborah Holton:
Debbie Holton is a business development and events expert with a proven track record of growing revenue, impact and results in the manufacturing technology space. She serves ASME as Managing Director of Industry Events and Technology Advancement & Business Development, leading expanded efforts to provide products, services and impact in the strategic areas of advanced manufacturing, clean energy, bioengineering, robotics and digital transformation. Debbie is a recognized industry spokesperson and contributor on manufacturing industry trends and technologies like 3D Printing & Additive Manufacturing, Digital Transformation, Advanced Manufacturing and events.
Connect with Deborah on LinkedIn and Twitter or contact us for an introduction.
Market Development Assistant, H2K Partners