Learn how Jess Tyler from Marijuana Business Daily overcame the challenges posed by the new event landscape including upskilling teams, redefining customer needs, and getting rid of an outdated approach.
When Jess Tyler, SVP Strategy, Marijuana Business Daily, was tasked with cancelling seven in-person events, she didn’t anticipate learning about “force majeure” or the toll that ongoing uncertainty would have on her team. Despite working with a reduced workforce from what they had pre-COVID, the MJBiz team has overhauled their entire business strategy, educated their customer base on how to leverage digital marketing solutions and online events to generate ROI, and organized their plan for 2021.
H2K Founder Heather Holst-Knudsen spoke with Jess during our Virtual Shake-Up 2.0 event regarding the crucial elements that allowed Jess and her team at Marijuana Business Daily to overcome the challenges posed by the new event landscape, including upskilling teams, redefining customer needs, and getting rid of an outdated approach.
Key Learning 1: Re-Train Your Sales Team
The switch to an online format has impacted the process of the sales team most. When you are selling in an in-person event, customers understand what your product is and what they are going to get out of it. Selling a virtual event, however, requires a new level of education surrounding the product offering as well as the ROI. Your sales team has become the general services contractor as well as the support team for the product - in other words, they are responsible for explaining how the platform works along with what the customer is going to get out of it. This increased lift has resulted in a longer sales cycle that requires much more lead time. A process that previously consisted of just a booth and one phone call now takes several phone calls, multiple demos, and videos.Taking this into account, it is crucial that you train your sales people so they are experts on your new product and can provide prospects with all of the information upfront.
One way in which Marijuana Business Daily elevated their sales process was by creating ‘passholder’ days during their event. During those days, the sales team conducted live sales demos on the virtual platform for potential clients so they could see exactly what they’d be getting if they came on board. MJBiz has also directed a lot of focus on gathering and analyzing audience data from each new virtual event they put on to enable sales people to speak to historical data on customer behavior when selling new sponsorships. Insufficient historical data was a hurdle the sales team faced when the online environment was brand new.
Key Learning 2: Identify Your Customer’s New Needs
The products and services you used to offer might not make sense for the new event format. In assessing how to best serve your customer’s evolving needs, look not only at what they’re currently asking for, but anticipate what your audience will need in the future as the events industry continues to evolve. Jess Tyler referenced a quote from ice hockey player, Wayne Gretzsky to convey this concept:, “you have to skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is.” In doing so, you may find that a virtual event isn’t always the way to meet certain customer needs, and that there are alternative mechanisms through which you can do so. Ultimately, the most significant needs to address are networking and delivering leads to sponsors and vendors.
Key Learning 3: Use A Product-First Approach
Virtual trade shows are fundamentally different from in-person events, and your approach should reflect that. An attendee’s experience getting familiar with and speaking to sponsors is different in a live versus virtual environment. For example, during live events attendees can visit booths to understand exactly what a sponsor is offering and knows a representative will be there to speak with them. On the other hand, discovering what a company is about at first glance during a virtual event isn’t as easy for the attendee and passively waiting for attendees to visit the virtual booth isn’t the best use of a sponsor’s time.
Taking these differences into account, Marijuana Business Daily has devised a new strategy to improve the customer experience that has been well received by both attendees and sponsors. They’ve gotten rid of the terms typically used for live events, which come with preconceived definitions and understandings. The words “booth,” “exhibitor,” and “expo hall” have been replaced with things like products and services showcases. In this new format, each company can upload pictures of their products, information, and descriptions and the event host can make sponsors accessible to attendees in a format that is similar to the Amazon experience. Customers can filter based on specific criteria they have, such as the types of products or services a sponsor is offering. This can be described as a product-first approach where once an attendee has found the specific products they’re looking for, they can set up meetings with vendors to talk about these products rather than the vendor telling the customer everything about their company and their offerings upfront. This virtual strategy encompasses what customers are used to doing online as opposed to erroneously attempting to mimic the behaviors of in-person environments.
Additional Highlights From Jess Tyler’s Session:
Question: What event products do you advise in this new world? Do you advise there be networking breaks during a virtual conference? Wouldn’t that break the flow?
Answer: There are a lot of platforms out there that are really great but you have to decide what you are trying to achieve first. If you have a heavy trade show floor, the products that you’re going to want are going to be different than if you’re content heavy. My recommendation would change based on your needs and what your platform can deliver. For networking, when you’re at home, it’s harder to keep attention and focus. I have long breaks built in between every session. At most, I’ll do an hour and a half straight through because as an attendee, you want to check your email, take a phone call, get up and go get more coffee. It’s not the same as in-person where you can go back to back. I do not believe that you lose people and I’m not seeing that in my own events right now by having as long as two hour breaks. My opinion is the more breaks the better and that limiting events to four hours maximum of content a day is the sweet spot.
Question: You were uniquely prepared to handle this shift to virtual because you had an event and a media arm. Can you tell us how that looked like before and where it is today?
Answer: It has been common for many event companies to function with siloed departments, all working within their respective areas and rarely intersecting. However, with the evolution of the new virtual model, the responsibilities of each department have become increasingly shared and thus, integrating certain departments versus segmenting them is critical. Our publishing and events team now work with one another to help each other in their responsibilities, which ultimately enables them to deliver an enhanced customer experience.
Want to watch the full session recording? You can do so here.
More About Jess Tyler:
Jess Tyler serves as Senior Vice President of Events & Strategic Development for Marijuana Business Daily, a division of Anne Holland Ventures. In her role, she spearheads the collective efforts behind the MJBizCon series of conferences, which have become some of the fastest growing events in North America servicing the B2B cannabis industry. Prior to joining Marijuana Business Daily, Jess served as vice president at Access Intelligence LLC. She is a proud member of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) having earned her CEM designation, and also supports the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO). She holds a BA degree from the University of Tennessee – Knoxville.
Connect with Jess on LinkedIn or contact us for an introduction.
Market Development Assistant, H2K Partners