Over the past year, every single event—sales executive dinners, in-person conferences, golf trips, even happy hours with the team—had to pivot to virtual with very little notice. But what didn’t shift amid the transition was the need to remember that behind every “marketing-qualified lead” lies a real human being. We know now, better than ever, that knowing who that person is, empathizing with them, and meaningfully connecting with them will be the key to differentiating your brand’s virtual (and hybrid) experiences throughout the funnel.
With that in mind, we recently hosted a live conversation with an all-women panel that included Oracle's , Heidi Eisenstein, Sendoso’s Sruthi Kumar, and 15Five’s Amanda Ingraham to discuss how virtual events might drive meaningful human connection, plus ways to make your next event an engaging, participatory experience. Make sure to catch the full recording below, and keep scrolling to check out highlights from the conversation.
On approaching prospect events with compassion
For Heidi Eisenstein, Oracle’s VP of Global CX Field Marketing & Event Strategy, rethinking events and prospect engagement needed to begin with compassion. “We stepped back and internalized the impact of the pandemic, not only on companies, but on people. We decided to meet our customers and prospects where they were: frantically working from home, homeschooling their kids, while transforming their own businesses on the fly. Compassion and empathy had to take the lead. This carried through our messaging, marketing, and of course, our events.”
Knowing that many executives were at home with their kids or partners, the team personalized events for either the individual, couple, or family—while driving a sense of community learning and relationship building.
The magic of small, targeted gatherings
The question in Heidi’s mind: how could high-touch, historically in-person events like executive roundtables and customer dinners ever exist in a virtual world? As it turns out, those hyper-targeted experiences had the greatest potential to make an impact on revenue and pipeline. “We created compelling experiences to pull key decision-makers in—hosting everything from wine tastings to mixology events to cooking classes,” Heidi says. "Not only did these events bring in new executive contacts for sales, but they deepened relationships and helped retain current customers.”
“They’re certainly an upfront investment, but when we're really good with our targeting and know what active deals we're bringing into the room, we can really determine the influence that events have on an open pipeline.” — Heidi Eisenstein, VP of Global CX Field Marketing & Event Strategy, Oracle
How marketing can partner with sales
As an extension of the sales organization, Heidi and her team made sure to connect with sales to get a deep understanding of the business priorities and growth objectives for the coming year. “Field marketing worked in lockstep with the sales team to design experiences tailor made for the target audience, all the way from thinking about the appropriate content to figuring out which member from sales would attend the event.” says Heidi. They made sure to work together through questions like:
- What does the named account list look like?
- What are our revenue goals for the year?
- Who is the target audience?
- What type of experience would make sense? Which speaker should we invite?
- What does the follow-up process look like?
- What metrics should we look at? (e.g. satisfaction scores, dwell time)
Engaging prospects through personalized gifting
We’re in a moment of time during which we can get a glimpse into people's personal lives through the screen—a quick peek into the contents of their home. Sendoso’s Associate Director of Field & Partner Marketing Sruthi Kumar asks, "do they have plants, do you hear kids in the background? Or, for example, you can see my peloton behind me." She recommends taking context clues from prospects and customers’ surroundings to get creative in selecting gifts to send them (without being creepy!).
"If you're putting in the right care and thought around what you're sending, then you're likely going to get the same type of response from the prospect." — Sruthi Kumar, Associate Director of Field & Partner Marketing, Sendoso
Heidi says you can also connect physical gifts to engaging in-between sessions during virtual events. "Send a branded yoga mat for a yoga class during the break or handwritten note cards to open throughout the event,” she suggests.
Facilitating authentic connection among internal teams
The same tactics used to make prospect or customer events engaging can apply to virtual employee experiences. Amanda worked with her team to plan a Patagonia-themed virtual team retreat. "We had fun, engaging activities—like a virtual wine tasting and vision boarding–mixed in with the work stuff.” Employees received boxes full of flash tattoos, hot cocoa, and gratitude cards (for writing messages of gratitude —all designed to create a sense of shared experience. "It really helped keep us connected during a time when we weren't seeing anybody, much less each other."