Should B2B SaaS products have an events strategy?

May, 23 2019

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With the arrival of CDs in the 90s and digital music in the 00s, many predicted we’d seen the last of vinyl. And, indeed, sales dropped staggeringly in the two decades between 1990-2010. But the last few years have seen a remarkable resurgence. In 2018, record sales recorded double digit growth in the US.

So, why? Simply, as digital becomes ubiquitous, vinyl has become something a little more...special. Niche. Records cut through the instant gratification of digital, they offer something solid, something collectable - they’re more meaningful.

In marketing, too, digital has become the go-to strategy for businesses for years. It’s cheap, trackable, easy, but increasingly it’s disposable and ignored. The most popular apps are ad blockers, people are used to masses of digital content and have increasingly short digital attention spans, and they flick between screens with incessant regularity.

Software as a Service (SaaS) businesses, in particular, run digital marketing campaigns to encourage visitors to their site, watch product videos, download free trials, all of which they follow up with email series and case studies. What they’re lacking is the human touch - the meaningful connection that vinyl has with music lovers, and that events have with attendees.

So, are B2B SaaS companies that ignore events missing a trick?

Audience targeting, networking and direct sales

B2B SaaS is now a crowded market. SaaS1000 - the index that lists the top global Software as a Service businesses - features nearly 2,000 businesses. And that’s just those with over 40 employees. There are hundreds of thousands of smaller businesses trying to hustle their way into a market that shows no sign of slowing. New research from KBV forecasts a $185.8 billion market size by 2024, a growth of some 21.4% from today.

Differentiating a firm’s features or functionality through online demos alone is a difficult proposition. This is especially true for disruptive and challenger SaaS brands, where the line between ‘exciting and vital’ or ‘small and inexperienced’ can be razor thin – especially when left to marketing materials. So how can events help in this department?

  • Differentiation - B2B SaaS companies are prone to marketing solely the technology aspect of their product. This is understandable given that every tech company wants their product to seem the fastest, most powerful or cutting edge. But the result can be a blind spot around the second ‘s’ in SaaS - the service. And the people behind it.

While it is possible to humanise companies online, events shine through as a perfect way to start putting human faces to digital names, or rather brands. This was borne out in numbers in a study by the Event Marketing Institute, who found that 74% of event attendees had a more positive opinion about a company after encountering their promotion at an event.

  • Thought Leadership - Industry events carry serious weight and when customers, press or even competitors come to attach your brand’s name alongside them, an almost unspoken stamp of approval is extended. Put simply, if you are routinely seen at respected industry events X, Y and Z  – then you yourself must be respected in the industry. This can be taken a step further, should you manage to be engaged on a panel or speaking gig at the event – where you can really start to position your brand as an industry authority.
  • Audience insight - Audience targeting can give companies the ability to directly address consumer pain points while finding gaps in competitor messaging. If that sounds like complicated marketing spiel, it needn’t be, as the simplest way to gauge such metrics is by simply talking face-to-face with customers. Not least at events.
  • Sales and lead generation - Not that events need to be networking missions alone. Oxford Economics USA found that 77% of attendees at events are potential new customers for exhibiting companies, while 82% of attendees have buying authority. As such it should be no surprise that a Demand Generation survey names events as the most successful tactic for businesses to generate qualified leads. The data gathered from prospective customers at events is also invaluable, especially for small companies, in the creation of future targeted marketing efforts.
  • Content creation - Do you ever have difficulties filling your company’s blog or social media channels? Well, events are a great place to create content for them. Conduct interviews with other industry figures, record your insights into the event, take pictures, film panel discussions. The options are endless, and each one of them will help further your audience’s perception of you as an industry insider.
  • PR - Emailing blogs and industry papers with your latest press release can be a thankless task. Journalists are often bombarded with such information and rarely read everything they’re sent. At an event, however, there’s a chance to finally meet PR people in the flesh – to catch their eye and wow them with your product. Be sure to make yourself available. Find your angle, have soundbites and materials ready and let journalists know that you’re available to talk.
  • Data capture and social media outreach - Of course, an objective such as generating leads doesn’t mean much on its own. This is SaaS, after all, and the data of how, what and why is king for businesses going forward.

It may be unrealistic to persuade a significant number of attendees to download an app or wear a band you’ve created, but that doesn’t mean SaaS brands shouldn’t still be thinking creatively about how they can reach a wide audience and capture meaningful data while at events.

Similarly, events can be a golden opportunity for SaaS firms to boost their social media engagement. Using something as simple as hashtags or tagging to create an experience that lasts throughout the event will create new leads with every click – leads that can be followed up both in person that same day, or down the line.

Picking the right event

Every event will not suit every SaaS firm. Face-to-face is not a golden ticket and simply ‘being there’ will not guarantee ROI. To make the most of this industry, firms need to research which events their target audiences attend, and then plan what their message needs to say in that space, and how they’ll say it.

It takes time, research and resources. But pair the right messaging with the right event, and the rewards can be breathtaking – an average 89% ROI, according to research from Oxford Economics USA. Between brand positioning, networking, lead generation and direct sales, events can be a launchpad for new firms and a continued litmus test for established ones. Something that’s rarely achievable on-screen.

For more a deeper look at getting the most from events, check our guide to events investment or get in touch to discuss how Rapiergroup could make events work for you.

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