How to Make Events Work for Your Business—Inspire Don’t Sell

With the increased use of digital and mass media communication, more and more customers and prospects are craving face-to-face interaction. Many of you have already embraced video as a way to do this, but video still has a disconnect because it’s a one-way communication. You should also be doing regular business reviews with your managed clients. But again, while this is extremely valuable one-to-one face time, it does not scale. So how do we scale face-to-face interactive sessions? The short answer is events.

There are two main type of events you can attend: other people’s events and those you host. There are pros and cons to both, so consider your market and the opportunities available to you. There is also no reason you cannot successfully make your presence felt at both.

Third-party events include everything from industry trade shows to local chamber events, and there are two distinct ways you can participate:

  • Attending as a participant or attendee
    This gives you the opportunity to network with prospects that fall into a niche market, like accountants, contractors, or lawyers.
  • Signing up as a vendor
    This will likely come with a booth and possibly even a speaking opportunity, both of which will increase your visibility and open up more possibility for conversations with those prospects interested in your services.

The next option is holding your own event. I know an MSP that hosts their own customer event every year. They bring in complementary vendors and industry experts to speak on topics relevant to their clients. At the same time, their salespeople are interacting with customers, and the company itself is speaking on new services and opportunities in an effort to cross-sell and upsell.

The other option for hosting your own event is a simple lunch-and-learn. This is where you rent out a room at a local restaurant and provide a set menu for lunch. Then you use the opportunity to update your clientele on what new opportunities and threats exist in the industry and how you can provide solutions for their businesses to take advantage of those opportunities or mitigate the threats.

Sometimes you can even get vendors and industry experts to come and speak for you. Having outside speakers builds your credibility, especially when you are starting out. Regardless of which type of event you decide on, always have a concrete purpose and goal in mind. For example, “I want to hold a local lunch-and-learn to educate my customers on the dangers of internet threats and benefits of web filtering so I can sell 300 additional subscriptions to my web filtering product.” With this one simple sentence, you know what marketing material to prepare, what topics to cover, who your guest speaker should be, and what your offer is going to look like.

Attending trade shows

Preparing for trade shows can be intimidating if you have not done them before. Here are two lists of things to remember in order to help you get the most out of these events: one for those just attending and the others for those with a booth.


  • Business cards—lots of them, as many as those registered. Your goal is to give away all of them.
  • Flyers/postcards—for those prospects who show real interest, so you stand out in the sea of business cards they receive.
  • Laptop or tablet—so you can do an impromptu demo or presentation if you really grab a prospect’s attention.
  • Show up early/go home late—make the most of the opportunity and money by being there the whole time.


All of the above, plus…

  • Backdrop—if you cannot afford a custom one, you can buy one on Amazon for less than $50.
  • Pull-up banner—at least one. Can be “aimed” to attract passers by in case you have a poor booth location.
  • Additional marketing documents.
  • Swag—everyone loves swag. Branded USB charging cables, webcam covers, anything useful that will remind them of you.
  • No chairs—seriously, this is crunch time and there is no time for sitting unless medically necessary.
  • Big screen TV/monitor—for performing demos or looping through customer testimonials. This adds a visual dynamic to your booth and provides the means to communicate with multiple prospects at once. If possible/allowed, raffle off the TV. It will fill your business card jar faster.
  • Jar/fishbowl—for business cards. Even if you are not giving anything away, put it out there. People will assume you are.
  • Branded shirts in distinct company colors—whether you dress up or down for the event, you can wear dress shirts or polos in your company colors and logo to quickly identify yourselves among a sea of others. The more employees you have at the show, the more impressive this becomes.

Trade shows can be fun and gruelling at the same time. The most important thing is their ability to fill your prospecting funnel in a short period of time.

Hosting your own events

Planning your own event can be even more daunting but the return is usually greater. If you have never hosted an event before, I recommend starting with lunch-and-learns. Unless you have more than 200 customers that have at least 25 users or more, a big event is going to be hard to justify in terms of return on investment (ROI). Lunch-and-learns, on the other hand, have less of an investment to recoup.

If you want to do the math—and why wouldn’t you?—figure out how much you will have to sell to break even by month three. If the event costs you $200 for the room and $25/person with 30 attendees, you need to get $950 in profit back. Assuming you are selling your subscription services at a minimum of 50% margin, you need to sell $1,900 divided by 3 (months) =  $633 of monthly subscriptions or about 65 seats @ $10/seat.  That’s not a large number if you have 30 attendees with an average of 20 users each.

That means you only need a little over a 10% close rate, which should be a conservative target selling to existing customers. With a 30% close rate, you could break even after month one of billing. If you do lunch-and-learns quarterly, you can maintain them even if your close rate is only 10%. Quick tip: only invite those customers who DO NOT have what you are offering at that lunch-and-learn.

The lunch-and-learn itself does not have to be at a fancy restaurant. The most important thing is that the room is void of distractions and has adequate arrangement for you to present. Lighting and how well your voice carries to the back of the room are most important. A projector and screen are helpful but not essential. If you do not have access to a projector, print out your PowerPoint slides for each attendee. In terms of scheduling, make sure you respect their time. Here is my proposed schedule (1.5 hours):

  • First 30 minutes—They Eat, You Greet
    You probably do not want to eat right before you get up and speak anyway.
  • Next 30 minutes—The Learn
    While they are still eating but enough time has lapsed for late-comers to arrive, you start your presentation. The presentation should NOT be a sales pitch. It must be educational and build interest. Talk about the opportunity or threat, not the solution.
  • Final 30 minutes—The Offer
    Now that you have captured their interest you can pitch the solution. To incite urgency, make sure to include a discount that is only good for the next three days. You can adjust this; I prefer not to do the high-pressure “before you leave the room” type of offers, but they do work.

Make a plan, have a goal, and measure results—and you can make your events turn into cash while simultaneously building relationships with your customers.

I hope this will help you to learn to embrace events. They can add another source of prospects and upsell opportunities to your sales and marketing funnel. When properly executed, they can produce great ROI both in terms of short-term sales and long-term customer relationships.

Good luck with your events, and if you ever need a speaker, I might know a guy.


Eric Anthony is director of customer experience at SolarWinds MSP. Before joining SolarWinds, Eric ran his own managed service provider business for over six years.

You can follow Eric on Twitter at @EricAnthonyMSP.


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