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Struggling with event sponsorships? This is likely why

Struggling with event sponsorships? This is likely why Blog Feature

Nick Bennett

Head of Partnerships, Retains 16 HubSpot Certifications, 8+ Years Experience in Customer Service & Marketing Strategy

March 11th, 2020 min read

“Welcome to our booth!”   

“Here, have some swag.” 

“Listen to my sales pitch!”

“Can I get your email?”

If you have ever sponsored a sales or marketing event or conference before you know this process very well.

Standing on the hard concrete floor all day long. The humming of the cold, dry air pumping into the room. The fluorescent lighting buzzing overhead. Trying to strike up interest with strangers and passersby through the cafeteria-style dull roar of conversation .

You feel like the person at a mall kiosk spraying cologne on anyone who walks by, and if you don’t do this, you’re not coming home with leads. 

This experience for the marketer is frustrating.

This experience for the attendee is frustrating.

Businesses today spend thousands of dollars and hours building inbound sales and marketing pipelines, funnels, flywheels — whatever you want to call them — just throw it all away when it comes to dealing with a real live person.

Whose plan was it to give up everything we’ve worked towards being digitally and bombard people with nonsense face-to-face, anyway?

If we are trying to be these trustworthy, human companies online — why aren’t we offline?

Fine, I’ll just say it — this totally sucks.

Brands sponsor events because they want to truly connect with people and show them what is possible when they use their product or service.

People attend events because they want to be inspired and take action. They want to do something they’ve never done before so they can get something they’ve never had.

Marketers preach the importance of making in-person, human-to-human connections but then here we are, just giving attendees exactly what they’ve always had. 

If you’ve read any of my articles before, you know I am no fan of the status quo, so, seeing events serve up the same sponsorship experiences that range from the cookie-cutter to the absurd, just does not sit well with me. 

Events offer basic booth space or ways to subsidize operating expenses like food, drinks, lanyards, snacks, coffee, etc. because it’s easy and what they’ve always done. 

Let’s be clear — I’m not saying forget booths. 

Booths do have a place on a showroom floor and you can’t have a conference without booths — but, more than likely, you’re doin’ them wrong. (More on that later.)

Standard booths and lanyards aren’t what works and, in my experience, they aren’t what sponsors actually want or need. (At least not alone.)

The more I talk with field marketers, event managers, VPs of marketing, VPs of sales, marketing directors, CEOs, and anyone else involved in deciding what events a company will sponsor, the more I am learning that they want nothing to do with a booth and the out-of-the-box sponsorship options.

Their eyes glaze over because, for the most part, event attendees treat booth sponsors like a vendor at a farmer's market. 

Realizing this, there are the sponsors that will do anything to stand out from the crowd. 

They have gone as far as to offer to add on bounce houses, petting zoos, heck, they will even sponsor your windshield...

This sticker is dangerous and inconvenient, but I do love Fig Newtons. - Imgur

“This sticker is dangerous and inconvenient, but I do love Fig Newtons.”
Source: imgur

While that last one is clearly a joke, it does to the ridiculous levels sponsors are willing to go to do something memorable in an effort to attract people, increase awareness, and see actual ROI.

But frankly, this still doesn’t work. 

The fact is buyers aren’t buying it. 

The way people — and businesses — make purchasing decisions has completely changed from the way it was just 10 years ago. 

Think about how you — yes you — make decisions and what it takes for you to crack open your wallet and hand over hard-earned money. 

You give your business to those you trust. Period. 

Today’s digital consumer, regardless of B2B or B2C, has the ability to research and compare products and services like never before. 

Regardless of how “great” one of them may be, the sale goes to the company that the buyer trusts the most with their goals.

This concept of giving money to those you trust is not groundbreaking stuff, but the way buyers come to this conclusion has.

This little obsession over building trust is a business philosophy we call They Ask, You Answer and it should be the goal of all your marketing, events included. 

At an event, embracing They Ask, You Answer manifests itself the same way it does online; by finding a way to share your knowledge, a way to showcase your expertise.. 

It means buyers get to see you, hear you, and know you as an educator before they see you as a salesperson and before you ever approach them.

When people see that you know what you’re talking about and not just making a pitch, they want to work with you. 

Teach from the stage

As a sponsor, when it comes to events, find opportunities to establish yourself as a thought leader. Aim to blend your authority over a given subject into the attendee experience. 

For instance, show the audience how you do what you do through workshops or talks and give attendees real value that they can immediately take action on. 

You can do this by hosting live demos or side-events, but in many cases, this means speaking on stage. 

Seek opportunities to teach from the event stage and share actionable advice. Consider highlighting a real-life customer success story beyond some stats and graphics on your website.

Show what is possible when someone works with you and how you do it. 

Now, before I continue, let’s take a step back and, again, address the elephant in the room —  are booths still an effective event strategy?

The short answer is, yes, but only if you do it right .

Booths do have a place in the modern-day event and conference experience as the anchor point, not the focal point.

When you speak at an event, this is where people can come to meet you afterwards. It’s where they can come to learn more — like your website, but face-to-face.

If you do not want to speak, but do want a booth, send your sales team. 

Don’t send marketing or customer service. Send the team that knows the exact right questions to ask to generate legitimate interest and how to properly qualify, and (this is the super important part) disqualify prospects, otherwise you’re unlikely to see the ROI you want on a showroom floor. 

What you can do right now

Whether you sponsor one or 100 events a year, here are a few things you can do to improve your performance at your very next event:

  1. Find an event where you can speak and promote your brand as one. 
  2. Give more value to attendees than you take (not talking about swag) — Focus on building trust and showing your expertise, even at the booth.
  3. Use your booth as an anchor point, not a focal point, for those who attended your workshop/talks to meet you, your team, and ask questions.

How do I know all this will work?

Well, none of this is my opinion.

All of this has been extracted from experiences working with dozens of event teams for businesses all across the country.

We’ve seen some tremendous success with the teams we’ve worked with and sponsor Digital Sales & Marketing World using this approach for no other reason than we are focusing on building the trust audiences demand.

No windshield decals required.

Talk to me about sponsorship

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