Inside Indiana Business and Jenny Vance on How to Make Customer Events Pay

There’s nothing like face-to-face communication to cement customer relationships, especially today when technology makes it easy to conduct business with customers around the world. Hosting a customer event where they can share successes and learn from each other, also gives companies some much-needed face time with customers.

While it can be difficult to measure the return on investment (ROI) of a customer event, these events are valuable to business. Case in point: one of our customers, who was teetering on the edge of letting our contract expire, is now an ardent fan after attending a recent customer event.

Along the way, we’ve learned some important lessons about how to get the most out of customer events.

1. Content is king. While a venue is important, content is what creates the bonds with customers. The information and speakers presented during a customer event demonstrate the host company’s expertise, creativity and enthusiasm. For our customers, we’ve found the most powerful content is customer case studies, where customers share how they’ve approached their lead generation issues and the success they’ve achieved. We’ve also learned that it’s important to ensure that speakers include key takeaways in their presentations and present these takeaways upfront. Get creative with selecting speakers. We like to include a couple motivational-type speakers during our event, and decided to invite retired Indy car driver, Sarah Fisher, to speak. When we had difficulty reaching her using traditional methods, we contacted her using Twitter and LinkedIn and were successful in securing her participation.

2. Make the event exclusive. Part of the fun of a customer event is including some fun. While people come for the content, it may be the social event that seals the deal. This year, we hosted an afternoon at the Indy car proving grounds, giving attendees a behind-the-scenes look at the race. As is typical, some local attendees came for the speakers but didn’t come for the social event. To properly plan, include a separate RSVP and deadline for special events.

3. Look for small ways to make the event special. After the plan is in place, go back through the event schedule and look for little ways to make the event memorable. There might be an inexpensive way to really increase the value of the event. This year we
invested in an old-fashioned Polaroid camera so we could provide guests a picture with a race car driver. Because the pictures were instant, the guest could have the driver autograph it. We also held an awards program to recognize high quality work by our customers. Everyone appreciates recognition and this held more weight than we imagined.

4. Follow-up invitations with a personal touch. Everyone wants to feel important, so following up email or printed invitations with a personal phone call can make a huge difference in attendance. In addition, post invitations on Twitter using appropriate hashtags to pull in non-customers who may be interested in learning about your company and your industry. If you have the bandwidth, tweak email invitations based on campaign metrics and resend the material as needed.

5. Timing and venue matter. Nothing can stop an event in its tracks faster than conflicting with other events. You may be thrilled to see your customers during a holiday week, but it’s likely they won’t feel the same. Also stay away from important industry and local events. Pick a venue that’s intriguing to add prestige to your event. We were able to hold our event at the NCAA headquarters, which was much more fun than a hotel conference room.

Finally, follow up with attendees after the event to determine what they enjoyed most and least. This feedback is crucial to providing an even better customer experience for your next event.