You’ve probably heard me say, “The most effective marketing you can do is to keep an existing customer happy.” In this episode, I spoke with Bonni Scepkowski of Stellar Meetings and Events about how to do that on a large scale and even turn it into something you can charge for.
This type of content marketing can grow an audience into an asset that adds value not just to your bottom line but something another company would pay to get their hands on. The summary below is adapted from the transcript of my conversation with Bonni. (See what I did there? Repurposing.)
Not the same as a hospitality suite
A customer loyalty event is different from a hospitality suite at a conference in that 1. You’re not selling at an event like this. You’re not even necessarily talking about your product or your service at all. And 2. It’s completely a standalone event. You aren’t competing with other companies for the attention of your audience.
The content is all about how your client can improve their business (cue Bono) with or without you. You are giving them a gift of knowledge and perspective they didn’t have before they arrived. In the process, you become a more valued partner in their success.
Attendees get the additional value of networking with peers that may experience similar challenges. Those connections last well beyond the event, but in their minds will always link back to you and your company. People build peer discussion groups or LinkedIn groups where they stay in touch after the event with people with similar titles.
Ultimately, it’s all about face time.
Where else could you spend so much time actually speaking to happy clients, disgruntled clients, potential clients, a client who may have more business for you elsewhere within their company. How much great information would you get from that? You don’t really get that time at a hospitality event.
The first thing you have to do is train your own internal people. You have to teach your salespeople, who may be very high quality, great closers, and they’re going to have to turn that off for a couple of days, and that can be very difficult. The focus is on education and relationship building.
How to build a program that will be valuable to your audience
It starts with online research, whether its on Google, Amazon or wherever to identify speakers that have something to say that will be new and interesting for your audience. Bonni is looking outside the industry in some cases:
I’ve hired a gentleman recently who has a book called The Death of Expertise, and we’ll use that gentleman as a speaker at a conference for a group of people who are trying to establish themselves more as industry experts. I guess the comparison I would say is you go to WebMD to get some ideas about what might be going on with your stomach pains, but you would probably go to a surgeon to get your appendix out.
People leave at the end of the day with knowledge they didn’t have when they walked in or a process they didn’t have when they walked in. But, yeah, that’s a lot of Google, a lot of time in bookstores, either online or in person. I always know who’s writing what in the business world.
How do you get started with the right people?
Bonni recommends a couple of key actions.
Identify who you want to be there and get the sales team involved. It starts with training the salespeople. There may be people at a specific level that you really want or a specific individual you want. Often that’s somebody you want to speak at the meeting anyway. Sometimes asking someone to be on a panel or to be a speaker is a good way to get those key people to attend.
It has to be appropriate. It has to fit into what the message is, but asking those key people to be on your agenda is a good way to get them there.
Then ask your salespeople to identify 25 key people that they need there. Make them accountable for that.
Nothing beats a phone call ever. The best way to get someone to attend your meeting is to talk to them, find out what they need, and then talk to them about how this meeting will be valuable to them.
It may difficult to get busy salespeople to make those calls. Here’s how you can make it easier: give them some bullet points to touch on when they get on the phone. Sometimes a simple prompt is enough to make something difficult much easier.
An opportunity to find new clients
You may indirectly acquire new customers too. Don’t forget that people job hop. If you create loyalty and your client leaves the company, they’re going to take you with them. That’s how Bonni’s business has been built. Literally 100% has been from people that she knows or people who have been clients, have left their jobs, and have brought her with them to their new company. That’s all from relationship building.
Some attendees will evangelize for you in their office. Maybe they are not the head of widget development. Maybe they are the junior administrator for widget marketing, but they come back to their boss with all of this knowledge and experience that they didn’t have when they left, things that they can put into motion and make their work better. That boss might come next year to the meeting or he may be now someone that you can call.
Turning marketing into a profit center
Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose are always talking about how to turn marketing into a profit center on their podcast. A loyalty event can become a valuable asset over time if you take a long term approach.
Imagine starting with a smaller company or a company that’s early in their lifecycle. They’re just starting and maybe they do a half a day program and it’s complimentary. It’s a cost. There’s absolutely a cost to this.
Maybe next year, if twice as many people attend, now it’s a really valuable meeting and you can spend a little bit more money because you’re seeing business come from this, and by year three you’ve got three, four, or five times as many people as you did the first time and now you can start to charge.
Once you start to charge, you can start increasing the level of quality of the program. You can start hiring more expensive speakers, which doesn’t always mean better speakers, but there’s nothing better than someone who’s just written an interesting business book with a compelling title to draw the audience.
Eventually somebody bigger might buy your company, especially with the smaller companies. Bonni has seen that over and over again, when your program has grown exponentially. It’s a value add that you bring to the table.
Why wouldn’t you make room in your budget to get started with a program like this?