How to get new sponsors & exhibitors to invest in your event

Sponsors and exhibitors are essential to the profitability of an event, but too often sales teams rely on the same few clients that return year-after-year, neglecting the opportunities available in ‘new business’.

Why acquiring new sponsors and exhibitors really matters

Events need a variety of partners to work. Attendees expect to see new companies each time they return. Part of the value proposition of a successful event is that the event presents new and innovative suppliers and vendors in the sector. Mixing up old and new faces also protects your event long term; even the most reliable clients can change their marketing objectives and end their commercial relationship with your event, putting a key source of revenue in jeopardy.

Why sales teams neglect new business

Sales teams’ natural process doesn’t usually focus on sourcing and nurturing new business – especially for an established event. Most go first to their tried and trusted contacts to renew their contracts and secure quick wins. It’s often only when the event looks like it might miss its targets, that the urgency arises to reach out to new prospects. But by then it can be too late to source, nurture and convert clients before the event happens. This can be compounded by sales teams lacking an established process to generate new sponsorship leads.

How a sales lead generation process can deliver a 500%+ ROI

What is the solution to the ‘new business’ challenge and this often missed opportunity? You need to invest in good ground-work and forward planning in sponsor and exhibitor lead generation. This can often generate faster growth than pushing harder on your delegate marketing. Specific marketing programmes focused on generating new leads for sponsorship and exhibition sales could deliver as much as 5x on your marketing investment, based on the KPIs we have been tracking on events MPG has supported over the past year or so.

Here are the steps we recommend you take:

1. Define the sponsor value proposition

Be clear about the USP and benefits of your event from a sponsor or exhibitor’s perspective, especially the key gains for them if they commit at an early stage many months before the event.

2. Define your target market and decision making unit

The decision to sponsor or exhibit at an event is usually made by a group of people. CMOs or CEO’s may be the final decision-makers, but senior sales people and marketing managers are also key influencers. You will need to reach and convince them all that their presence at your event is worth investing in.

3. Build your marketing database & inbound channels for lead generation

Map the market, deciding the ideal size of business, geographical location, sector and job titles. Then research your database, ensuring you include all the decision-makers within one organisation. Consider how you can quickly build your database to reach out to them, using data research for rapid growth and by also feeding engaging and relevant content in to your inbound channels and optimising your website for maximum ‘enquiry form’ completions.

4. Set up your marketing funnel

For outbound marketing, plan your email campaigns, with tailored messages for different audience segments. Get your inbound marketing working well by pushing compelling messaging and content via the obvious inbound channels – PPC and social media. Optimise your sponsorship landing page (with enquiry form) on your event website and also offer carefully crafted sponsorship options and event attendee profile PDF’s behind forms for lead capture. Optimise the rest of the website to direct sponsors who land anywhere else on the site to your sponsorship page.

5. Leverage your delegate marketing

Add sponsorship and exhibition lead generation elements to your delegate marketing by including in delegate emails and on delegate focused web pages some calls-to-action pushing people to the sponsorship opportunities page. Also consider adding to all lead generation forms on the website – including those focused on delegate marketing – the option for people to tick what they are most interested in (e.g. attending, speaking, sponsoring or exhibiting) before submitting the form. Those who choose sponsorship and exhibition options are clearly very good people for your sales team to call straight way.

6. Nurture your leads

Use marketing automation to track incoming sponsor leads and set up a nurturing programme. This is an easy win as you are earning more revenue from the investment you have already made in your marketing automation systems for your delegate marketing.

7. Incentivise sales teams

Monitor how quickly sales teams follow up on marketing generated new business leads. Offer enhanced commission rates for acquiring brand new clients to reward the extra effort, or nominate one person in the sales team as the new business specialist.

8. Learn and fine-tune

In the first year, measure everything and find out which types of leads convert fastest and for the highest average order value. Consider how profile (e.g. company type, country etc) and engagement behaviour (e.g. what they downloaded or clicked on) when ‘scoring’ leads. Even if you can’t convert a new business lead for the event it was generated for, you still have a good chance to convert it for the following year’s event.

It is important to consider that generating leads for your sponsorship and exhibition sales team requires a different approach and skill set than what is required for delegate marketing. You might need to set up a specialist marketing team to generate sponsorship and exhibitor leads, or consider engaging an agency to initially run a pilot programme for you to assess how to proceed longer term for further investment in lead generation for your sponsorship and exhibition sales teams. A steady stream of new business leads is bound to make any sales person happy!

About the author

Helen has over 2 decades’ experience in the B2B events space. She is now the proud CEO and Founder of two high-performance marketing agencies – MPG and AGNC – designed to address the most pressing exhibition and conference marketing challenges facing organisations today.

Kirsty is MPG’s Marketing Director for events globally, and a seasoned event marketing campaign manager, strategic expert and marketing function leader. Her team of conference and exhibition marketing pros deliver outstanding, high performance full-service campaigns for some of the world’s most prestigious events and brands.

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