As companies finalise their 2020 H2 digital event schedules and begin planning for 2021 – a year which will undoubtedly also feature a significant digital element – the question of how best to generate sponsorship revenue via this new format now takes centre stage.

Within this issue lies several challenges. First, existing sponsors will generally be reluctant to pay the same to sponsor a virtual event as an in-person one, and secondly, some will simply not want to sponsor a digital event at all.

Event organisers now face a pressing challenge to find a large number of new sponsors for their virtual and hybrid events – in a narrow space of time.

Fortunately, the online nature of digital events has inherent benefits. The lack of physical venue means a potentially global market of sponsors, and the reduced cost of sponsoring such an event (no physical collateral, travel, accommodation or out of office expenses) opens the floor to many smaller companies.

The desire is there too. Potential sponsors have also been affected by Covid and must generate sufficient leads via their own marketing to ensure their business can survive in these challenged times. They’re on the lookout for promising new opportunities; digital events’ focused content, engaged audiences and relatively low cost for good reach and a large number of relevant leads may just be the answer.

This short-term revenue challenge for events relying on sponsorship therefore doubles as an opportunity to invest in long-term event and brand growth. Event organisers can grasp the chance to expand globally, diversify their sponsorship base and put their event firmly on the path to growth.

So, what is the best approach to attracting companies from this now larger market? And how can it be done quickly?


Generate marketing qualified leads to help your salespeople acquire new sponsors

Sponsorship sales teams have traditionally focused on – and are generally most skilled at – the retention and upsell of existing clients. They will recognise the significant opportunity to find new sponsors in a larger potential client pool, but they will need help in efficiently and rapidly surfacing this new revenue.

This is where smart and effective marketing becomes the key to unlocking the potential of digital event sponsorship. Your marketing function should not only be focused on attracting event attendees, they should also be reaching out to, engaging and converting potential clients into relevant and qualified leads via targeted, personalised and data-driven marketing campaigns.

Here’s a tried and tested process for your marketers to follow to generate great sponsorship sales leads and bring in new revenue:

Step 1: Define your target market of potential sponsoring companies and key decision-makers within these companies

Use demographic profiling, considering company type, size, sector and location, as well as the job function and seniority of the individuals within these companies responsible for marketing budgets. Consider how the reduced price point may make sponsoring your event feasible for smaller companies and how a more global audience may attract sponsors from a more global market. Create a map of this new market to understand its size and composition.

Step 2: Create routes to market

Once you know who you’re targeting, you need to reach them with relevant marketing messages. First, analyse your existing database to understand how many contacts you can already reach within your target market. Identify key gaps and fill these with targeted database research, then get started on your outbound and inbound marketing activity to attract the right people to your event website.

Make sure the benefits of sponsoring are well presented on your website, alongside (ideally multiple) lead generation forms, such as sales brochure downloads, enquiry submissions and ‘send me event updates’ requests. This is an essential first step, as your website is the end destination where most prospects will convert to a lead.

Create integrated, multi-channel marketing campaigns, incorporating email, PPC and social media, to reach out and push relevant people to your site. Make sure your messaging is informed by persona analysis and includes at least one clear USP with some compelling benefits.

Also, consider using account-based marketing if you are confident on who the ‘top 20’ (or more) companies are that should be sponsoring your event. Feed them personalised comms specific to their organisations, and where possible reach out to decision makers on a 1-to-1 basis with highly relevant and compelling messaging to elicit a response. Once key contacts are engaged via this kind of marketing it will be easier for salespeople to approach and convert them.

Step 3: Use marketing to nurture leads – to ‘warm them up’ (or keep them warm!) for the sales team

Don’t focus only on acquisition of leads. A key part of winning new sponsors is nurturing these leads and effectively growing engagement so they become even hotter leads, eager to start a conversation with one of your salespeople. To do this, build in automations such as triggered emails when forms are completed on the website (e.g. a sales brochure download) directing them to more relevant content. Your sales team won’t be able to reach every lead quickly, so automated emails can be used to keep them ‘warm’. Remarketing via Google and social channels can also be used to share relevant content and product messaging with individuals who are already engaged. Don’t let them go cold!

Step 4: Measure, measure, measure

Every campaign is a learning opportunity, but only if you measure the impact. Make sure you understand who is completing the lead generation forms and what type of lead is most likely to convert to a sale. Also, measure and analyse the average order value and length of sales cycle achieved via various lead types – sales KPIs can be improved with intelligence-led marketing.

Some marketing channels and activity types will work better than others. Make sure you focus on what works best for your audience and event.

Consider how much visibility you have of the marketing and sales funnel. Do you know how leads are coming in at the top (where they first engage)? How are they engaging near the middle? How many are dropping off when hitting the sales team at the bottom of the funnel? What does the conversion look like for each stage? Understanding these points will help you plug any gaps and improve overall performance of both marketing and sales functions.

It’s important to note that not all of the leads you generate will convert within the first few months, but there is a long ‘sell-by-date’ on sponsorship leads and you may be able to convert them for a future event (with all the hard work of identifying them and collecting their data already done!). Keep their info safe and retain them in your communications, it will pay dividends in the longer term.


Wrapping up

Employing these steps effectively will not only secure the revenue for your next digital event, but also provide you with a solid foundation for growth in years to come. Your audience will have expanded geographically, your event will be attracting new and exciting sponsors and – most importantly – you’ll have battle-ready marketing and sales teams with the know-how on generating new sponsorship revenue; whether that’s for digital or in-person events.

As we’ve mentioned frequently over the past 4-5 months; we believe the companies that invest proactively in marketing now will be the winners in 2021 and beyond. There are many opportunities in digital events, you just need a good strategy to grab hold of them.

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