103: Gaining 1,200 New MQLs via Virtual Events (w/ Ollie Whitfield, VanillaSoft)

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Why MQLs?

If you spend any amount of time on LinkedIn, you might see any number of posts proclaiming that “the MQL is dead”. But Ollie and his marketing team at VanillaSoft don’t think so.

In fact, MQLs are the primary metric Ollie works to move the needle on. They share a common metric with the sales team to ensure that they’re driving high value MQLs who have a higher likelihood of converting.

To do that, they employ a number of channels, ranging from paid ads, to SEO, trade shows, and webinars. Until recently, they had never tried virtual events.

How They Improved It

The prior quarter, Ollie’s team had a big, scary MQL goal. They hit it, but only barely.

Then, in the next quarter, the goal was raised significantly. Ollie knew they’d have to change their approach in order to hit it.

So he decided to invest heavily into virtual events.

In the prior quarter, Ollie’s team hosted an all-day virtual event. It was imperfect and exhausting, but they learned from it. He was determined to host another one (new and improved), in order to secure the new MQLs he needed.

Here’s how he did it…

He got great speakers, who could also help promote the event.

He chose speakers who were incredibly smart and well-spoken. But more than that, they had to be able to help promote the event to a relevant audience, so the content would actually get seen.

He made the event 1-month long.

The first conference they ran was an 8-hour day, jam-packed with back-to-back sessions. That format was rough on both the team and attendees, so this time, they tried a new approach.

They’d aim for 2 sessions a day, 30 minutes each session, for 1 month straight. That worked out to 45 total speakers, presenting 45 sessions, across 22 days.

This new format took longer to plan, but provided 4 main benefits:

Benefit 1: It was more relaxed.

Attendees could consume events they were interested in all month, without giving up an entire day of work.

Benefit 2: It provided ongoing content to market.

Ollie found that with their single-day event: they promoted it, and it was done. By changing the format they were able to continually promote new material and build on the success of past sessions.

Benefit 3: It provided social proof to help them secure additional speakers and sponsors.

The day the conference launched with its initial lineup, Ollie was able to keep doing outreach and gain an additional 14 speakers and sponsors. Prospective speakers or sponsors were able to see what they’d be participating in. They could also opt-in late in the game, without feeling like they’d missed the opportunity.

Benefit 4: It drove more attendance.

With 45 speakers, if each speaker brought just a handful of their audience, Ollie knew they’d have great attendance.

Ollie promoted 1 new speaker, every few days.

He felt he couldn’t do justice to all 45 speakers if he tried to promote them all in 1 big announcement.

So instead, he’d focus on promoting a new speaker every few days. This allowed him to properly highlight the skills, expertise, and session that each speaker was bringing to the table.

They created generous, strategic sponsorships.

Some of the sponsors came from ABM accounts. This gave them the ability to continue building those relationships, while offering them something of value. And some were friends of Ollie’s, who came from smaller companies.

They didn’t charge these sponsors. Ollie wanted to be able to have the relationships be truly win-win. VanillaSoft would get the benefit of more promotion and attendees. And the Sponsors could gain leads and exposure without risking a huge budget.

They used HeySummit to host an event website.

This provided each speaker with their own landing & registration page, one place to house live and on-demand content, and a sponsors page.

Results

The pace was exhausting but drove massive results:

Ollie and his team exceeded their high quarterly goal, bringing in 1,200 new MQLs from the event.

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