Trade shows have had a difficult time transitioning to virtual throughout the pandemic, with lead generation in particular presenting a major challenge.
Sponsors and exhibitors have shared many of the issues associated with trying to generate leads at virtual trade shows and conferences, including the lack of incentive for attendees to explore booths the way they would at a live show and the lack of features driving them to virtual booths on the virtual event platform.
In addition, pricing for virtual sponsorship tiers is often comparable to those for live events, which means that sponsors get a lot less bang for their buck. Many have started hosting their own virtual events, and corporations are watching virtual user conferences become longer-term engagements that are blending with digital marketing efforts.
Clearly, virtual and in-person shows are not created equal, and they require different approaches and strategies. With that in mind, here’s how sponsors and exhibitors can work to improve on lead capture at virtual events moving forward.
Engaging Early Is Key
The rise of virtual events has led to the concept of 365 engagement, whereby event organizers can engage their community of attendees beyond a single event. In the context of lead generation, it turns out that this may be a vital strategy for sponsors and exhibitors.
According to recent research by Swapcard, 28 percent of the time that attendees spend exploring the platform before a virtual event is spent browsing exhibitors, while 8 percent is spent looking at exhibitor products. In addition, at virtual trade shows lasting one day, over 95 percent of leads are generated in the days leading up to the event.
The trend applies to longer shows as well, with leads generated before the event accounting for about 80 percent of leads at 2-day events, and about 60 percent at 3-day events. This makes sense, given that there are no sessions or other meetings competing for attendees’ attention until the event starts. And in a virtual format, it seems as though attendees prefer to keep networking more distinctly separate from actual content consumption.
In fact, Swapcard found that the vast majority of platform usage during virtual trade shows and conferences was dedicated to watching sessions. However, this doesn’t mean that the event itself can’t provide value for sponsors — the research also shows that sponsoring sessions is the most profitable investment on a virtual platform.
Exhibitors Need to Stay On Top Of Inbound Leads
At live trade shows, exhibitors can interact face-to-face with leads that wander past their booths and scan their badges to collect their information, but lead gen happens very differently in a virtual environment. Many exhibitors may still be unfamiliar and/or uncomfortable with virtual platforms, making inbound leads much easier to miss.
According to Swapcard’s data, a staggering 44 percent of inbound networking requests went unanswered at virtual trade shows, while 39 percent were missed at virtual conferences. That amounts to a lot of potential business being left on the table unnecessarily, and those numbers are only taking into account events that took place on Swapcard’s platform.
The amount of missed requests across all events may actually be higher since networking and engagement features vary by platform, which may make it even more difficult for exhibitors to keep track of inbound messages and requests if they’re attending events on different platforms.
However, it’s essential for sponsors and exhibitors to streamline their process, with the help of event organizers, to ensure that they see and respond to as many leads as possible. This may also mean continuing to engage on the platform after the event ends, since this is when most inbound messages are sent to exhibitors.
Trade shows and conferences make up a huge part of the event industry and largely revolve around lead generation and connecting attendees with exhibitors. The lack of value delivered by virtual alternatives has been a challenge for sponsors and exhibitors over the past year, but we’re still learning about what works and what doesn’t in a virtual environment in order to improve.
It seems clear that lead generation in virtual events needs to take place over a more prolonged amount of time — not just during the dates of the event. By actively engaging attendees in advance of the event and diligently keeping track of all of the leads that show interest, including after the event, exhibitors will likely get much more out of their trade show experience.