An event industry survey suggests that neither exhibitor nor attendance numbers will make a full rebound this year, but one area is projected to exceed 2019 numbers: the sales pipeline attributed to events. How can B2B event planners keep up the momentum?
Emerald, a data-driven provider of “dynamic market platforms” that include both events and media properties, recently released a research report titled B2B Events Industry Outlook. The survey-backed research suggests that even though the industry is currently showing signs of a rebound, 2022 will still fall short of 2019 levels — except along one key metric.
While both exhibitor participation and in-person attendance were forecast to come close to 2019 numbers, only lead generation was expected to out-perform them. If these predictions prove true, they suggest that the combined effect of live events and virtual channels will be even more lucrative than past models. Even without exhibitor and visitor numbers back to normal, the business gains will be higher.
How can event organizers keep the momentum going?
2019 to 2022: A B2B Event Industry in Transition
Although the survey findings point towards a gradual rather than overnight recovery, a closer look at the numbers suggests that the industry may be laying the groundwork for its most successful era yet.
The survey polled 1,007 people in the event industry, with respondents broken down into three main categories: “B2B vendors/providers”, attendees, and planners.
EXHIBITOR AND ATTENDANCE NUMBERS MAKE PARTIAL RECOVERY
Among other questions, the survey asked vendors/providers whether their activity as exhibitors and sponsors had increased, declined, or flatlined between 2019 and 2021. Somewhat unsurprisingly, 72 percent said that their participation rates were down at in-person events across this period. By contrast, 50 percent expect to increase their exhibitor and sponsor activity at in-person events in 2022. While encouraging, gains of 50 percent don’t fully make up for losses of 72 percent.
Similarly, when planners were asked about attendance numbers at in-person events, 58 percent said that 2021’s numbers were down when compared to those from 2019. However, 53 percent projected that 2022’s numbers would be higher than 2021’s. The gap is a little closer than for exhibitor numbers, but they are still shy of a full recovery.
EVENTS IMPROVE THEIR ABILITY TO GENERATE LEADS
Despite these lackluster numbers, vendors/providers expect to see gains in the sales pipeline generated directly from events — both those hosted in-person and virtually. 49 percent indicated that the sales attributed to event-related leads were down in 2021 as compared to 2019. However, 50 percent anticipate that they will be higher in 2022.
The picture from virtual events is a little more complicated. While in-person events are projected to see a fairly straightforward reversal of fortune in 2022, virtual events are largely expected to make gains on their gains. 27 percent of vendors/providers reported seeing growth in the sales pipeline attributed to virtual events between 2019 and 2021, and 28 percent anticipate seeing more growth in 2022. By comparison, 25 percent said that it declined in 2021 as compared to 2019, and only 16 percent expect it to drop in 2022.
WHAT’S NEEDED TO KEEP BUSINESS GOING
Multiple findings point to two key needs for B2B event stakeholders: The in-person experience is key to driving up business, but year-round online engagement is also a growing priority.
What did vendors/providers and attendees say that they wanted from these online communities? Many of the top answers aligned with the standard advice for delivering 365-day value — webinars, networking activities, forums. But one element stood out: e-commerce. Although 29 percent of attendees indicated that they wanted event organizers to provide “Online commerce capabilities for always-on sales”, only 19 percent of planners said that they offered this kind of service.
The survey pushed the matter further by asking, “Do you think the ability to place orders/transactions online via e-commerce year-round will become more popular within your industry?” In response, 67 percent of vendors/providers and planners said yes, and a resounding 84 percent of attendees agreed.
Is e-commerce the next frontier for “always on” event platforms to conquer? It could be the lynchpin that helps carry the momentum of in-person events forward into the online sphere for year-round opportunities.
Although the B2B event industry may not make a full recovery in 2022, the pressures of the last two years may have created an industry that is both more resilient and more efficient. If the sales pipeline can regain past losses despite lagging in-person participation rates, what sorts of business opportunities will a full return to “normal” bring?