Measuring the ROI of Events

April 4, 2018 Sam Melnick

Marketing events (such as conferences, trade shows, etc.) are important to Marketing Operations practitioners. Even though it’s not always MOps folks who attend in person, they’re often intimately involved in the preparation, planning, execution and follow-up. In fact, Marketing Operations can be a make-or-break factor in running a successful event.

We recently teamed up with Kate Athmer, Integrate’s Director of Demand Orchestration, on a webinar entitled, How Marketing Ops Can Maximize Event ROI.

In that session, and Kate’s companion blog post, she shared a series of practical tips to help make sure that your events are a success from an ops perspective, and as measurable as possible. In this article, we’ll delve into how marketers can measure the ROI of events

What’s so special about events? 

There are a few intrinsic qualities about events that make them worthy of a bit of extra attention when it comes to measuring their ROI:

  • They come with big expectations. Especially in the world of B2B marketing, they represent an outsized portion of the budget and effort pie charts — so expectations for a positive return are just as big.  
  • Unlike almost any other marketing activity, they’re “one and done”. There’s just one chance to execute. You can’t easily iterate, adjust strategy on the fly, or scale up if things go well. Often, you even have to commit to event participation up to a year in advance!
  • This pressure-cooker environment means that tight collaboration with the sales organization is even more important than with other marketing activities. This can be a make-or-break factor for event success!

The curious thing is, even with all these things considered, events are perhaps one of the trickiest types of marketing activity to measure — second only, perhaps, to print and outdoor advertising. 

Our recommendation for event metrics tracking

With the stakes so high, there’s a significant onus on the Marketing Operations function to make sure that events are as measurable and trackable as possible. After the event, you’ll need to be able to paint a picture of exactly which activities worked — and which didn’t — within the event, as well as for the event as a whole.

Our top tip for this? Set up a clear hierarchy of marketing campaigns and sub-campaigns in your CRM system. Break down the event into its main components, so that each one is trackable. For example, create InfoSec Conference as the parent, with Trade Show Floor, Executive Dinner, Customer Breakfast, and Partner Presentation as the children.

Kate gave us an example of how her team does this using Salesforce in Slide 7 in the deck from our webinar on this topic. She’s discovered that this one technique will go a very long way towards smoothing out your event metrics tracking and post-event reporting.
Our recommendation for event budgeting

When mapping out your monetary investment for events, our recommendation is to structure your budget in just the same way as you’ve laid out your event. In other words, match “I” (investments) to the “R” (returns). Don’t fall prey to the temptation to create just a single bucket of money for your entire spend — especially since you’ll likely create your top-level budget for events far in advance of the actual conference dates.

As you begin tracking results, they’ll be captured in your CRM system. When your budget is structured the very same way, you’ll be able to see the ROI of each component of your event strategy much more easily since the two will match up.

Additionally, one of our general recommendations for marketing budgeting is worth mentioning here: for each event and event component, you’ll need three different numbers on your budget. The first is the amount you plan to spend. Once that’s set, “lock” it down — don’t change it. As new information comes to light, record those amounts separately as your forecast. Finally, compare those two numbers to the third piece of information: the actual amounts spent. Keeping these three numbers separate will let you review the differences between them so you can plan more accurately in the future. 

Measuring Event ROI

As with any marketing activity, when measuring event ROI, it’s important to realize that there’s no single path to meaningful measurement. Approaches to measuring ROI are as varied as the companies doing the measurement — especially when it comes to defining the “R” (returns) piece of the equation. As we’ve written about before, however, the “I” in ROI is a foundational piece of the puzzle.

With that in mind, we see two main measurement groups that apply to events. To start with, choose one of these according to your bandwidth, data readiness, and tech tools at hand.

  • Cost-per metrics (simpler) — Cost per lead, cost per opportunity, cost per dollar of pipeline are straightforward to calculate, and are a great starting point for measuring event effectiveness. 
  • Events’ role in the customer journey (more complex) — For organizations with more complex sales cycles, it’s likely that events will constitute just one of a large number of touchpoints along the customer’s path to purchase. To be able to paint a picture of what kind of contribution events made, you’ll need to call upon marketing attribution. For more on marketing attribution, check out our publication, Three Paths to Measuring Marketing ROI

Next, consider how you’ll be reporting on event success. You’ll need different reports for different audiences; generally, the higher-ranking the audience, the more high-level metrics they’ll care about. 

Here are a few ways to look at event ROI:

  • Comparing between events — How do you choose from an often-bewildering array of industry events? It’s often a matter of trial and error, combined with careful post-event analysis. 
  • Comparing event components — Was it the customer dinner, the partner breakfast, or the trade show floor itself that yielded the most fruitful conversations? 
  • As an overall part of your marketing mix — How do events stack up in cost-efficiency against everything else your marketing organization does? 

Finally, it’s important not to forget the qualitative aspects of event success. Perhaps more than any other category of marketing activity, there’s a lot of opinion involved with events, and each attendee’s experience is different. In addition to the quantitative aspects above, consider a range of sales, marketing, executive, and partner feedback when writing up an event post-mortem and considering whether to participate again.

Summing Up

With so much money and human effort on the line, it makes sense to invest extra effort into measuring event success. 

Still, it’s important to note that tactic-specific measurements such as the ROI of a particular event falls under the category of Tactical Results on the Marketer’s Hierarchy of Needs. They’re absolutely metrics needed to make front-line business decisions, but only comprise a small part of the picture needed to assess marketing’s true business impact. 


Also on ROI Measurement:

Three Paths to Measuring Marketing ROI: Your Options for Confidently Measuring ROI with Allocadia

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