Some people say that hosting customers at events is yesterday's strategy, that there's no ROI, and that customers -- pressed for time -- would rather focus on the business at hand.
UPS would disagree. The logistics and delivery company finds that hosting customer events gives its senior staff an opportunity to learn more about its high-level executive customers.
For the past six years UPS has been the official delivery service carrier for NASCAR. It sponsors Dale Jarrett, one of the most successful drivers on the circuit, and his team. At 17 of the season's 36 races the company invites key customers to a day-long VIP tour. This includes a hospitality tent, a tour of pit row, a visit from Dale Jarrett before and after the race, and trackside seating.
"The most interesting thing to me," says Patrick Guilbert, UPS's vice president of sponsorship and events, "is that we will get CEOs of major companies out there at the track at four or five in the morning for a race that doesn't start until much later in the day."
This means that the NASCAR event gives UPS sales and marketing executives as much as 12 hours of face time with their guests.
According to Guilbert, there is no hard sell. The way time is spent has to be handled delicately, so businesses discussions are mixed with a liberal dose of Southern hospitality. Guests are asked to fill out a survey after the event regarding their experience, and what they learned about UPS. UPS uses the information to determine the best ways for its sales team to follow up from the event with each customer.
As UPS's corporate goals evolve, the event program changed to align with those objectives. Last year, for example, the event supported two goals. The first was to increase communication with more senior executives at its major enterprise accounts. So, instead of inviting marketing directors and vice presidents, UPS targeted C-level NASCAR fans. The second goal was to land more midmarket business, so more event slots were reserved for the midsize businesses that UPS wanted to grow. Guilbert says the program has been aligned successfully over the past year to accomplish both goals. For example, 50% more midmarket executives were invited to the 2004 races than to the 2003 events.
The program is expensive. Guilbert wouldn't put a specific price tag on it, but says he is comfortable with defending the expenditures, and is frequently asked to do so by his superiors.
"We can definitely justify the investment," he says. "Some of the relationships we form at the events are hard to quantify, but others aren't."
UPS now does business with several NASCAR guests that it had no relationship with before the event. He says the group of customers that have attended NASCAR events showed stronger year-to-year revenue growth with UPS than non-attendees. For example, UPS's recent multimillion-dollar contract with M&Ms and its parent company, MasterFoods, was forged through the NASCAR relationship.
Earlier this year UPS retained James Madison University's Center for Sports Sponsorship to analyze its NASCAR sponsorships. It was a consumer survey and more than half (56.2%) of respondents said they would be more likely to consider using UPS services because of the NASCAR sponsorship.
"From our perspective," Guilbert says, "the ROI on our NASCAR events is extraordinary."
5 Tips for Managing BtoB Events
Business marketers spend more than $20 billion a year on trade show marketing and another $15 billion on proprietary corporate events. Event marketing expert Ruth Stevens, author of Trade Show and Event Marketing, believes much of that money is simply wasted. The way to get more value from an event is by careful planning, dedication to measurement, and, above all, a strategic focus. Stevens offers five ways to maximize business event ROI.
- Events are the tip of a much larger iceberg.
Business marketers spend more than $20 billion a year on trade show marketing and another $15 billion on proprietary corporate events. Much of that money is simply wasted. The way to get more value from an event is by careful planning, dedication to measurement, and, above all, a strategic focus.
- Targeting is everything.
At a trade show or other event with multiple sponsors, a fabulous booth is useless in front of the wrong people. So, spend serious time on event selection. Then, plan your participation at the show to attract the top potential buyers --and minimize the time spent with non-prospects.
- Set measurements in advance.
Business events have developed a reputation for being difficult to measure regarding their ROI. But measuring their success is no more difficult than doing so for any other marketing activity. The secret is in setting clear, specific objectives and planning the metrics that will prove the results.
- Play to an event's strengths.
Trade shows tend to be inefficient venues for generating awareness. But they are excellent for starting, and nurturing, face-to-face contact with multitudes of current customers and prospects. Corporate events make expensive prospecting vehicles, but excel at deepening customer relationships.
- Capture and follow up on your event contacts.
Lead capture and management is a process. It requires attention and diligence. If you don't have a lead management process in place at your company, build one before you invest another dollar in event marketing.
Copyright © 2005 Carlson Marketing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Peppers & Rogers Group, a division of Carlson Marketing Group.