SAP appears to have done a bang-up job with its combined physical and virtual customer conferences, according to B2B Magazine. Not only did it focus on getting customers to talk to each other, (VS. SAP talking at them,) but tracked which content prospects viewed to learn about their needs, and will use a content management system to target future info and offers to them based on those actions.

The simultaneous physical events attracted 20,000 people to Orlando and Frankfurt, not to mention satellite physical locations where people watched live satellite feeds. More than 30,000 virtual attendees watched and heard content generated by editing studios, satellite trucks and a global broadcast network. Chief Marketing Officer Marty Homlish says that being able to see who viewed what information, and for how long, goes a long way towards helping SAP “capture demand.”

What can we in smaller companies learn from giant SAP?

First, get the customers talking to each other and stay out of the way, unless you can really help. I recently helped “cover” a customer summit for a multinational services company and was amazed by the amount, quality, and candor of the interchange among customers. Yes, account reps were accompanying their clients, but they spent most of their time listening to their customer’s problems. Which is about as good market intelligence as you can possibly get. It also cemented the reputation of the service provider as “different” than rivals who push marketing harder.

Second, integrate the physical and virtual events. This is tougher, and requires staff to capture the events (in Tweets, blogs, videos, etc.) and then to edit, process and post that information on-line quickly. It also requires paying someone to keep jogging the on-line conversations, offering new questions, insights, observations and thoughts before, during and after the event. And that costs. But it’s not really that expensive, I’d guess, compared to the total event budget, and it can pay off if…

You share (as SAP did) the information about which customers and prospects viewed which events with your sales force. That, of course, is the whole aim of content marketing (to help the sales force,) and if a trade show or customer conference isn’t an exercise in “content creation” I don’t know what is.

But designing an overall plan – which includes deciding on target customers, key issues to highlight, how you are going to score prospects and then how you’ll share their names with the sales force — requires time and thought, which are in short supply when you’re trying to stage a plain old physical (much less physical and virtual) event. I’d be curious to hear, six months from now, from SAP whether the extra effort was worth it.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email or call me at 508 725-7258.

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