February 11, 2021

B2B Virtual Events Done Better

In-person events have always been gold for B2B brands. Accounting for 10-50% of B2B marketing budgets in 2019, B2B marketers relied on physical events as a massive revenue source, effectively filling the funnel with leads, closing deals, and extending customer contracts.

This was not to be so in 2020. We all know the story—as marketers everywhere had to pivot to digital, events and event planning went virtual. Lift and shift was not going to work. Not only did B2B marketing teams face unanticipated technical challenges and a sea of new virtual platforms, they also had to figure out how they could actually engage attendees and nurture leads in a world of Zoom fatigue.

This episode comes from a recent livestream, where CMO Mandy Dhaliwal (Dell Boomi), CMO Paige O’Neill (Sitecore), and CEO David Fischette (Go West Creative Group) shared everything about their virtual event experiences in 2020, both the good and the bad. Tune in for common challenges, creative solutions, and predictions for the future of B2B virtual events. Who knows, they may be here to stay.

What You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • How to increase virtual event engagement
  • Common technical issues & fail-safes for virtual events
  • The future of B2B events

Renegade Thinkers Unite, Episode 227 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned

 Time-Stamped Highlights

  • [0:00] Cold Open — This is Renegade Thinkers Live
  • [1:13] Adjusting to the New Virtual Reality
  • [4:25] How Sitecore Pivoted to Virtual Events
  • [9:56] How Dell Boomi Pivoted to Virtual Events
  • [14:46] Transitioning from Stage Presenter to TV Presenter
  • [18:04] How to Mitigate Technical Issues
  • [24:53] Common Technical Issues for Virtual Events
  • [30:18] What Virtual Event Planners Can Learn from Broadcast Television
  • [32:42] How to Nurture Virtual Events Leads
  • [37:42] Tech Features Can that Increase Engagement
  • [43:00] Should Content Lean Towards Authenticity or Slick?
  • [44:45] What’s Better, Live or Pre-recorded Video?
  • [47:19] The Future of Physical and Virtual Events
  • [52:49] How to Ensure Virtual Events Kick A** in 2021

Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Paige O’Neill, Mandy Dhaliwal, and David Fischette

[0:00] Cold Open — This is Renegade Thinkers Live 

Drew Neisser: Hey, it’s Drew, and today’s podcast episode is from our 4th recording of Renegade Thinkers Live, our livestreaming series. The show got a little bit meta as we were talking about virtual events doing a virtual event, but it’s full of useful insights for those navigating the virtual event world, which is just about every marketer.

CMOs Paige O’Neill of Sitecore, Mandy Dhaliwal of Dell Boomi, and CEO David Fischette of Go West Creative shared their key learnings from 2020, with use cases, technical challenges, creative opportunities, preparation requirements, and what events will look like in the Post-COVID era.

Enjoy your workout or pour yourself a drink and tune in to find out and learn from these three insightful leaders. Now speaking of technical challenges, in this episode we faced a few audio troubles, so please bear with us for any uncomfortable sounds you may hear, the insights you’ll get are worth it. I hope you enjoy the show.

[1:13] Adjusting to the New Virtual Reality

“In mid-March, just about every B2B CMO was staring at a huge hole in their marketing mix and wondered, what the heck am I going to do?” @DrewNeisser #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: Welcome to the 4th episode of Renegade Thinkers Live, a show that promises to be long on marketing insights and short on over-hyped buzz words. We’ll be drinking in the latest tactics and the coolest gin—yup, this may be the only live marketing show also featuring a gin tasting. This show is being livestreamed via our friends at Restream, and if you want to drink along at home, today I’m doing a solo tasting Dorothy Parker Rose Petal Gin because of the snowstorm here in the Northeast.

Anyway, I’m your host Drew Neisser live from my home studio in New York City, and as I like to say on my podcast, hello, Renegade Thinkers! It seems appropriate that in our last show in 2020, we are going to be talking about virtual events. This was the year that everything went virtual—from coffee breaks to happy hours, from the NFL Draft to the Belgian music festival, this was the year Zoom became an eponym like Google and FedEx, when #WFH went from a frowned upon exception to a potentially permanent reality.

And while most of us have adjusted to this new virtual reality, I think it’s is important to consider just how important physical events were to B2B marketers before to the pandemic. I’m talking about in-person events, and I have a few stats to share with you:

In 2019,

  • 97% of B2B marketers believed in-person events had a major impact on business outcomes (those were poof, gone! as of March)
  • 68% of B2B marketers relied on in-person events for a majority of their leads (poof, gone!)
  • PwC sited tradeshows as the second-largest source of B2B revenue in the US (that revenue, potentially gone)
  • In-person events accounted for 10-50% of B2B marketing budgets

In Renegade’s own survey of 133 B2B marketers right as the pandemic was beginning, having to replace physical events was their biggest challenge and by far the biggest reason 97% of marketers had to adjust their marketing plans. Some of them, about half of those, had to do that all the way from scratch.

This makes sense when you consider all the roles these in-person events played in the marketing mix, from lead generation to deal acceleration, customer training, recognition, and upselling. And this doesn’t even count the revenue many marketers generated from their events. Just consider Dreamforce for a second. That was $13 billion in revenue for Salesforce in 2019. That’s $13.28 billion to be exact.

So, in mid-March, just about every B2B CMO was staring at a huge hole in their marketing mix and wondered, what the heck am I going to do?

[4:25] How Sitecore Pivoted to Virtual Events

“At Sitecore, we had to cancel 50 or 60 in-person events just in a single one or two-quarter period.” -CMO Paige O’Neill @Sitecore #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: One of those marketers was Paige O’Neill, the CMO of Sitecore, a company that not only hosted its own massive customer event, but also exhibited at others. Long-time listeners to Renegade Thinkers Unite, will remember Paige from Episode 94 back 2018 when she was relatively new on the job and we talked about the first three months. Hey Paige, come join us!

Paige O’Neill: Hey, Drew, how are you?

Drew Neisser: I’m great, thank you. How are you? You’re missing all the wonderful snow we had here in New York. You’re out in California, right?

Paige O’Neill: I wouldn’t say I’m missing the snow.


Drew Neisser: Okay, fine, be that way. But when you don’t have to commute, the snow is a beautiful thing.

Paige O’Neill: Well, that’s true. I lived in New York for a couple of years and one year I saw someone cross-country skiing down 23rd Street and thought, “All right, I’m out of here.”

Drew Neisser: Can you remember back to March and April when it sunk in that in-person events were going to be off the table?

Paige O’Neill: Yeah, I mean, it’s one of those time periods that I think is etched in most marketer’s memories. At Sitecore, we had to cancel 50 or 60 in-person events just in a single one or two-quarter period. So, yeah, it was a wake-up call. It was kind of a scary time. But it was also a time when I think a lot of marketing teams came together to figure out what do we do now?

Drew Neisser: Well, 50 to 60 in a two-quarter period, so I’m thinking maybe you might have had 100 or more even over the course of the year.

Paige O’Neill: Yeah, and a lot of those are really small. We obviously had our very large customer event, we had probably five or six larger, maybe 800-1000-people events, and many events that were much smaller, anywhere from 20 to 100 people.

Drew Neisser: When we’re talking about these events, other than your customer event, all these other ones were there to drive leads or to help accelerate sales so…yikes.

Paige O’Neill: Yikes! Yeah, I would say that, in the US, we were much more digital than we were in other geos. We’ve got offices all over the world and field marketers all over the world who are generating that pipeline, and in the US, we were already probably running somewhere around 60% or 70% digital give or take. But in those other regions, it wasn’t even close to that mix.

Just like every other marketing team on the planet, we had to very quickly embrace digital, figure out how we were going to do that, figure out how we were going to differentiate ourselves, and try to build that pipeline back up and try to get anywhere close to what we would get with the physical events, which were probably comprising, I would say, 40%+ of our marketing-sourced revenue.

Drew Neisser: I saw a bunch of events in March and April, the folks that rushed out—and not to name names, IBM and Adobe—but they rushed shows out the door to have a first-mover advantage. But many of us who looked at those virtual events were not impressed. I don’t know about you. Did you go to any of those or did you see what some of those big brands were doing? What did you learn from those early efforts?

Paige O’Neill: Of course. I think Adobe was first out of the gate, and they’d had an event planned. I think that they were able to carry on with it. Their very large customer event just happened to take place, I think, a couple of weeks after we went into shutdown, so I think what we learned from vendors like the Adobes and the IBMs who had to go so quickly was, first of all, they were very brave. I can’t even imagine—we were very fortunate to have about seven months between when we went into shutdown and had to start having digital events, and when we had our large customer event, which just happened a couple of weeks ago at the end of October. We had plenty of time to prepare. They had literally weeks, and kudos to them for going out and setting the model.

I think they had some successes, and they had some things that probably didn’t go so well because of the planning time they had, but I think one big thing that we learned was, it was going to be OK to be more informal in this Zoom world that we all found ourselves in. [Inaudible], for example, he looked like he was in his home and his office and he was just very informally standing, delivering a major keynote in his office. That was one of the first times that had probably happened because, on the marketing side, we want to be so slick and so produced. We learned pretty quickly that it just wasn’t going to happen and that that was OK, so I think that was a big learning.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I think you’re right. And I think the authenticity of that—I have to say, there were so many pre-programmed, pre-recorded boring presentations at a couple of them that I just went, how is this ever going to work? I give them a lot of points for bravery, but I think we all got to go to school on them. They did not have first-mover advantage in my opinion. In this case, they were brave.

[9:56] How Dell Boomi Pivoted to Virtual Events

“Lift and shift from the old model to the new model? Not going to work.” -CMO @1MandyDhaliwal @boomi #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: Let’s bring on Mandy Dhaliwal was the CMO of Dell Boomi and the star of Renegade Thinkers Unite Episode 178. Mandy, now, I’m sorry you’re not going to get to do the gin tasting with us. By the way, for folks listening, our gin is in New York at an airport, stuck, so don’t worry about that, but you’ll get a taste and you’ll have to share your notes on it later. But so first of all, how are you?

Mandy Dhaliwal: I’m doing great. We’re winding down the year, Drew, and what a year it’s been. I can’t say that I’m disappointed that it’s almost shutdown time for us at our company. I’m feeling grateful for all the learnings this year, and hopeful.

Drew Neisser: You’re in the Bay Area, right?

Mandy Dhaliwal: I am.

Drew Neisser: All right. Let’s go back to March and April for you. How big of a gap did cancelling all those in-person events leave in your 2020 plan?

Mandy Dhaliwal: It was massive. Just from a reach to market, we’re scaling a business here, so for us to meet our customers and prospects in the market was really core to our strategy and also a big chunk of our budget. 30-40% of our marketing mix relies on the event strategy as well as the analyst relations in those conferences.

We were deer in the headlights for the first couple of weeks, but we didn’t sit still for very long. We recognized very quickly that our home page and our website is our digital storefront, so how do we continually drive really great messaging to ensure that people understand that our technology can help them transition during this time of tremendous uncertainty? Then we also started to look at, how do we start to fill the gap with the event strategy? There was a lot of conversation, daily stand-ups, all sorts of things in addition to handling our own teams as they all pivoted to work from home, which frankly, for us was just a flip of the switch. We’re fortunate that we had the backbone of our technology to transition pretty seamlessly. But yeah, I do not want to relive March and April all over again.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, well, hopefully, we won’t have to do that. I’m curious—so this hole in your budget, and obviously you had a team that went with it, did you attend any of those early events? Was there a virtual event that you went to in that second quarter where you went, “Oh, there’s hope here”?

Mandy Dhaliwal: I went to a couple of them—not going to name names—and, no, I just kind of went, “OMG, what are we going to do?”

Drew Neisser: Yeah, right? I mean, there was a period there where they just kept coming out and they were all day and just relentless. I thought, who’s going to go to this and how is it going to work? But eventually, you executed a big event, right?

Mandy Dhaliwal: We did. The learnings of the early renegades, if you will, on that front—a couple of things became really clear to us. Live lift and shift from the old model to the new model? Not going to work. And those of us that have been living the cloud transition have realized that ubiquitously.

For us, it was really important to learn from others and also really start to talk to our peers within Dell Technologies as well, and really understand what the gating factors were. A couple of things emerged as far as takeaways:

Record what you can. Make the content more snackable, if you will. No more daylong meetings, 20-, 30-minute keynotes max. And really start to drive that engagement with the audience and really understand how to put yourself in their shoes. Understand what they’re needing from us and deliver to that. So, it’s kind of taking the core tenets of marketing that we all know are our North Stars, but really adapting to the times. Those were some of our guiding principles.

And just candidly, we bumped our way through the dark. We didn’t have this all figured out. The marketing team spent a lot of time understanding platforms that we need, geographies that we need to cover, that coverage. There were so many things, the tactics, and all the details. We were masterful at launching and planning our user event. We’ve gotten really good at that over the years, so we thought this year that would not be an issue. We had it in the bag. Our kick-off, my keynote, was all about pushing up to the next level, and we no idea what “next level” really meant back in February.

[14:46] Transitioning from Stage Presenter to TV Presenter

“I'm learning how to present more as a TV presenter versus as a stage presenter. I looked at it as an opportunity to kind of expand my skill set—and had fun with it.” -CMO Paige O’Neill @Sitecore #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: Let’s bring Paige back. While we’re doing that, we’re going to also ask, “Hey, Google, what’s a virtual event?”

Google: According to Wikipedia, a virtual event is an online event that involves people interacting in a virtual environment on the Web rather than meeting in a physical location. Virtual events are typically multi-session online events that often feature webinars and webcasts.

Drew Neisser: All right. There you have it. That’s what Google says. At some point soon David Fischette will come on and educate us to the contrary.

But let’s talk about you, Paige. I know you had Sitecore Symposium, an event that I got to speak at in 2018. I was there, I saw the energy, and so forth. When you approached it, what did you see as your biggest challenge for this time?

Paige O’Neill: Yeah, I mean, it was exactly the word you just mentioned, Drew. So many great things about our annual customer Sitecore Symposium event, but that energy in that community and just the spirit that pervades the entire few days that were there? We thought, how can we possibly capture that in a virtual format?

It certainly wasn’t the same as getting together in person, but I think we pulled off a very engaging event that our community was really excited about. We had that interactive component and I think we did it by leveraging some of the components that you guys were just talking about in terms of, you know, we knew we had to keep the content moving very quickly. We had to keep the sessions very short. We made sure to build in that interactive component. I think we did a lot of things to build in fun and engage the community. We did tape some things that we could, but we had a fair amount of live components as well, so that was interesting.

I feel like I learned a whole different way of keynoting between stage versus…it was more like television, which was, for all the speakers, very interesting. But the community was very engaged and was extremely pleased after the event, and we more than doubled the size of the event. That’s the silver lining, right? We got so many more people engaged around the world that couldn’t necessarily make the trip to the US.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. It’s funny. I watched your portion of it, and it was live. I thought, you know, the biggest challenge as a presenter is, there’s nobody there. Even in this show, I get to see the two of you and we can have a conversation and you’re smiling, you’re reacting. But the notion that you’re just presenting to nothing. That must’ve been a weird experience.

Paige O’Neill: Yeah, it’s very different. I love to feed off the energy of a large crowd at these events and literally, if you could have seen what was in front of me as I was presenting, it looked like a television studio. There were some production people there and a couple of my team members came to try to amp it up and cheer me on, but we couldn’t really be together. They were all wearing masks and all socially distanced. It just wasn’t the same at all. But again, you know, I kind of looked at it as, all right, well, I’m learning how to present more as a TV presenter versus as a stage presenter. I looked at it as an opportunity to kind of expand my skill set—and had fun with it.

[18:04] How to Mitigate Technical Issues

“I like to say we have to have backups on our backups.” -@dfischette @gwcreativegroup #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: Mandy, come back and let’s talk about surprises. As you produce these things—we’ve talked about the fact that you had larger attendance, which is great, and you can draw from a larger audience. But what were surprises? They don’t all have to be good. This is a learning opportunity. This is a show helping other CMOs get through this. What didn’t work in these things?

Mandy Dhaliwal: We tried to mitigate the surprises from a technology standpoint because that was front and center. We used some technology on the back end as far as load and performance testing. We’re working with our partners to ensure that those weren’t the surprises that were negative. I think the learning was, for us as a leadership team and as we did the retro on the event—on the positive side, double the attendance, exactly what Paige said. We did it in a quarter of the cost. Tremendous lift for the entire marketing organization. We burnt out some people, particularly around video production.

Those were some of the big “aha” moments. We threw a lot of arms and legs at it, but in hindsight, we should have kept the scope much more limited than what we did. That’s been a definite learning for us. We did have celebrities that we were bringing on to be a part of each episode. We did a three-week Netflix-like series and, working with them, there’s a lot of detail behind the scenes in terms of promotion on media, getting them to tweet something out, and all the handholding that had to happen there is not as seamless as a B2B marketing team. With us, we just go on to our platforms and schedule tweets. So just a lot of that manual labor that was required to make it go off seamlessly. Behind the scenes, there were some moments of deep trepidation.

Drew Neisser: I think it’s a perfect time to bring on David Fischette. David is the CEO and chief creative director of Go West and he joins us from Music City, Nashville, Tennessee. Hey, David, how are you?

David Fischette: Hey, Drew, thanks for having me.

Drew Neisser: It’s funny, you and I were talking a few months ago—Mandy and Paige, David runs a really creative company that produces physical events. So now it’s March and April— that had to have been pretty brutal.

David Fischette: It was pretty brutal. Yeah. We saw millions and millions of dollars’ worth of projects for the year cancel in a moment. It was pretty staggering. But the beauty is, my company just turned 36 years old a couple of weeks ago, so we’ve been around for a long time and we’ve actually been doing corporate broadcasting since 1999. 21 years we’ve been in the corporate broadcasting side of things, but it’s always been just a small piece of what we do. It has never been the front and center thing; it’s a very small piece. We’ve also done some television production, some film production, so we are able to immediately pivot to all things virtual. Everything that we did.

It was very, very successful. It’s funny, Drew, last night I just produced a massive benefit concert with Blake Shelton and Jason Mraz and Dave Matthews, all supporting and fundraising for the people in the live event industry. 12 million people have lost so much of the work since March. We have been, thank god, some sort of an exception to that rule. We’ve actually had a very stellar year with the corporate broadcasting and pivoting so quickly. We’ve been very, very fortunate to do lots of these broadcasts around the country, so I’m really loving what Mandy and Paige have been saying because we’re so very, very, very, very in sync.

The line that you said about lift and shift and that not working. 100% we came out of the gate trying to tell people is you can’t just take what you would have done in the ballroom or a conference center, put it on the web, and think that’s going to be a successful first broadcast.

Drew Neisser: This is where being a savvy entrepreneur, you’ve been through many downturns before, you knew you had to pivot somehow. One of the things that you had mentioned to me was that your customers came to you because they wanted a throat to choke if something went wrong. You talked a lot about fail-safe things. Talk a little bit about just the technical background and some of the things that you guys did to make sure that your event stayed live.

David Fischette: Sure. So, my greatest gift and the thing that scares my staff is I’m always thinking what could go wrong, what could go wrong? How do we mitigate what could go wrong?

I’m thinking, all right, when we do live events for people and we’re in a hotel ballroom or a conference center, but the Internet goes down, the client’s not coming to us. They might say, “Hey, can you help us?” If the power goes down, the client’s not coming to us, maybe they’ll ask, “Can you help us?” but they’re looking at the venue facility. Now, if we’re going to start hosting these virtual broadcasts either in our studio or elsewhere, if the Internet goes down, they’re looking at us. If the power goes down, they’re looking at us, so we’re all about how do we mitigate, mitigate, mitigate?

We have a term—I like to say we have to have backups on our backups. Every piece of hardware is backed up, all of the Internet lines. If we’re broadcasting over the Internet, there’s at least two, usually three different sources of Internet that are all going into one box that is bonding them all together so if one thing fails, it just switches over to the other. Even on certain broadcasts, we’ll bring in a satellite truck as additional redundancy. And then what about power? Do you need to bring in a generator?

At our studio, we have an online backup generator so, if the power goes down, within 12 seconds it kicks on automatically and all the equipment is backed up by batteries so that it’ll keep running during the switchover. It’s just, what are all those things that could go wrong and how to mitigate that because there’s a lot of things that we’re—I forgot the term you use there, but it’s kind of like you’re flying the airplane and building it at the same time. A lot of people have been kind of stumbling through this year trying to figure out what this looks like.

[24:53] Common Technical Issues for Virtual Events

“Now we're asking those same presenters in the homes we're doing remotes in to also be their own tech person.” -@dfischette @gwcreativegroup #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: Why don’t we bring Paige and Mandy back. Great. I love our little foursquare here. There are a lot of things that can go wrong. This is the fourth episode of livestreaming just this show and we’ve already experienced, oh, I’m going to say seven different technical nuances that we didn’t anticipate. Restream, by the way, these folks that have been behind the scenes helping us and we’re still finding things that are going wrong. I’m wondering, can you share anything behind the scenes that almost went wrong or where you really went, “We’re not going to do that next time?”

David Fischette: For us, it’s just trying to have those redundancies. Even the master switch. On our biggest programs, we try to have somebody in a different city that also has their hands on the wheel, so if anything should go down locally, we can automatically switch over in a different city and keep going.

I think for me, the thing that typically I’ve seen go wrong the most is we have this new world of executives or speakers that are used to walking into a hotel ballroom or an event space and having a stage manager grab them and an audio guy put a mic on them, and somebody walks into a mark on the stage and they say, “Stand here,” and the lights come on. All they have to really worry about is, “Is my deck right?” and “Do I have my speech?”

Now we’re asking those same presenters in the homes we’re doing remotes in to also be their own tech person. We’ll always do tech checks several days beforehand to make sure everything’s good, but what happens a lot is, in the moment, they forget that they’re supposed to hit this button, or my mic wasn’t working, or I can’t get in, or what was I supposed to do? Now they’re their own tech people as well as being the presenter. The learning tax on that one, for everybody, it’s a brand-new skill set that we’re asking presenters and executives to take on.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, it’s funny you say that. First of all, I’m the IT department for our house, and my wife has been saying that the IT department needs an IT department.

There are all sorts of things that you can’t necessarily anticipate. For example, on this program, if you leave your email on, that could slow down the feed. I could suddenly get 10 emails in and the next thing you know, you’re fuzzy and you’re dropping. There are all sorts of things you can’t anticipate.

David Fischette: The same point, Drew, if you have kids that are home learning and you’re going to broadcast but your kid is in the other room and they’re Zooming or somebody is on Netflix, and it’s pulling down your bandwidth in your house—that’s another one of the best practices.

Paige O’Neill: I’ll share something that went wrong a little bit as we were executing our event. It’s just something you never would have anticipated. Within our marketing automation system, we’ve got safeties in place, as everyone on the planet does, to make sure that we’re not overextending our database. As we were executing the virtual event and we were sending the registered users the login information to get into the event, we had a glitch, which luckily was resolved very quickly, where some of them weren’t getting the email because they were over the email capacity. It’s just something that we didn’t anticipate because we’re not usually sending out emails like this through that kind of a platform to log on to an event at such a large volume. It was, you know, 6,000-7,000 emails. That was something that we just never could have anticipated because we were in a whole new world that, luckily, we were able to try and solve, but was a little bit of a panic.

Drew Neisser: You got throttled on your email. Essentially, it was like you had been spamming them. Yeah, that would make sense. The ideal thing is, in that circumstance, is to put the information out there earlier. But that, I guess, would create security risks or sharing risks or other things like that.

[30:18] What Virtual Event Planners Can Learn from Broadcast Television

“How do you create and take some of those learnings from broadcast television and create something that feels authentically true to who you are as a brand?” -@dfischette @gwcreativegroup #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: David, you’ve got a couple of CMOs here, and you are very familiar with the CMO audience, having spent years producing the event for The CMO Club. What are CMOs missing when they’re thinking about virtual events?

David Fischette: Well, I am so pleasantly surprised that we have a couple of CMOs that don’t feel like they are missing it. The thing that I am seeing that so many people are missing—of course, not these ladies here.

Drew Neisser: You diplomat you.


David Fischette: The thing is, we’re talking about audience engagement. How do we truly engage people? We have Zoom burnout, WebEx burnout. We’ve all learned how to engage with a screen. We know how to be entertained by a screen. We know what to do with that. We’ve all been taught how to do that since we were little kids at a television, right? We know we know what to do with Ellen and Jimmy Fallon and CNN, Saturday Night Live, SportsCenter. We get how to do that.

What I’ve been trying to shepherd people into is, how do you create and take some of those learnings from broadcast television and create something that feels authentically true to who you are as a brand? You don’t want to be over the top cheesy. You don’t want to feel disingenuous. But how do you take those learnings from television and bring it in with bite-sized bits? Like we were talking about. When you said 20-minute keynotes, it made my heart so happy to hear that because if people are still thinking, “OK, the president going to speak for an hour,” then no. No, no, no.

If the president does need to speak for a longer session—we did one with one of our clients a few weeks ago. Well, all right, we’re going to break that up, we’re going to do television commercials. Those commercials inside of your presentation will also support some of your content that you’re trying to deliver. So, again, using that television format, because it is a new world and just taking what we would do on a stage and just because it’s the way we’ve always done it just doesn’t work anymore.

[32:42] How to Nurture Virtual Events Leads

“We are an infotainment organization at the top of the funnel and then we're an engagement organization as you get from mid to bottom.” -CMO @1MandyDhaliwal @boomi #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: Paige and Mandy, when you’re looking at events, in the old way, this was a lead machine, right? You get the people in there and the sales guys would be waiting for someone to show some buyer signal, and or you would grab the lead and farm it later. As you’re thinking about that and that mentality—how am I going to get leads out of this? —how did that impact the experience that you created? And I realize that those are completely different things because one, you get the lead just by having them register, right? How do you get from “they’ve registered to the event” to “they’ve had an experience that will then inform their choice as at choosing your brand versus another”?

Mandy Dhaliwal: I’ll start. I think for us, the big learning was, A, the live events, as I stated earlier, were our highest converting source. We had a massive vacuum there, so what we did was, all right, we’re getting the names, but how do we nurture them in order to get them to move in a direction that we need them to? Also, the landscape behind all of this is, in this COVID era, net new customers are harder to come by. They’re harder to come by in this commercial segment as well. We’re going after enterprise customers that we may have an existing relationship with. Sales cycles are longer, so how do you go relationship build once you’ve got them in the door?

With our big user conference—Out of This World is what we called it instead of the Boomi World because we couldn’t replicate the physical Boomi World. Once these people came in, we started to group them by company and understand which companies were coming in droves to really learn more about our content. Then we started to accelerate the field machine, the field marketing engine, to bring them through the funnel in a way that, once they’ve engaged with sales, they’ll start to do more of that motion in terms of the education, whether it’s hands-on tech workshops for their tech people, CIO roundtables with the more senior folks, and just really start to do a bespoke marketing plan, if you will, that push them deeper through the funnel. We’re still at that, obviously, because we just ran our event in October, but that’s how we’re approaching it.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. So, the big event is really, in a way, just the start of this conversation. How far do you need to take them in this experience to get them so that you can have the next one? In other words, couldn’t I do that in half an hour?

Mandy Dhaliwal: They’re all snowflakes. There’s no hard and fast rule. That’s something that we do. And also, we’re entertaining people and their families. I was talking with my field marketing team in North America earlier today. We’ve been doing salsa dancing; we’ve been doing cooking lessons. I personally was hosting wine and cheese pairings with a cross-section of customers and prospects to get those motions around closing events and relationship building and that validation. We are an infotainment organization at the top of the funnel and then we’re an engagement organization as you get from mid to bottom. And then we become BFFs with our customers as we convert them. So that’s what this year has done for us.

Drew Neisser: Paige, does that mirror what’s been going on with you from pre, during, and post-event experience?

Paige O’Neill: Yeah, it does. I think one of the ways that we tried to combat some of the inevitable digital fatigue that you do see—no matter how great of an event you put on, at a certain point there does start to be some kind of fatigue with it—is by getting extremely targeted.

One of the things that is similar to what Mandy’s saying—we were, of course, leveraging ABM prior to COVID, but we’ve accelerated everything that we’re doing. Coming out of some of these larger events, we find ourselves doing a much more intimate event. We’re grouping them by industry, we’re grouping them by title, we’re grouping them by sea level, and having much more intimate conversations.

I think we’re also spending a lot more time doing some really diligent account planning with the sales team. I think it’s brought us closer together with the sales team, we understand the account strategies a lot better than we did across the board. We also are finding this is giving us a much more intimate relationship with that nurture process because you’re up close and personal on the screen. Before, a lot of that played out as opportunity further through the pipeline so when you’d come to an event, you would have a massive acceleration impact. But now there are a lot more steps, the sales cycle’s a little bit longer, and so you’re just much more engaged across the board. I think it has been a positive and I think some of it will linger on when we get out of the COVID world.

[37:42] Tech Features Can that Increase Engagement

“Everything exists out there, and everything's got a different price point to it and a different level of complexity and a different ramp up time.” -@dfischette @gwcreativegroup #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: David, as you’re listening to this, it’s a phenomenon that’s come up in our conversations and at CMO Huddles—a lot of customer events were about really accelerating pipeline. You had prospects and you had customers and the prospects were really close. They’d be a customer and they’d talk about it, and the next thing you know, it was an easy sell.

Well, that goes away in the world of virtual, except there’s this whole phenomenon of these specialized micro-events where you have 10-15 executives and, Mandy, you’ve spent some time at some of those, where you have a conversation and there might be a couple of clients. Those clients just happen to mention that they’ve had a great experience and that helps these prospects move through to finally close, which is a rule that the big events used to play. But it’s fascinating—that wasn’t in the playbook.

David Fischette: Somebody said the word “platform” before. The platform is kind of an interesting way to look at that. Now you have probably 10,000 different virtual platforms that have sprung up this year. It’s like everybody’s got a platform right now.

As we look at every client, every event, it’s like, what are those needs? If someone were filling the sales funnel, you’re going to want to find a platform that has got those engagement triggers inside of it.

You have a general session area, you’ve got your breakout session areas, there are some really great platforms that are out there that give you the ability to go, “You know, I know Mandy’s going to be at this thing and I want to have a conversation with her.” I can find Mandy, click on Mandy and not just have a chat, but I can invite her to do a one-on-one video conference outside. We can actually have a personal conversation while we’re in the general session or breakout session, so we can connect that way. It’s not face-to-face. It’s not breaking bread together or having a drink together, but it does give us the ability to talk to the people and connect face-to-face in this in this new realm until it comes back.

It’s never really going to come back to the way it was before. There’s always going to be a piece of this now.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. And I’m wondering, Paige and Mandy, have you experienced what David’s talking about in terms of those breakout one-on-ones?

Paige O’Neill: Yeah, our Symposium platform did that. You were able to schedule one-on-ones and you were also able to schedule group sessions so that you can have networking within the community together. Then we’ve done several events on a bit of a smaller scale where the one-on-ones are a big part for the sales team.

Mandy Dhaliwal: I was just going to say exactly the same. We’re also building it into our sales kickoff, which is now happening virtually in February. How do you take a global team and put them into some level of team building? That capability is core to being able to have that experience.

Drew Neisser: As you’re thinking about all of this, were there any things that you wish that the technology could have done for you this year?

Mandy Dhaliwal: I’ve got one. I would have loved a teleprompter. I admittedly was taping pages of notes to the back of my screen. Now I know they’re available, but back when we first started, I was kind of like, “I’m talking even more so…”

Drew Neisser: You know, it’s so funny that you say that because I’ve been working on a method. This software that we’re using has a little side chat bar. I can’t use that because my notes, my teleprompter, if you will, are on the right side of the screen. We all need bigger monitors and room. So, yeah, teleprompter. Anything else? David, you’ve been close to this technology? What have you been wishing that this stuff would be able to do and support you?

David Fischette: Well, you know, it’s interesting because what we’re doing is outside of that, that is we produce the content, we produce the show, if you will. We produce what the general session will look like and how things are going to be delivered, and then we can push that product to any of those platforms.

What we’re doing is we’re sitting with our clients and saying, “Okay, what is it that’s important to you? Is it important that you just have something that’s simple to use and navigate? Do you want something sexy that feels like you’re in a virtual world? Do you want avatars of yourself so that you can have conversations with other people?”

Everything exists out there, and everything’s got a different price point to it and a different level of complexity and a different ramp up time. We’re trying to just figure all those things out. On the teleprompter thing, for me, I hear you. Eye line for me is everything. Even right now, if I’m looking at you guys down the bottom of the screen, it doesn’t feel like I’m really engaged as if I’m looking at you here. How do you get your information to be able to talk here so it feels like I’m actually talking to the person on the screen?

Drew Neisser: I know I have to forget not to look at the screen. It’s just one of those things we’re all going to have to learn.

[43:00] Should Content Lean Towards Authenticity or Slick?

“No marketer worth their salt would have ever been broadcasting from their home office or in various places in their house. But now that's OK.” -CMO Paige O’Neill @Sitecore #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: I am wondering—a lot of people have talked about authenticity versus slick. David, I saw some of your productions and they’re really cool. I would argue they’re on the slick side of the spectrum. They look so cool. What Paige cited was the guy who was at his home—what we all remember about the NFL draft was we got to see their houses. In this world, where are you guys, Mandy and Paige, on this authentic versus professional extreme being slick?

David Fischette: Well, there is an authentically slick. Or a slickly authentic.

Drew Neisser: I’m making an “or” statement here, please.

Paige O’Neill: I think both. I think that what we learned, and I said this at the top of the hour is, it didn’t used to be OK to have the keyed down production. No marketer worth their salt would have ever been broadcasting from their home office or in various places in their house. But now that’s OK.

For our Symposium conference, we did get a studio at a hotel and we did the keynotes and some of the live segments from there, but we had many other presenters who were presenting from home and we had community engagement where we had people popping in from their homes. I think both. I think that what we’ve learned during the pandemic is, it’s OK to key it down and you can still have a quality production. But slick’s nice.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, and some of it depends on brand, too. There is that “or.”

[44:45] What’s Better, Live or Pre-recorded Video?

“If we would have pre-recorded each of our pieces, it wouldn't have this flow.”-CMO @1MandyDhaliwal @boomi #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: What about live versus pre-recorded?

Paige O’Neill: Yes!


Mandy Dhaliwal: Use them both. Not everything has to be pre-recorded. This conversation is so rich, right? Think about just what we’re doing right now. If we would have pre-recorded each of our pieces, it wouldn’t have this flow. We did a bit of that, but we canned it all. We did do more of the interaction, but I think absolutely there’s room for both. I kind of want it all, so I’m not an “or” person. I’m an “and” person.

Drew Neisser: Fine. We’ll give you an “and” on live versus pre-recorded. My concern with the pre-recorded is that you do it, and I can’t interact with it. As a result of it, why did I not just get a link to it later or before? And here’s the truth. You won’t look at it later or before. I know it takes a lot of the risk out of it, but it takes all the life out of it.

David Fischette: Yeah, I agree with you. Just as a producer, I want to live on the edge a little bit. “Live TV, I hope it all works!” I mentioned earlier this broadcast I did last night. We had over 20 different artists perform last night, and I think we had about 8 or 9 of them that were live at the Ryman Auditorium here.

The others were pre-recorded, but for me producing the show, I wanted it to feel as live as possible. Even some of the pre-recorded people, what we did is we faked conversations with them with the live host in the room. When I recorded them three weeks ago, four weeks ago, it was like, “The host is going to say this. Now you wait, now you answer.”

Then yesterday we practiced the timing of the host there, then having a conversation with live. It just made the broadcast feel like there are more elements that were alive than were actually taking place. The point is, if it’s all canned, people get it, that’s all canned. I think it releases them from feeling like they need to be engaged because that person is not really there, and I can watch this video later.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I’m thinking of that live performance of the Rolling Stones where the drummer is like banging his books. They cut to him and it’s like, all right, yeah. We really reached a very pitiful point in the world of live music. Not my favorite moment.

[47:19] The Future of Physical and Virtual Events

“Digital events aren't going anywhere. I can't imagine that we won't have a digital component to our larger events from this point forward.” -CMO Paige O’Neill @Sitecore #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: We’re rounding out this thing. We’re looking at 2021 now, and there’s a chance there will be physical events in the second half, maybe safely in the fourth quarter, maybe in the third quarter. What are you thinking about in terms of physical versus virtual for your planning for, let’s just say fourth quarter to be safe?

Paige O’Neill: Yeah, I mean again, both, right? I think one of the things that we’ve learned—adding that digital element to that event was fantastic. As soon as we can go back to live events, we absolutely will. They’re much better for lead gen and pipeline maturation. But the digital events aren’t going anywhere. I can’t imagine that we won’t have a digital component to our larger events from this point forward.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, it’s interesting. I think most of the CMOs I’ve talked have said, “Yeah, we’re thinking hybrid.” And of course, that means more cost because if you’re livestreaming everything from the physical event, you have really created a production challenge. Mandy, same thing?

Mandy Dhaliwal: Yeah, I agree. The one thing that we kind of put on the back burner was the sponsorships. At our user conference, we typically have an opportunity for our partners, our alliances to come in and be a part of the expo and so forth. We never did that this year. It was just too heavy of a lift and it felt not right to be charging people for access to our audience and so forth.

But I think that is something we’ve got to crack down on because there are joint solutions that we build with these partners and providing our community with access to that and information around that in a way that’s scalable and frankly, that offset some of my costs on the production side of the live event. So that’s a revenue stream that we didn’t get this year.

Drew Neisser: Right. So, you’re looking forward to getting that back?

Mandy Dhaliwal: Yeah.

David Fischette: I think on the hybrid side, what were you going to start looking at is you’re going to want to start splitting your production team, right? You’re going to have people producing for the live audience and you have people producing for what’s going on in the broadcast. I think there are going to be bits and bobs that the people in the broadcast are going to see that the people live don’t get, and the people live are going to get the experience of being there live.

There are benefits both, but the word “benefit” is key here because I think, even when it’s safe to travel again, there are going to be people that are going to be scared to travel. And moreover, there are going to be people that realize, “I didn’t necessarily need to travel. I don’t have to get on a plane. I don’t have to be away from my kids. I don’t have to spend all this money and I can still engage with it.” I think because of those two reasons, hybrid is going to be the way we go forward for the long term, I believe.

 Drew Neisser: This has come up in Huddles a lot. Many folks had to give their physical event budget back. They just gave that back in April. It was just taken off the table. Then some of that got clawed back for virtual events, but you didn’t need as much. I mean, it was 1/5 the cost or 1/4 the cost. The question that I have is, that money is off the table. Is it going to get back into 2021? And if you get your numbers without it, how are you going to even rationalize to your CEOs that you need the money for physical events?

Paige O’Neill: We did get our numbers without it. We have increased our numbers without it. But yet I still would argue that the physical events are pipeline accelerators and pipeline builders. Even though we did do it with digital, we had to do a lot more digital and it was just a whole different kind of a marketing spectrum than it would have been with the physical events.

We didn’t really get the budget taken away. We had a lot of costs dumped into venues. Of course, the venues, they didn’t want to give that money back, they just wanted to move the contract out.

It wasn’t so much that we lost the money. We just deferred it into, hopefully, the later years when physical events will come back. I think that the physical and the face-to-face, it’s pivotal to accelerating that pipeline.

Drew Neisser: I think this is where the multiple benefits of events come into play. We know that it’s really good for employees. We know it’s really good for training. There are all sorts of things that happen as a result of the physical events that you just aren’t getting now. And then there’s this other aspect that we really haven’t talked about and we’re going to run out of time on which is, there is such a thing as event fatigue, physical screen time. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to not having conversations on a computer for a good week, if not longer.

I’m hearing a lot about that just Zoom fatigue but screen fatigue. To rely 100% on virtual events in 2021, unless you have to, is a scary thing.

[52:49] How to Ensure Virtual Events Kick A** in 2021

“Put yourself in the seat of the person sitting on the couch. What's going to make them want to stay engaged with you?” -@dfischette @gwcreativegroup #RTU #podcast Share on X

Drew Neisser: As we’re wrapping up the show, one key insight that you want to share for 2021 planning. How am I going to make sure that my virtual events are kick a** in 2021? Mandy, you’re up first.

Mandy Dhaliwal: Really the strategy in mind. What are you trying to accomplish? Let the tactics come later. We get somewhat enamored by, “Oh, I’m just going to do this cool new thing,” but really understand the purpose in terms of what you’re trying to drive. Is it awareness? Is it funnel acceleration? It all leads to revenue, but really understand that.

Drew Neisser: Paige, you’re up.

Paige O’Neill: Yeah. I mean, I think for us, just continuing on the path that we’ve gone down in terms of being hyper-targeted. I think that this has really caused us to home in on who we are targeting, why we are targeting them, and making sure that we’re, again, I said this earlier, hand-in-hand with the sales team.

It strengthened those relationships and I think that leads to just a better rationale about why we’re doing what we’re doing. I think that demand is going through a revolution overall right now in terms of moving away from the traditional marketing funnel and spray and pray approach type of funnel. I think that COVID has accelerated that, so I think it’s going to be a continuing evolution for the marketing function.

Drew Neisser: All right, David, take us home. One key thing to do in 2021.

David Fischette: I said it before, it’s writing your program, producing your program in a way that people will engage with it. Put yourself in the seat of the person sitting on the couch. What’s going to make them want to stay engaged with you? Think about that first and foremost and then figure out how your content and everything you need to communicate this inside of that infrastructure.

Drew Neisser: I love it. That’s a great place for us to wrap up. Thank you, Paige, Mandy, and David, you’re all good sports in this challenging livestreaming thing. Thank you, New York Distillery, for this bottle of Dorothy Parker. And thank you audience for staying with us.

Show Credits

Renegade Thinkers Live is produced by Melissa Caffrey and Maya Todd. For show notes and past episodes, please visit renegade.com, home of quite possibly the savviest B2B marketing agency in New York City. I’m your host Drew Neisser and until next time, keep those RenegadeThinking Caps on and strong.