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Even in the best of times, measuring the return on investment generated by events can be challenging for marketing teams.

The conferences, tradeshows, and industry gatherings that provide structure to the annual marketing calendar also add weight to the annual marketing budget, but their outcomes are often too muddied by vanity metrics, misalignment with company objectives, or a lack of real connection to the sales funnel to be effectively quantified.

A full 55% of enterprise marketers admit they don't know how to calculate the ROI of an event, according to a study by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services.

Events are a vital marketing and sales development component; investing in them is central to just about every company's marketing and growth strategies. But how can you prove they're worth it?

In a bizarre twist, the pandemic demonstrated that you could.

When in-person events became unacceptably risky beginning in the spring of 2020, many events were postponed or outright canceled—but others migrated online. As it became clear that "back to normal" wasn't right around the corner, companies started recreating their shelved events as virtual experiences, using videoconferencing tools as well as more specific digital event platforms to host reimagined gatherings.

And because that social and commercial activity took place in the digital environment—where just about everything can be evaluated and analyzed—measuring event ROI became much easier.

Suddenly, event marketers had the data available to create a more accurate picture of attendance, engagement, and outcomes than they could with live events. That made event ROI more straightforward to calculate, and a more essential and expected component of event assessment.

As in-person events return, the expectation of positive and accurately calculated event ROI won't go away. But event marketers can use the tools and lessons they acquired from more than a year's worth of virtual events to more effectively measure ROI across live, digital, and hybrid events.

Measure what matters—avoid vanity metrics

Every event marketer knows what vanity metrics look like. They're usually large and impressive but they have little to do with the company's actual performance—such as overall registration counts or total event landing page views. Or they're based on nebulous, subjective variables such as "impressions" or event "reach." They might provide context or illustrate event scope, but they don't contribute to ROI.

Instead, marketers should focus on measuring what matters. Here are some examples of metrics that have a tangible impact on event ROI, even if they're not all measured in dollars:

  • Registration-to-attendee attrition rates
  • Number of C-level or decision-maker attendees
  • Number of attendees from target accounts
  • Average event ROI from ticketed events
  • Funnel velocity/acceleration
  • Win-rate improvements
  • Number of net-new qualified contacts added to your database
  • Ratio of net-new to existing contacts
  • Net-new leads generated
  • Number of demos/meetings held at or after the event
  • Net-new qualified leads (or MQLs)

Those kinds of quantifiable, outcome-oriented metrics are easier to capture in a virtual setting, but they're not impossible to measure in hybrid events or in-person events. Companies just need the right tools to integrate with their CRM and sales funnel management systems to enable accurate ROI analysis.

Integration is integral—use the right platform

Virtual events come "pre-digitized," and attendance is automatically logged. Session engagement can be timed and measured, and attendees' interactions are easily tracked. You can solicit feedback instantly, and all the raw data can directly feed into your CRM system.

It's a little more complicated for in-person events, but the same level of integration is possible. Companies that want to accurately measure ROI for their virtual events and their live and hybrid gatherings will need event management tools built with CRM integration in mind.

An event management platform that automatically collects and shares event data bi-directionally with a CRM system, such as Salesforce, makes it possible to connect event activity to revenue generation. And that's a direct path to accurate ROI measurement.

See your events as influencers

Visibility into the connection between event activity and revenue also allows you to quantify an event's influence on your sales pipeline or funnel on a more detailed level. You can understand how the event influenced many closed-won opportunities and moved prospects down the funnel.

You can also gain insight into the event's impact on customer loyalty, or whether it created expansion or upsell opportunities.

A single event's influence on business outcomes can go far beyond the deals cemented at the event itself. Understanding and tracking that influence is critical for having a complete picture of event ROI.

Get in alignment

Of course, even the most accurate metrics and extensive integrations don't mean much if what you're tracking isn't aligned with company objectives—or if you don't have buy-in across your organization.

To accurately measure revenue-driven metrics, you need to know how the rest of your company measures success (as well as what metrics are essential to your executive team or board). That knowledge helps determine a standard way to measure the investment and ROI for live, virtual, and hybrid events.

Establish those definitions with your sales team members, and understand what impact your events could have on their pipeline.

* * *

After over a year of virtual events, companies and event professionals are eager to resume in-person gatherings.

Women and new employees are at an especially high risk of developing "Zoom fatigue," and being on camera for virtual work meetings and events can be exhausting or fatiguing for everyone, recent research found.

Although Zoom meetings aren't going away, and there are good reasons for that, there are big benefits to starting up in-person events once more, particularly for some groups such as new employees, junior employees, or minorities.

Even as relatively easy-to-track digital events give way to live experiences, the mandate to precisely measure event ROI will remain.

By measuring what matters, having the right event technology in place, integrating with CRM systems, and aligning on expectations, event marketers can be confident about their events' ROI and the value to their companies.

More Resources on How to Measure ROI for Events

Virtual Events: 18 Ways to Rock at Virtual Engagement and Prove Value to Event Sponsors

How to Maximize the ROI of Hybrid Events in 2021

B2B Virtual Events: 12 Ways to Ensure Impact and Drive Topline Growth

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The ROI Resurgence: How a Year of Virtual Events Made Measuring ROI More Important Than Ever

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image of Eric Holmen

Eric Holmen is the CEO of Splash, a next-generation event marketing platform designed to help teams build and host virtual, in-person, and hybrid events.

LinkedIn: Eric Holmen