Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has moved online like never before. As a result, people working in sales have had to adapt their approach for this new reality.

As industry events are being canceled, salespeople who used to rely on events-based marketing are searching for alternatives. Enter virtual events.

Fortunately, virtual events are highly effective.

According to a March survey undertaken by Gartner and reported by Facility Executive, 88% of organizations have encouraged or required their employees – including company executives – to work from home due to the pandemic.

This means that those decision-makers you’re trying to reach are spending more time online than ever before.

Read on to learn how to pivot to virtual events and how to host virtual events that generate sales.

Pros and cons of virtual events

According to ZoomInfo, 73% of B2B marketers and sales leaders say a webinar (one of the most popular types of online events) is the best way to generate leads.

Virtual events are cost-effective, too. There are none of the usual costs associated with refreshment, a physical venue, or travel. The only costs are your platform, speakers, and promotion for your event.

Of course, there are also some downsides to virtual events. It can be hard to get and hold your attendees’ attention since holding the event online raises the temptation for them to multitask.

Some people also don’t understand the value of virtual events, making it harder to persuade them to attend in the first place.

But the pros of virtual events still far outweigh the cons. In the era of COVID-19 and physical distancing, virtual events are a necessity for salespeople.

In the next section, we’ll go through the steps you need to take to make your virtual event awesome.

Planning your virtual event

Since you’ve reached this point, it’s safe to assume you’re convinced about the potential of virtual events. Let’s break down the steps you need to follow to host an event that will generate sales.

Step 1. Choose your topic

Ultimately, the point of your virtual event is to get prospective customers interested in your product and drive sales.

That means your topic must be related to what you sell. However, that doesn’t mean that your virtual event is a giant sales pitch.

Make that mistake, and your attendees will tune out, lose interest, and not come back.

Therefore, make sure your topic aligns with your product. For example, if you sell a social media management tool, you might host a panel discussion on social media trends to watch for this year.

If you sell home office equipment, you might talk about best practices for being productive while working from home. And so on.

Follow this simple strategy to choose a topic: identify customer pain points aligned with your product or service. In other words, what’s a problem your target audience has that you can help solve?

Ensure the topic you choose will provide value in the form of useful information and actionable takeaways.

If you’re struggling for inspiration, check out Eventbrite to see what others in your industry are doing. Don’t copy, but use their ideas to spark your own. Are there any knowledge gaps you can help fill?

Step 2. Pick your virtual event format

A virtual event can take many formats. You’ll need to choose the one that is right for your subject matter, industry, and audience.

Here are some to consider:

  • Virtual conference. This is the hardest type of event to organize and takes a lot of work. A virtual conference, like a physical conference, will have multiple talks and sessions spread across one or more days.
  • Presentation. You or your speakers give a talk or lecture, usually with time for questions at the end.
  • Breakout Rooms. Your attendees do an activity or have a discussion in smaller groups, then report back to the main group. Virtual speed networking is one example.
  • Panel Discussion. Several experts discuss a topic, usually with input and questions from the audience.

Some formats can be more expensive than others. Using a platform with breakout room functionality can come at a higher cost.

Each format has its pros and cons. Before you go any further, determine which is right for you. If in doubt, have a look at what other successful virtual events in your industry are doing.

Step 3. Choose a time

Timing can make or break your online event’s success. You must consider your target attendees’ availability and preferences.

In addition, if you hope to target people in multiple time zones, take those into consideration when choosing the time that makes the most sense.

In general, the best time to hold a virtual event is during the working day, but not too close to the beginning or end of the day (when people tend to be busiest). 11 am to 2 pm is a good window to aim for.

In most instances, your virtual event should be midweek. Wednesdays are a great choice, according to Bright Innovation.

There’s even a hashtag – #WebinarWednesday. Tuesdays and Thursdays are also popular. It’s best to avoid Mondays and Fridays. Weekends and holidays are a big no-no.

Step 4. Create your opt-in page and email sequence

Before you start promoting your event, you need two critical things in place: the opt-in page and the email sequence.

The opt-in page

Your opt-in page (also called a landing page) is where attendees will register for your virtual event.

It should include the following:

  • Details of the event including date, time, duration, and platform.
  • An enticing headline.
  • A subheading that explains in brief what the event is about.
  • A paragraph or bullet points with more information about what attendees can expect to learn.
  • A brief biography of the speaker(s).
  • 1 – 3 testimonials about the speaker, the company, or past virtual events you’ve hosted.
  • A registration form.

Since you’re aiming to entice people to sign up, you could also offer a bonus or lead magnet. This is a freebie the person will get in exchange for registering.

Good options could include an e-book, a white paper, a training video, or the opportunity to book a free 30-minute consultation. Just make sure your bonus is related to the content of your online event.

The email sequence

The email sequence is a series of emails reminding your registrants about your event to maximize attendance.

Since the average attendance rate for a webinar is 46%, you’ll want to do everything you can to ensure those who register actually show up.

Too few emails and people will forget. Too many, and you’ll annoy them.

Here’s a formula for a winning virtual event email sequence:

  • Email 1: “Thank you for registering”. At this point, deliver the lead magnet or bonus if you promised one.
  • Email 2: A reminder email a week before the event.
  • Email 3: A reminder email the day before the event.
  • Email 4: A “see you in an hour” email one hour before the event.

Step 5. Promoting your virtual event

Now that you’ve planned and scheduled your event, it’s time to promote it. Let’s explore a few ways to do that.

Your virtual event should be displayed prominently on your website. You can reference it on your homepage and mention it in blog posts. Don’t forget to link to your registration page each time.

You should also post about your virtual event on your social media channels. Create shareable content such as teaser videos and infographics.

These will encourage your followers to reshare your content. If you have guest speakers at your event, ask them to share the event on their social media channels, too.

If you want to reach a broader audience, consider using paid social ads with parameters targeting the appropriate demographics.

You should also promote your event via your email marketing list. Set up a short sequence to let your subscribers know about the event and encourage them to register.

Here’s an example of a suitable virtual event email sequence:

  • First email: tell them about the event and give them the opportunity to register before anyone else as a thank you for being newsletter subscribers.
  • Second email: remind them about the event. Create a sense of urgency by saying that spaces are filling fast and limited spots remain.
  • Third email: tell them this is their last chance to register, as booking closes soon.

At each stage, reiterate the value your subscribers will get from the webinar, as well as any bonuses you’re offering.

If there are particular people or company representatives you’d like to have in attendance, you can also do targeted outreach.

Create a list of everyone you’d like to invite, and then find their contact information using LinkedIn and an email verification solution. Then you can send a polite introduction email with a link to your event.

Be consistent when you promote your event. One or two social media posts won’t cut it. People usually need several reminders before they’ll sign up.

Step 6. Presenting

Congratulations! You’ve come this far. That means you’re done promoting, and are nearing the date of your virtual event.

After putting in all this effort, don’t make the mistake of trying to “wing it” on the day. You must be well prepared and have thoroughly rehearsed. First impressions are everything, and people will be able to tell if you’re unprepared.

Make sure you present confidently. Look straight into the camera, sit up straight, smile, and speak slowly and clearly.

Here are some top tips for making sure your virtual event is sufficiently engaging that your attendees will stay right up until the end:

  • Introduce yourself and tell your story. Keep it brief.
  • Deliver the content you promised. This section should make up the bulk of the event. Ensure you follow through on the value you offered.
  • Don’t be afraid to use humor when appropriate.
  • Include visual and video content in your presentation.
  • Offer a door prize to encourage attendees to stay until the end.
  • Leave time for questions or include an audience participation activity.
  • End with a call to action. Send your attendees to a squeeze page where they can learn more about your product. Including testimonials from happy customers will encourage them to buy.

The best way to keep your audience engaged is to involve them. The perfect virtual event should be a conversation, not a monologue or lecture.

Step 7. Following up

Your event is over and it went well. But it’s not quite time to relax just yet! Now you need to follow up. The follow-up stage is perhaps the most important when it comes to converting your attendees into customers.

Send a follow-up email to your attendees within 24 hours of the event with relevant marketing material. Thank them for attending, provide a link to your slides or a recording of the event, and reiterate the call to action.

At this stage, you can also offer an additional bonus to get them to take action. A free add-on product or a consultation are good options.

Make sure the content is high quality. Impressions count. Use a professional designer for any graphics. Use a grammar tool to catch typos. This is your opportunity to engage and convert warm leads.

Don’t forget to email those who registered but did not attend. Include your slides or recording so that they can catch up in their own time.

Finally, use the follow-up phase to solicit feedback about your event. If you know what your audience enjoyed and what didn’t go so well, you’ll know what adjustments to make next time.

Virtual events that generate sales

The people who achieve their goals are the people who remain adaptable and can respond to unforeseen situations.

Nobody expected that 2020 would be disrupted by a pandemic, but the companies and organizations that have thrived are those that have been able to pivot to new approaches. Virtual events are now more popular than ever before.

Salespeople are well-positioned to host virtual events to generate leads and grow conversions.

These online events are a great alternative to the conferences, talks, and trade shows that have been canceled due to COVID-19.

Therefore, if you haven’t started exploring the potential of virtual events yet, I recommend that you do so.

Remember my top tips for a winning webinar:

  • Choose a topic that aligns with your product and customer pain points.
  • Choose an appropriate day, time, and format.
  • Create a great opt-in page, utilizing bonuses to encourage people to register.
  • Use an email reminder sequence.
  • Promote your event consistently using all the channels available to you.
  • Rehearse and prepare so you can deliver a killer event.
  • End with a CTA.
  • Follow up promptly after the event.

Follow this formula, and your shift to virtual events is sure to be successful. Good luck with generating all those additional sales!