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Partnerships 101: How to Organize and Execute an Online Event With Your Partners

Note: this is the latest in our Partnerships 101 series. You can read the others below:

With large in-person conferences, trade shows and other events sidelined for the foreseeable future, companies have increasingly turned to digital events to keep themselves top of mind for customers and prospects.

Eran Ben-Shushan, co-founder and CEO of Bizzabo, an event platform for in-person, virtual and hybrid events, says these unprecedented times call for companies to be more creative in how they engage their audience, and virtual events are one way of accomplishing this. 

“In times of disruption, agility, being open-minded, and making the required changes is becoming one of the most important things that we can do for our benefit and the benefit of our organizations. We as the events industry need to embrace this as part of our thinking process and as part of our culture,” Ben-Shushan says. 

But organizing an engaging digital event that drives quality leads isn’t as simple as turning on Zoom and sharing a Powerpoint on screen. As you begin to set your events strategy for the rest of the year, we put together some tips for getting digital events right.

In this post, we’ll cover:

  1. Why digital events?
  2. Types of digital events
  3. Best practices for digital events

Why Digital Events?

For many organizations, digital events have always been part of a larger, overall event marketing strategy. However, virtual events have several advantages, especially now.

First, participants must register, so your company immediately generates potentially hundreds of warm, qualified leads. In a time when social distancing has prevented many partner managers from connecting with partners in-person, digital events allow you to act as a helpful resource as your partners navigate current changes in the market.

Another advantage is that digital events are more budget-friendly and cost-efficient, especially as your company reinvests its event marketing budget into other high-impact marketing and sales channels. They’re also a way to bolster your brand’s reputation and keep the conversation going with current and potential partners.

These were some of the drivers that influenced Alex Shyshko, a partner account manager at the digital events platform ON24, to launch “partner office hours,” a one-hour weekly event. Shysko recently kicked off the events, which are done via webinar, to better serve ON24’s new agency and technology partners and other potential partners.

“We're getting a lot of interest, a lot of questions and inquiries and it looks like everybody just wants to buy,” Shyshko says. “So, right now how I’m trying to manage the masses is through partner office hours. Instead of having 20 or 40 discovery calls in a couple of days to go over a lot of similar information, we can do one webinar where we spend 20 minutes or so on a brief overview of the company and then leave the majority of the call for Q&A.”

Shyshko says the digital office hours are designed to operationalize how he works with new partners, provide them with more information about ON24’s overall product capabilities and to share additional resources, like white papers and data sheets, which he can link to in his webinars using ON24’s widget application. 

“If you have a webinar, ultimately you're having a call, but you're having a call with the masses and you're able to share that message at once, especially if you make it more playful — you have resources, you take polls and get feedback from people about what works and what doesn't work. When you get that feedback, you can act on it and make your partners even better,” Shyshko says.

Types of Digital Events

Like Shyshko, you can launch a webinar to engage partners.

But webinars are only one option when it comes to digital events. Others include:

Virtual conferences

Adobe and Microsoft have both taken their in-person conferences digital. Adobe Summit, which took place in March, featured keynotes, 100 breakout sessions and hundreds of thousands of attendees who logged in for what the company billed as a “Digital Experience Conference.” The Microsoft Build 2020 Developer Conference, a 48-hour live stream that featured demos and expert panels, had more than 230,000 registered attendees compared to 6,000 attendees for its 2019 in-person conference. The conference allowed Microsoft to showcase new products, putting the company’s innovations front and center after competitors like Google canceled its conference due to the pandemic.

What these events lack in terms of in-person networking and face-to-face conversations with partners and customers, they more than make up for in terms of reach and cost-effectiveness. Because the conferences took place virtually, more people were able to attend and these companies saved event rental fees (after all, is there any venue in America that can hold 230,000 people?). 

Microsoft and Adobe also were able to drive a more compelling conversation around their products because they had an engaged and captive audience all tuning in from the comfort of their own homes. As a partner manager, you can leverage your company’s virtual events to do the same and to follow up with leads or partners who have participated in these events to be more proactive about serving their needs or addressing any pain points they may have. 

Virtual event series

Some companies, like Google, have pivoted toward digital event series. Google’s nine-week event series Next ’20: OnAir, which launches July 14, will take place on demand every Tuesday and cover topics ranging from productivity and collaboration to Cloud AI. 

ON24 also put on a “Digital-First Webinar Series” throughout May that was designed to give companies best practices and tips and tricks for building and scaling a webinar program to better engage prospects and customers alike. 

These events are a great alternative to one or two-day virtual conferences because you can space out the content and allow attendees to consume it at their own convenience. 

Webcasts

Whereas webinars are more interactive and real-time, webcasts are basically online versions of a recorded broadcast.

This was the approach NetApp decided to take with its “Ask the Experts” Webcast, where the company’s business continuity experts answered pre-submitted questions around improving cybersecurity and data performance as government agencies transitioned to remote work during the pandemic.

Webcasts enable companies to put forward thought leadership and showcase their expertise, allowing them to reinforce the value they offer customers and promote their product without having to make a hard-sell or use heavy-handed marketing tactics. As a partner manager, you can repurpose this content as part of the onboarding process to build stronger connections with existing or prospective channel or tech partners, and help them better understand how your business can serve them.

Virtual roundtables and panels

Virtual roundtables and panels transfer the live interactions you’d expect to have at an in-person conference to a digital medium. The team management platform Monday.com recently held a live panel on LinkedIn focused on “Building a Strong Remote Work Culture,” while Code for America also covered the topic of remote work during a roundtable in which experts from leading public sector organizations shared best practices for remote work. 

These kinds of events typically take place in a physical space, where networking and making connections is easier. But by making these events virtual, participants can still do the same by leveraging the chat feature, participating in a dedicated Q&A or through other interactive elements like polls, while gaining knowledge from your company and information on tactics and strategies that may help them unearth new leads or revenue opportunities.

“Just for fun” digital events 

Who doesn’t like to imbibe with virtual co-workers, dance like no one’s watching, listen to good music or best virtual strangers in a game of trivia?

Companies are trying to bring the social atmosphere of the workplace to the digital world with online trivia nights, concert broadcasts, virtual happy hours and online parties with a live DJ. For example, the insights firm Incisiv has put on a virtual happy hour series that involved everything from a session on trends in inventory management to a virtual rock n’ roll underground party that allowed people to jam out in the name of hope — which is something you can never have too much of during a pandemic. 

As a partner manager, you can organize virtual events that bridge the gap between knowledge-driven and more social events. Your partners are human, too, so they might just appreciate the opportunity to socialize and connect with others in a more casual setting who are facing the same business challenges as they are.

Best Practices for Digital Events

If you want to launch a successful event, keep these best practices in mind:

Don’t just transfer your in-person event to digital

Some of the same best practices still apply whether you’re organizing a digital or in-person event. These include choosing an engaging session topic, identifying the right prospects and cultivating a highly targeted invite list using information from your CRM. 

However, simply transferring your cancelled in-person event to digital isn’t enough. You need to find a way to make it more lively, whether through interactive polls or by using a livestream to engage participants. Also keep in mind that people have video conference fatigue, so if your event will run long, include breaks to give participants the opportunity to reset. 

Set a business goal 

Shyshko says it’s important to set key KPIs at the outset. With the partner office hours, his goal was to find a way to manage ON24’s increased inbound leads and to better support the company’s strategic partners. 

“You need to understand your KPIs and ROIs,” he says. “Are you doing this to operationalize things? To support the ecosystem? Are you doing this to drive new revenue? Are you doing this to empower your partners? Ask why you’re doing this webinar [or other digital event] because then you can set better metrics against it.”

Focus on content 

With digital events, content is king, so focus on both informing and engaging your audience. Try to deliver original content or a fresh spin on an existing topic, like a 30-minute webinar on “5 Ways to Reinvigorate a Stalled SaaS Partnership.”

Also identify the right partners and subject matter experts in your organization — and the right pairings of each for your digital event. These people not only should have a wealth of knowledge about the topic, ideally they should also be engaging speakers who can hold an audience’s attention.

Choose the right technology platform 

There are too many webinar and video conferencing platforms on the market to count. Your company may already have its platform of choice, but if not, make sure you understand the core functionality of each platform and how these capabilities can help you put on an interesting event that actually achieves the core KPIs or success metrics you’ve set. Some available video conferencing and digital events platforms include:

Engage your partners

If your company intends to collaborate with partners for its digital event, you may want to form an outreach strategy for how you’ll identify and communicate with partners and ask them to participate. Leverage your sales and marketing teams to help with this effort and be sure that you clearly communicate the value to the partner — whether it’s a brand-building opportunity or a lead activation play — rather than focusing on how the event will benefit your own organization.

Once you’ve identified the right partner, take the time to prep them, which may include a mock rehearsal for your event or providing a draft of the Powerpoint deck or script beforehand. Giséle Bisson, a managing partner and founder at Chain Reaction PR who has organized over 100 virtual and live events for start-ups, venture-backed and leading tech companies, agrees that rehearsal is key.

“TED conferences are rehearsed in advance, and the AV issues are ironed out. You need to do this in the virtual space, too,” Bisson says. 

Do several test runs

Technology is never foolproof, so it’s important to be prepared, says Kate Marsden, chief marketing officer at RiskScreen, a SaaS company in the anti-money laundering space.

“We always run a test call when working with external interviewees a few days in advance, so they’re familiar with the logging-in process and the sound quality is good,” she says.

Internet connections can be spotty, so Marsden says event hosts should “come off the VPN before you start, as it has a tendency to fail over right at the wrong time. Check what happens if you, as an organizer, lose your internet connection. We’ve tested this and with GoToWebinar we have a few minutes’ grace time to get reconnected before the whole webinar shuts down.” 

“Accept that some people will always have firewall issues that typically stop them from hearing the sound, and flag to everyone at the start to ask for a recording if this happens,” she adds.

Marsden also has another great piece of advice for making sure things run smoothly during your live event: “Have a colleague log in and listen as an attendee, so they can ping you if there are any problems.”

Set the Mood

Ambience also is crucial. Bisson offers several tips, including:

  • Don’t forget the lighting. Invest in a Selfie Ring Light on a tripod. “Test your lighting in advance at least a day in advance at the time of your call and consider the ambient lighting,” she says. “For example, the light will be different in the evening than in daytime. Pull a shade or curtain over windows to diffuse bright, direct light. Test for unbecoming shadows on your face.”
  • Can anybody hear you? “Unless your laptop has a great internal camera or mic, or you are using a smartphone or tablet, you might want to buy a lavalier mic,” Bisson says. You can pin the mic to your clothing, use it wirelessly or connect it to your iPhone.
  • What's behind you? Bisson says speakers should be aware of their background and make sure it’s immaculate and uncluttered (this should go without saying, but still….) “I like to use a bookcase to block the bed if [I’m] working from a home office that is in a bedroom or guest room,” Bisson says. You also can order posters online or use the virtual background feature in Zoom or your web conferencing tool to add more visual interest.

With all these tips, you should be ready to put on a high-quality virtual event with and for your partners that drives quality leads, deepens your business relationship with them, and the trust they have in your company. Even when big, in-person events return, virtual events will be here to stay, so why not take advantage of them to cultivate more partnerships that drive your business?