A Simple Way to Measure the (Potentially) Enormous ROI of B2B Events

September 11, 2015

I was talking with a friend of mine recently — the CEO of a high-growth SaaS company whose name I’ll protect for the sake of privacy — who conveyed to me his frustration with measuring the ROI of events. Like a growing number of B2B SaaS companies, his startup hosts an industry event every year that’s more or less designed to grow awareness of his market and build relationships with prospective customers.

The event’s widely considered a success by its attendees, but this CEO told me it’s hard to say exactly how successful it is — and that’s a very real problem when he’s trying to communicate to his board why the company should continue putting significant resources behind it. The event draws a wide range of high-profile speakers and generates a fair amount of press, but what’s that quantitatively worth to the company’s bottom line?

Sound familiar?

For many B2B SaaS CEOs, events are a quagmire. On one hand, hosting, sponsoring, and attending them can be a great way to build your brand, engage with industry influencers, and fill the middle of the funnel with qualified leads. On the other hand, events are historically difficult marketing investments to measure, which often leads to them being underutilized or improperly valued.

Are B2B Events Really Measurable?

Here’s why that’s a mistake: Events (whether it’s a smaller field marketing workshop or a larger industry conference like HubSpot’s INBOUND, which is happening this week in Boston) can deliver an extremely high ROI that can be quantified. But in order for that to happen, CEOs must start thinking differently about how (and when) they measure each event’s impact.

To do that, you have to start viewing events as proportional investments in various stages of the customer lifecycle. For example, if you spend $100,000 to sponsor and fly your team to HubSpot’s INBOUND, you might break that investment down this way:

  • 33% lead generation: A big part of sponsoring and attending an event like INBOUND is lead gen, but it’s not all you do there. As such, allocating a portion of your total spend (in this example, $33k of your $100k) on lead gen allows you to better evaluate the proportional impact of that one activity. It lowers the bar in a good way by more accurately reflecting the activity:investment ratio.
  • 33% existing pipeline: At INBOUND, some of your time will also be spent on nurturing and accelerating prospects who are already in your pipeline. Designating part of your $100k investment to this aspect of your pipeline is also reasonable and it’ll make measuring the ROI of the event much easier — particularly if you actually close an existing prospect at the event.
  • 33% customer success: Events like INBOUND are also a good opportunity to interact and build relationships with existing customers, but that aspect of events is rarely evaluated as part of the ROI calculation. It should be.

Now, keep in mind that the proportions above are just examples. The value you place on each category (lead gen, existing pipeline, and customer success) will vary by the type of event, who will be there, and what you plan to accomplish.

If, for instance, you’re hosting a customer summit, then you might change the ROI calculation to look more like this: 5% lead gen, 5% existing pipeline, and 90% customer success. Alternatively, if you’re attending a tradeshow, the ROI calculation might look like this: 70% lead gen, 20% existing pipeline, and 10% customer success.

Pre-Requisites for Measuring B2B Event ROI

Once you’ve nailed the investment breakdown for an event, it’s important to make sure you have metrics in place to actually evaluate each aspect. It’s nice to know that 50% of your time/energy/activity will be spent on lead gen at an event, but that’s meaningless if you don’t have a way of measuring your performance in that category.

With that being said, here are some things you’ll want to do before (and after) an event to effectively measure its ROI:

  • Implement the right metrics for each category: You can’t measure what you can’t see. It’s absolutely critical to have lead gen, existing pipeline, and customer success metrics in place that you can put against the results you achieve at an event.
  • Evaluate past performance: If you’ve hosted a customer summit before, look back at what happened to the leads and customers you interacted with at that event. Did those accounts close at a higher rate than other lead gen sources? Did customers upgrade or renew at a higher rate than customers who didn’t come to the summit? If you’re hosting or attending an event for the first time, you can still evaluate performance by benchmarking against similar events.
  • Create a “before and after” plan: What will you do before the event to maximize your ROI? And how will you follow-up with the leads and relationships you develop at the event? Before an event, you might reach out to key prospects to set up appointments or meetings. After an event, you need to have a clear strategy for engagement, just as you would after any other meeting with a prospect or customer.

Like most things, the success of an event is largely predicated on preparation. If you go in with a plan and a clear strategy to maximize the ROI of the three categories I mentioned above, then it becomes much easier to evaluate (and, more importantly, justify) your investments. If you don’t, then you’ll probably walk away from the conference wondering how to explain that $100,000 investment at your next board meeting.

CEO & Co-Founder

<strong>Nadim Hossain</strong> is the CEO and co-founder of <a href="">BrightFunnel, </a>which provides revenue insights for B2B marketers. Most recently, he was the CMO of <a href="">PowerReviews</a>, where he led all marketing, sales development, and channel efforts. He has served as Director of Product Marketing & Management at and Senior Product Manager and GM for SaaS at McAfee. He is also an alumnus of and Bain & Co.