Measure value against objectives not ROI - Phacilitate

[Blog] Measuring success from conferences is getting harder, here's how we do it…

A case study from the Business of Regenerative Medicine 2019 
Hi, I'm the Portfolio Director at Phacilitate. I spend most of my time working out how to make our conferences better, with the hope of getting more people to register, sponsor or exhibit.

Recently, we’ve found ourselves in the shoes of our customers and have learned a lot about the difficult question of measuring and tracking success when we sponsor a show. 
Measuring success from conferences is getting harder, here's how we do it
Me arriving at Harvard Business School :) 
In this article, I’d like to share a few tips that we thought about before sponsoring the Business of Regenerative Medicine (BRM) conference and how we measured the impact. (Hint, it’s not booth traffic!) 
The BRM show was held this year at Harvard Business School. It mixes academics, biotech, vendors and investors in a really intimate, two-day conference setting. It’s the second year we’ve sponsored, the audience is a great blend of our existing community across cell and gene therapy and a cool opportunity to meet some new ones. 
When you add up the cost of flights, hotels and activation fees, we know all too well that the financial commitment can mount up.  
You can walk away without a real measure of the value, returning to the office not knowing whether it was worth it or not. That’s scary!    
So as an organiser at someone else’s conference, we find ourselves asking the same questions our customers ask. Although we don’t have a technical solution to sell like a CMO or a device company, we do share commonalities with the likes of Lonza, Thermo Fisher and hundreds of vendors active in the sector.  
We engage the same audience, we offer a B2B solution for the advanced therapies community.    
So just like you, the value of travel and sponsorship through to marketing and time out of the office needs to be scrutinised.  
Sound familiar?  
Measure value against objectives, not ROI 
A quick google and you’ll find hundreds of posts for ROI calculators. Some are more useful than others and I’m always sceptical about anything that focuses on the number of badge scans, business cards collected or my personal favourite, ‘minutes spent on booth’! (Think Banzai’s Mr Shake Hands Man. You definitely don’t want to be that guy!)     
This guide from the AEO FaceTime group is useful because it hones in on some of the major trends happening in the events sector and focuses on four areas for measurement and insight: 
  1. pipeline impact  
  2. anticipated customer retention  
  3. brand perception impact 
  4. quality of experience   
I'm going to dig into each one with some examples of how we did this at BRM. 
Pipeline Impact  
The two defining metrics we measured for how BRM impacted our pipeline was the change in propensity to purchase and the projected revenue. Despite having no exhibition booths, the conference was great for this. Both Kim and I used it as an opportunity to introduce everyone we could to Phacilitate and gain interest in our events and new initiatives.  
It’s not all down to how many ’hot’ leads you can accumulate on the day either. Everyone is at different stages of a customer journey.  
Use every interaction as an opportunity to be helpful. You never really know when they'll be ready to buy. 
Anticipated Customer Retention  
There were a lot of attendees at the event who were already familiar with us. This was a good opportunity to build stronger relationships with them and learn more about how they can get more out of our events. It was also great for having meetings with existing contacts and discussing their specific role at our events, leading to increased velocity through the sales funnel.
Brand Perception Impact 
A couple of definitions of ‘brand’ that we adopt at Phacilitate are; 
‘The collective behaviour of your people and how others feel about that behaviour’ – Jay Acunzo 
‘A brand without trust is a product’ – John Weed  

As the number of conferences increases and the process of making decisions about which to attend gets harder and harder, 'brand' is becoming the most important differentiator for us.  
Sponsoring the BRM meeting meant we were able to bring to life our core belief that powerful partnerships are the key to our industry’s growth. Moreover, it allowed us to share a little slice of who Phacilitate really is and open up to our community. We ran a focus group for some past attendees that gave us some great feedback that we've already been able to apply to make the experience of attending our conferences better.
Ace tip - I can't take credit for this one but one tip is to be prominent in asking questions. By asking questions it gives you a great opportunity to make your company and your own personal brand present and front of mind (thanks Jennifer Brasswell!).
Many people don’t know we run just four conferences a year, specifically for the advanced therapies industry, and have been doing so for 15 years. Very different from a lot of the other conference organisers that fill your inboxes.
Quality of Experience  
The feeling we share with our community is special, but at the moment this only happens at our events. Through the sponsorship of BRM and other related events, plus doing our own member meet-ups, we've found a way to extend that throughout the year. By giving value, we're hoping we get value back and this event was a great opportunity to have fun with some prospects. You can find out more about our member meet-ups and become a member here
Rather than a fancy dinner in a stuffy restaurant, we took the opportunity to take some customers to a baseball game; swapping the steaks and fine wine with hot dogs and beer at the Fenway Park stadium!  
Walker, a management consulting firm predicted that customer experience will overtake price and product as the biggest differentiators in 2018. While the digital journey gets a lot of airtime in the CX realm, face to face interactions are the ones we really love at Phacilitate, and this was a great example of that.  
In addition to building success around the above four pillars, the value of the trip did not end there...
We built meetings around the conference, even hired a car and drove up to Manchester, New Hampshire to meet a sponsor. Taking the opportunity to check out the New England coastline and stopped off to work in Portsmouth for the afternoon.  
Key Learnings to my Own Business   
The BRM conference was one of the best conferences I've attended for learning points that we could apply to the Phacilitate team. Nancy Koehn's closing session on leadership deserved a standing ovation and Sarah Larson's presentation on building biotech spin-out teams was a great insight into how motivation and incentives have changed for a younger workforce too.  
To sum up, don’t get stuck just measuring the booth traffic or how many people were sat in your talk.  
From our experience, 20% of sponsorship value comes from the package you sign up for and 80% comes from what you actually do at the event.  
If you need help or want to discuss some of the ideas in this post, please feel free to get in touch with me. I’m always interested in discussing ideas about how we can make your event experience better and more valuable.