Building an Event Calendar that Aligns with your GTM

Sumyukthaa S
• January 19, 2023

(5 min read)

For events to reach their full potential impact, they must blend in with the rest of the GTM activities. They also need to become ongoing experiences as opposed to one-and-done activities. In this article, you’ll learn how to build a year-long event calendar that’s not only aligned with your GTM strategy but informed by it.

Table of Content

We’ve asked GTM leaders in mid-market companies how much of their marketing budget is allocated to events. On average, the answer is 20%. That’s a healthy budget, but if you want to increase it, you need to show a clear correlation between that proposed increased margin and a return on events. But before you build a calendar that achieves that, you need to ask the right questions.

So, how do events fit into your GTM strategy?

Depending on the stage of your business, the industry, and the role to whom you sell, this answer will look very different. According to Sarah Breathnach, Head of Demand Generation and Field Marketing at Hunters, events played a very critical role in solidifying Hunter’s messaging and value proposition by getting it out to as many prospective customers as possible at different events. 

 

“As we built up the value prop for Hunters, we were also able to do key events in our industry to figure out what’s working from a results perspective and also get that immediate in-person feedback,” she says.

 

When asked about the frequency, she says, “Any marketer that works in cyber security gets an influx of event requests from your sales team, your partner team, channel team, and basically everyone within the company. It’s more a case of how can we pick and focus on the events that are best for our business instead of choosing all the events under the sun?”

 

Katie Brunette, Sr. Director, Global Events and Campaigns at Seismic, who hit 30 events last year, spends a lot of time formulating how events can be a channel to take their integrated campaigns to market.

I look at trade shows as brand awareness more than I do demand gen, we do them just to show that we're out there. But I think that when you look at webinars and virtual events, that's your bread and butter of how to pull that into the GTM strategy. I think it's important to do events like this where you can put together a series and show that you're a thought leader and then being able to tie it to campaigns.

She says, “I think it’s important to do events like this where you can put together a series and then be able to tie it to campaigns, so we work really closely with our GTM team and carefully craft events that will drive the message that they’re trying to get across.”

So, what categories do you need to consider when building your year-long event spectrum?

By Strategy

How do you want to approach your events in the coming year, and which event types best align with your strategy? Does a sponsored event make the most sense? Maybe a partner event or an owned event?

Factors that determine the strategy

  • Industry
    Are events a frequent occurrence in your industry? Do your competitors and partners host a lot of events?
  • Audience
    Does your ICP take part in a lot of industry events? What’s the real motivation behind it?
  • Stage of the company
    Where do you rank on brand recognition? Which regions are you trying to break into?
  • For Rachel Russell, Assistant Director of Field Marketing at EY, getting a feel for how and which segments your brand is positioned can help guide your decision-making. At Deloitte, she did 50% third-party trade shows and 50% proprietary events, which were both valuable to the company in different ways. 

    Then I was at a startup, and because they didn't have brand recognition then, we did 100% trade shows. Let's get our name out—that was a big part of the field marketing strategy. Depending on where your company is, you can tailor that based on your goals.

    Don’t forget to balance short- and long-term goals with your calendar. Creating your own branded events will build an audience and a community in the long run. Meanwhile, sponsored and partner events work when you’re trying to break into a new market or region leveraging the audience another brand has built for itself.

    By Outcome

    Events catering to different parts of your lifecycle will yield different outcomes. You’ll be able to determine whether to host more Discover, Engage, or Grow events based on the outcomes that align with your GTM strategy.

    Factors that determine the type

  • Revenue plan
    How much growth are you expecting from the acquisition of new accounts, how much acquisition do you need from existing customers through upsell and cross-sell, and what is your retention target for those customers?
  • Product roadmap
    How many launches are you planning? Do you have one or two big launches, or do you have recurring, smaller launches?
  • ICP and markets
    Where does the revenue come from—regions and buyer persona? Are you looking to expand into new regions, markets, or verticals? Who are you targeting?
  • If you’re focused on improving retention, more Engage and Grow events will fill the calendar. If new acquisitions and brand awareness in a specific region are your focus points, Discover events take the stage. True balance isn’t about an equal proportion of the three types of events but figuring out the right distribution that will help meet your business goals.

    By format

    Format of events is another key consideration in the puzzle of your internal calendar. Hybrid, in-person, and virtual events all serve their purposes, playing to different strengths and strategies.

    Factors that determine the format

  • Content strategy
    How much of your content strategy is dependent on the events you produce? How can you use some of the in-person events to generate content?
  • Target registrations/scale
    How many big-ticket events do you need to produce in a year? Would it make more sense to have the bigger ones as hybrid or virtual to expand reach and keep the smaller gatherings in-person?
  • Budget
    Everything depends on budget, but even more when you’re deciding the format of the event. Do you have the budget to go all out on in-person events? Or do you want to save that for the ABM-focused VIP experiences that are safer ROI bets?
  • Katie Brunette suggests considering the hybrid format for most of your events, even though it’s the equivalent of planning two events in one. “I think hybrid is so important in this day and age because your reach is so much bigger,” she says. “Not everyone’s going to be able to travel to your event, so it almost makes sense to always do hybrid in some form because it’s great content that you wanna get out to everybody.”

    By experience

    Finally but most importantly, consider the attendee experience. Experiences can be short, long, connection- or content-heavy, they can be a one-off, or they can be a series. This is where your team can get creative and build something that wows the attendees. Don’t aim to be visible. Be memorable.

    Factors that determine the experience

  • Audience
    What are their job titles? What are their pain points? But more importantly, what’s their vibe like?
  • Lifecycle stage
    Which stage in the customer cycle do they belong to? An experience you create for a cold audience is different from one that you create for someone who’s aware of your brand and is probably evaluating other competitors.
  • Success metric
    What are your leading and lagging metrics? For example, if social media mentions are one of your lagging metrics, you need to plan an activity that will boost those metrics.
  • “Repeatability can become your biggest ally—think of something like a webinar series that they can sign up for at the beginning that has relative topics throughout,” says Katie Brunette. “You’re not going to get somebody in the Discovery phase to sign on for a three- or four-hour virtual conference unless you have something super compelling going on.”

    When building out your yearly event calendar, remember that all these considerations are connected—your Discover audience likely prefers a more casual event format and an informative experience for which the primary outcome is probably brand awareness. Your other Engage events for product adoption and pipeline acceleration will follow very different formats and experiences. Strike the balance of your attendee’s needs and the needs of your GTM team, and your year-long event spectrum will become clear.

    The only cues you’ll need to set up the best event strategy for your show business!

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