Are In-Person Events Worth the Investment?
When I ran a software company, we agonized over spending on the HIMSS Global conference and regional HIMSS events. We also struggled with how do virtual events well. In this post, we will dive into questions I have wondered about for two decades: What is the value of in-person events, is there a positive ROI and are virtual events the future of events?
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Why We Continue to Do in In-person Events
Last week, I spoke with a dozen healthtech marketing leaders to get their thoughts on events. Their companies ranged from sub $5 million to $1 billion+ in revenues.
While they were all skeptical about the value of events there were five key benefits of why in-person healthcare events beat out virtual events:
- Relationship Building: Nothing substitutes for in-person face time and casual collisions. These facilitate relationship building in a way virtual meetings lack .
- Richer Conversations: In-person discussions are more organic, nuanced, and meaningful. Side conversations happen naturally rather than forced .
- Targeted Lead Generation: In-person events allow focused lead gen through pre-scheduled meetings, personalized outreach, and exhibit hall chats. Virtual struggles to replicate this .
- Hands-On Product Experiences: Virtual events fall short of showcasing medical devices, simulation software, 3D anatomy, VR surgery rehearsal, etc. Healthcare technology needs hands-on demos .
- Increased Learning and Recall: In-person conferences offer richer learning and increased retention/recall of key ideas versus virtual events .
Do In-person Events Deliver a Positive ROI?
The overall theme from the healthtech marketer group was that they were skeptical of positive ROI from large trade show booths and saw better results from small meetings and targeted outreach.
The revenue impact was hard or impossible to quantify for most.
Only one of the group could provide metrics showing his events do generate MQLs and opportunities. This marketer said that their presence at events generated about $500-600k average deal size and 70 MQLs from their investment, which he saw as a decent ROI.
None of the other marketers felt that in-person events delivered a measurable ROI. The main value was brand awareness and networking with partners
Moreover, third-party data on the positive ROI is hard to come by. In my research, I could not find anything that I felt proved empirically that there was a strong positive ROI.
Is Virtual Overtaking In-person?
The COVID-19 pandemic forced a near-complete shutdown of in-person conferences and trade shows. As every healthtech firm went virtual over those two years, there was a big question after the pandemic subsided as to whether or not in-person would come back. Or would everyone stick with virtual events?
For healthcare providers, research and surveys suggest the answer is in-person events are still king.
According to a survey by Onyx Health, 70% of healthcare professionals prefer in-person over virtual events . Reasons include better networking, engaging content, seeing/touching products, and meaningful conversations .
Another survey found 72% prefer in-person events for networking, engagement, product interaction, conversations, and immersive learning .
Can’t Live With Them, Can’t Live Without Them
The conclusion, I came to through my conversations with marketers and various resources I came across is that:
- In-person events are not going anywhere
- Virtual events have their place but won’t take the place of in-person
- There are many hard to measure reasons for doing them
- Getting a positive measurable ROI is next to impossible for most marketers
- Salespeople want to do them more than the marketing team do
The marketers I spoke with fell into two camps:
- Will continue to invest in them but much more carefully and seem unlikely to spend more than in prior years.
- Others who have focused on supporting the sales team’s attendance without sponsoring events or exhibiting were unlikely to do anything different.
Any experimentation is going to happen with smaller, more targeted, and regional events.
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