Virtual vs. in-person events: which is better for salespeople?
Virtual events are more popular than ever before, with the sector valued at $114.12 billion in 2021.
Organizations big and small leverage this trend to grow their reach, drive sales and increase customer engagement. Some see these events as a way to raise brand awareness and educate, inform, or entertain their target audience while keeping the costs low.
When it comes to virtual vs. in-person events, the choice depends on your budget and marketing goals.
For example, startups can seize on the rise of online events to secure funding, build partnerships, and reach more customers. Podcasts, webinars, online seminars, and other virtual events could also lower overhead and operational costs.
But which option is best for salespeople? Should you invest time and money in trade shows and conferences or leverage digital technology to connect with potential clients?
Let's find out.
The rise of virtual events
Digital platforms enable companies to reach a global audience while saving time and money. Augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and other modern technologies fuel this trend. Moreover, brands and organizations use digital experiences to engage customers in a post-pandemic world.
Marketers and salespeople rely on digital events to generate leads and increase demand or move prospects down the funnel. LinkedIn reports 67% of organizations increased their investment in webinars in 2020. A more recent survey by Statista revealed 40% of events will take place online in 2022, while 35% will include both virtual and in-person components.
Forrester, Adobe, Accenture, and other top brands are turning to online platforms—especially for conferences and business meetings. On the other hand, smaller companies see this trend as an opportunity to cut costs and drive innovation.
What's more, virtual events enable marketers to understand their customers' needs better, see which attendees are visiting their booths, and take action based on user behavior.
From a sales perspective, you can leverage this trend to get more eyeballs on your brand, increase customer loyalty, and stay relevant in a competitive market.
Virtual events can provide valuable insights into customer behavior and enable data-driven decision-making as an added advantage. This information would allow you to identify and address customer pain points, create smarter products, and fine-tune your sales funnel.
What are the advantages of going virtual?
Just as we’ve seen a boom in online ordering for restaurants, we’ve also seen nearly every event transform into virtual or hybrid. And, just like the impact of online ordering and delivery for the restaurant industry, the change in the events industry presents both challenges and opportunities for salespeople.
For starters, virtual events offer more convenience and flexibility than physical events. According to a 2021 report by Kaltura, nearly 85% of attendees would like to have the option to attend their favorite events online.
When you host a virtual event, your guests don't have to worry about missed planes, traffic, and other aspects of traveling. Plus, they can record the event and watch it later at their convenience.
On the other hand, vendors may find it easier to attract top keynote speakers and VIP guests without paying extra for accommodation and flights.
Given these aspects, it's no surprise most consumers enjoy attending online events. Even when companies organized events in a rush, Kaltura reports 73% of guests were satisfied with their virtual experience. In addition, more than 90% of respondents felt companies did a great job transitioning from physical to virtual events.
This approach to event planning also gives you the chance to deliver more engaging content in different formats. Let's see a few examples:
- Product demos and presentations
- Panel discussions
- Expert interviews
- Q&A sessions
- Breakout sessions
- Interactive live chat
- Live polls
- Gamification challenges
- Keynote speeches
- Research findings
Moreover, hosts can deliver the content via live streaming or pre-record and stream it during the event. As bitrate influences video quality during live streaming, hosts should adjust it to match viewers' internet capabilities for a better streaming experience. The latter option works best for product demos and presentations.
You also have the option to make your content available on-demand. In addition, some types of content, such as videos, podcasts, and slideshows, can be provided offline in a downloadable format.
Virtual events involve lower costs than traditional events. You won't need to rent a venue, provide snacks or beverages, and so on. Guests don't have to pay for flight tickets, gas, food, and parking. It's a win-win for both parties.
However, this doesn't mean in-person events are a thing of the past—it depends on how you plan to integrate them into your marketing mix.
Physical events still hold value in the digital age
There are situations where physical events can deliver better outcomes than virtual experiences.
For example, nearly 40% of the consumers interviewed by Kaltura reported going to in-person events for networking purposes. However, only 15% said they went to virtual events to socialize and build relationships.
As eMarketer puts it, virtual events simply cannot capture the "magic of in-person relationship-building." Moreover, about 70% of marketing leaders find it difficult to create and deliver online events that mimic IRL experiences.
Marketing professionals and salespeople rely on third-party tools like Datanyze to collect B2B contact information and learn more about their target audience. Next, they use this data to deliver highly personalized experiences through events, samplings, deals, custom offers, and so on. Unfortunately, virtual events often miss out on human interaction, a key personalization aspect.
Consumers who attend in-person trade shows, product demos, and other events typically walk around the venue and interact with other guests.
Sometimes, they stop by a booth that catches their eye and start asking questions about one product or another. They want to touch and feel the product, see how it works, and enjoy the experience of shopping in person. Unfortunately, virtual events often fail to deliver this level of interaction.
What's more, virtual presentations and trade shows are subject to technical difficulties, resulting in disengagement and frustration.
Other factors, such as the high cognitive load and the excessive amount of close-up eye contact, can lead to so-called "Zoom fatigue," notes Stanford University. Plus, guests can easily get distracted by online ads and push notifications.
The business case for in-person events
While it's true virtual events are becoming the new normal, in-person events still hold value.
First of all, they facilitate networking and collaboration. Attendees can get a real feel of their favorite brands, pick up on non-verbal cues, and try products in which they’re interested.
Second, physical events make it easier for sellers to create an urgency to buy. There's no pressure to buy a product or service right away when you're sitting in front of a computer. Plus, you have plenty of time to assess your options, compare offers from multiple sellers, and consult your family and friends.
In-person events leave more room for spontaneity, which can increase sales. Moreover, companies can leverage sales enablement during product launches, demos, presentations, and conferences.
Sure, you can do that during virtual events, too, but IRL experiences allow you to interact with potential buyers at a more personal level.
Consumers who attend physical events are also more likely to remember your brand, the people they meet, and the stuff they see. Simply put, they get to experience things in a more personalized manner. And, of course, most people still find pleasure in socializing over a cup of coffee and shaking hands.
This level of human interaction is something that you cannot replicate with digital content or videoconferencing technology.
On top of that, the market for virtual events has become oversaturated. Consumers can attend online conferences, workshops, product launches, and webinars anytime in this digital era. It's just like watching TV—you enjoy it at first, but it becomes routine after a while.
On the other hand, physical events have a distinctive vibe that can add value to the customer experience. Each interaction is unique and carries the potential to turn into something bigger, such as a long-term partnership.
Attendees may not engage in the same manner during online events, leading to missed opportunities for both parties. Also, in-person events lead to much better content and marketing materials via photos or video content. Just make sure to have an idea of how event photography pricing works beforehand.
Virtual vs. in-person events: What's the best approach for your business?
There's no clear winner when it comes to virtual vs. in-person events.
Both strategies have their role in your marketing mix. Plus, you can always combine the two to get the best of both worlds. Any event can be “hybridized,” from seminars and workshops to product launches.
Virtual events are easier to organize and have greater potential than IRL experiences. Plus, they involve lower costs for both attendees and hosts. The downside is you may not be able to provide the same level of personalization and interaction as physical events.
In-person meetings, product demos, conferences, and trade shows give you a chance to feel the pulse of the industry. You can engage in meaningful conversations with your prospects and clients, observe their reactions, and connect on a deeper level. This interaction and personalization might be the push they need to make a purchase!
Your best bet is to experiment with both options and see what works for your business and its target audience.
Meanwhile, check out the Close guide to remote selling: