Proving event ROI is still a hard nut to crack for many event professionals. Elling Hamso dedicated his work to the matter at his event ROI Institute. Today he’ll share his insights on eventplanner TV. Hi, Elling, welcome to our studio.
Hello. Thank you for inviting me.
We’re going to talk about ROI. But maybe to start with… why is the ROI on events such an important topic?
Well, there are two reasons and one will surprise you. Firstly, it’s important to be able to prove that the money we spend, actually gives more money in return to whoever owns the meeting. So we can measure the results. That’s important. It’s important for accountability. Senior management should want to know, we spend all this money, how much do we get back? So that’s the first reason, it’s important because we can measure and prove the value. The second is, if we decide to measure, our events will automatically become better, maybe a lot better.
And why is that?
That’s the magic. That’s the magic.
Because it’s simple. In order to measure something you need to have objectives. I mean if you don’t have objectives you don’t even know what data to collect. And then you take those objectives, give them to whoever’s planning your event, your event planners and designers, and you tell them, I want you to give me an event which meets these particular objectives. In fact I even sometimes give them the evaluation questionnaire. And I say, create an event which gives me five out of five from every participant on these questions. And then your designers have a real focus on exactly what you want to achieve.
And therefore a better event?
And then therefore it’s better. Whenever I attend an event, in the back of my mind I try to reverse engineer and understand what were the objectives, and often I don’t find them, they’re not clear. I don’t quite understand what are they trying to get out of this event? And very often those who planned they didn’t have a good understanding of that either. So decide to measure, set objectives, your event gets better.
And then you can prove the value afterwards.
But if the value of ROI is so, so big, why then do so many event planners use it?
Well, it still puzzles me, it used to puzzle me a lot. But over the years I’ve gained probably a deeper understanding. Because we’re talking about changing a business culture and changing culture isn’t done overnight. Somehow we’re all mostly comfortable with doing what we’ve done in the past. Many people, owners, customers, as well as event planners, have a notion, that if the participants are happy with the event experience, it was a good event. So participants were happy, we learn how to make them happy, we have a lot of wow and engagement and so on. And we measure the result, we measure happiness, it was a good event; let’s do another one the same. And we need to get out of that misconception that it’s all about participant satisfaction. That’s an important element. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to buy more of your products. Or work harder when they get back in the office after the kickoff. So it’s something which will take time, and it’s happening but very, very slowly.
Can it also be that people just don’t know how to start with?
Well, I think so. I think if you ask the event owners, the corporate management, a lot of them think that this is something we have to do, it’s a necessary expense and it can’t really be measured. And I think if I could just get to them and say, listen, you ask for measurement and you can get it. Then I think a lot of them would start asking for it. It’s also a case I know that some event owners are afraid of being measured. I mean we’ve done this great big expensive sales kickoff every year for 15 years. I’m not going to have some idiot come along and tell me that it doesn’t really make a profit.
Okay. But suppose you convince me, I say, okay, I want to have my event measured, how do you do that?
Well, you start with saying, what is it you want to achieve with your event? What problem is it going to solve? Is there a particular opportunity that you want to grasp, and an event is the tool? What’s the context of your event? No event makes a success in a vacuum. How does it fit into your marketing strategy? How is it supported by other initiatives and other programs? How does it fit into your organization development strategy if it’s an internal event? That’s where you start. You need to understand the context. And then you say, well, how exactly can this event contribute to achieving our business objectives? If it’s a customer event, how will it hit our bottom line profit? If it’s an in-house event, a kickoff, a team building, how will it reduce our organizational costs? How will it make our organization more effective? And then you say, okay, if this is a customer event then it’s going to increase our sales as a result. We need to find out what is it participants need to do once they’ve been to the event, and they’re back in the office, what exactly will they do? What’s the mechanism by which they will now generate more sales? Is it because we’ve inspired them to go home and do a competitive analysis, and compare our product with what they’re buying already? And we’ve taught them how to calculate the total cost of ownership, for example? Then if they go home and do that then we’ve reason to believe that they find our product is better. Or we want them to go home and invite us to do an in-house presentation of our product to the decision-making group in the company. Or do we want our staff to go back in their offices and agree now to start having Monday meetings, every Monday between marketing and sales because they usually didn’t talk to each other? You have to identify something very specific, something you can see or hear, that these participants go back in their office and do, something they would otherwise not have done. Unless you can create that kind of scenario, there’s only one thing to do: you cancel the event. Unless you can create a credible scenario for something participants will do which they would otherwise not have done, and you can see how that behavior is going to benefit your bottom line. If you don’t understand that you don’t know what to do, so that’s where you start.
Okay. And then because you know that you can then think about measurement and things like that, and how to organize your events to meet that goal?
Yeah, the latter. You see now I want these people to do a particular thing. Go back in their office, compare our product in a proper way with a competitive product they’re buying already. Okay? And then you have to ask yourself, well, why don’t they do that already? What’s stopping them? And then you have to understand, when you understand why they don’t already do what you want them to do, you have to say, well, what would convince them? What kind of experience can we create which gives us reason to believe that will change the behavior? So you design what we call the learning experience - an event is a series of learning experiences, and you design those learning experiences based on a deep understanding of what you want them to do. And why are they already not doing that. And you’re still at the analysis phase. So from those behavior objectives we now set some learning objectives. What learning experience we need to give them. And once you’ve got those clear in front of you, you say, well, how can we now design an environment for that learning actually to happen? And now we know you need chemicals in the body, you need adrenaline, you need wow, you need excitement, engagement, involvement, because that’s how learning happens. You’re not going to kill them with bullet problems. You’re going to make them be part of a journey of discovery during your event. So now you design with clever event design, the experience which will make people go back in the office, and do what you want them to do. Which connects you to the why. It’s like a chain effect. And by the way, you’ve got to make sure you have the right people in the room in the first place.
Yeah, that’s also important of course.
You know, if you’re going to teach them how to do it proper life, ownership, costs, if you like, comparison, of one product with the next, you don’t need to talk to your own customers, talk to those who are buying the competitive product. Or talk to those who you think are in danger of changing supplier to a cheap import alternative from the east or something. You’ve got to have the right people in the room. And the right people are always those who can potentially do something else: change their behavior for the benefit of your bottom line. That’s how you define the target audience. So these things, you know, they string together. We’ve got to have the right people in the room. We’ve got to create a learning environment and use all our knowledge about educational learning. So that we change their attitudes and their knowledge which in turns make them change their behavior, which in turns, it’s our bottom line. One way or the other.
And then I suppose you have your events, meeting those ideas. And afterwards then you have to see did I meet my goals or not?
Yes. So then you start collecting data. Luckily we can get a lot of data from the participants. We can get a lot of data from the staff, the organizers at the event, but most of the data we get from the participants. Luckily we can collect most of the data we need by using questionnaires, online questionnaires, it’s quick and easy to collect. We do need to know exactly what kind of questions to ask. And then we collect data: did we have the right people in the room, did we have a good learning environment? Did they actually learn? Did we change their behavior? Do they remember the USPs that we presented? And we can collect that data quite quickly, quite easily as long as we know what questions to ask, and the questions we derive directly from our objectives. And that data we can collect immediately after the event. And I must say when I see the questionnaires that people use sometimes immediately after the event, I want to cry because…
How was the food? How was the venue?
Yeah, yeah. I mean, you were there yourself, you ate your food. You know if the food was good. Why do you have to ask 200 people if the food was good?
Yeah, I totally agree.
And if they didn’t like it, what are you going to do about it? They’ve already eaten it; it’s too late to find out. So you ask really meaningful questions which enable you to say, did I meet my objectives? From learning, attitude change, good learning environment. Did we have the right people in the room? And you can collect that data with an online questionnaire or during the event using your event app, or lots of different ways of doing that, no problem, it’s quick, it’s easy, it’s cheap. And then if you want to find out what they did when they got back in the office, this is what really counts, then of course you’ve got to give them some time to go back in the office and do that. So you have to collect your data in two stages. And the second stage is maybe two weeks or a month or six weeks after the event. And that’s often combined with say it’s a customer event, that’s sort of incorporated into your sales force, general following up of customers and they ask the questions. Often there’s an interview data. Then you find out, did they do what you designed the event for them to do? And if you know that, then, you know, you’re in heaven compared to just finding out if they were happy. And very often you may say or some managers may say, we want to know the real ROI. The money, you know, a percentage. We invested 20,000 euros to put on this event, did we get more than 20,000 euros increased profit at the end of the year?
And you can do that calculation. But then you get into things which are a little bit more difficult sometimes, sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s quite difficult. But now when you first set meaningful, logical, obviously clear good objectives, you measure it. We had the right people. We had a good learning environment. They actually remembered, you changed their attitude. They did what you wanted them to do. Now it’s pretty obvious, this was a profitable event. We don’t know how profitable, but we know all we need to know to repeat this event, because it was obviously good. I mean I’ve had managers looking at the data up to that point. Where you’ve proven the change in behavior it’s like, you know, tell me no more, I know my business. If you tell those people in the room and you achieve that, I know what that means to our business. Don’t spend any more time and money and, you know, go any further than that. It sounds a bit strange. Maybe I’m the ROI guy and I say, you don’t always have to measure the real financial ROI. Sometimes you really want to do that, but my main message is that compared to just measure happiness, you can measure something which is far more substantial, far more relevant to the actual business value of your event, really easily. It’s not difficult. You just, you know, need to know how to set objectives. And then you need to know what questions to ask.
Elling, I find it a very interesting story. And I have a feeling we can go on for hours about this topic. But we don’t have the time. People who want to know more…? I assume you give trainings on the subject in your institute. How can they find you?
Okay. So this is my advertising slot is it?
Yeah, here you can go ahead.
I do only training programs. Which is a combination of a two day training course. And followed for six months or longer if necessary by personal coaching. Because I know there’s no quick fix to really learning and understanding. I know that miracles don’t happen in two days. So I insist that when you get back in the office and you actually start doing in practice what I taught you, I’m going to hold your hand. I’m going to talk on Skype and you’re going to send me your planning documents, your data collection plan, your action learning matrix and all these various tools that we’ve talked about. And I want to make sure that, you know, you manage to actually do it in practice. So it’s a training program, two days plus six months of personal coaching. That’s what I do.
Okay. We’ll put the link to your website below the video so people can find it. Elling, I really want to thank you for your time and sharing your knowledge on this subject.
Thank you very much.
And you at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.