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Why the Digital Hosted Buyer Program Is Your Best Bet

This article originally appeared in PCMA's Convene Magazine.

By now, everyone reading this knows that sponsors, exhibitors, and underwriters of all events, conferences, and trade shows are unwilling to repeat the false starts of 2020. A recent Virtual Events Institute webinar shared that as many as 88 percent of suppliers are unwilling to pay the same price for access to your digital audience as they did for your in-person audience.

Breaking even — or worse, dropping 50-percent less operating income to the bottom line of your 2021 digital events — isn’t an option for most of you, am I right?

It’s true, there are a few good opportunities for the suppliers, sponsors, and exhibitors — a description that really no longer applies — that fund the majority of your event revenue. And yes, there are examples of “digital event monetization efforts” that have worked over the past 12 months. But they are few and far between.

Here’s the good news. There is a silver bullet that is effective, delivers the ROI, delights sponsors, and is sustainable for all future events you host. Drumroll, please … nothing works quite as well as a smartly designed and implemented digital hosted buyer program (DHB).

Note: Let’s all stop calling events virtual. Movies aren’t virtual entertainment. Buying from Amazon isn’t virtual commerce. Streaming music on Spotify isn’t virtual music and your “non-analog,” non-in-person events aren’t virtual — they are digitally delivered experiences that must be designed from scratch just as all of the above successful reinventions have been.

Now, back to digital buying, product discovery, and consultative sales conversations — otherwise known as the DHB model.

For starters, what is a DHB program? No doubt you are already familiar with the concept. The event organizer starts off with the understanding that every supplier wants three things: access to individuals with buying and influencing authority; top-quality prospects and to start a relationship that sets the stage for the next step in the sales process; and to fill their sales pipeline with as many new, qualified individuals as possible. And they are willing to pay for this access, up to $2,000 per meeting depending on the purchasing power of the individuals you bring to the table — $500 is the average we’re seeing with the majority of events we’re evaluating.

Hosted buyers are subsidized by the event organizer, meaning they don’t pay a registration fee, they get extra perks, and they get to select companies they are interested in meeting. There are a number of scheduling, matchmaking, and communications elements of these DHB programs that you can learn more about once you decide to move forward with your DHB program.

The DHB model has three critical advantages that have been the saving grace for event organizers who have done them well over the past year.

  1. They are engaging, efficient, and mutually beneficial forums for the right people to meet at the right time for the right reasons.
  2. In-person hosted buyer events have been around for decades and work famously well and are the driving economic engine of many of the best commercial events in the world. These models are proven.
  3. The DHB model, if done well, can deliver significantly better results than the more generic, mass-media, non-targeted options presented to most sponsors. Face it, you don’t have the time or resources to keep experimenting.

Here are the key things to keep in mind for anyone ready to launch a DHB program this year.

  • DHB programs are here to stay, so build yours with both 2021 and all future in-person, digital, and omnichannel events in mind.
  • The technology to support the DHB format is available but be careful to select the right one for your organization. There are many good ones and many start-ups that aren’t ready for prime time. Matchmaking, scheduling, and room-hosting are the key features to start off with.
  • Communicating the way the DHB program works to all of your stakeholders — especially the members of your buying audience who will embrace it if it’s presented clearly and demonstrates how it’s in their best interest — is key to its success.
  • Be sure to talk to your industry suppliers and align on aspects of your DHB program. A series of focus groups and one-on-one meetings really helps you fine tune your program.
  • Supplement the DHB program with other sponsorable assets such as sample boxes of products, swag, and other valuable items that your buying audience will love and your suppliers and industry partner will gladly pay for and leverage to make the hosted-buyer conversation more interesting. There are many ways to do this. For example, the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) conducted supplier focus groups, tested the reaction to their DHB program, and fine-tuned it to include sample boxes of ingredients, finished products, and swag that IFT conference attendees would be excited to receive. IFT is leading the way with valuable inventory its sponsor community will value and pay for.

A DHB program can work for you — there is minimal risk given how well-proven the model is. Your members will thank you, your suppliers will invest in it, and you will have accomplished the challenge most meeting planners and association executives are 100-percent focused on: revenue recovery, profitability, and dramatically increasing the operating margin of digital events in 2021.

Time to transform those figures from red to black on your spreadsheets.

Don Neal is founder and CEO of marketing, strategy, and experience agency 360 Live Media.


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