CVENT INC. HELPS ITS 74,000 B-TO-B USERS find meeting spaces, conduct online event registration, collect seminar and meeting fees and send out event invitations. Since its debut in 1999, it has helped users—meeting and event planners—plan and manage hundreds of thousands of events and accept $1 billion in online payments. Getting the word out about the software isn't easy, said Eric Eden, the company's VP-marketing. The product has a lot of features that are best explained in person, he said, so Cvent courts new clients via lunch seminars, about 500 of which it throws each year.
The lunches provide an opportunity for Cvent executives to meet with event planners, discuss and demonstrate the software and highlight best practices, Eden said. While doing business like this makes the pitch process easier, finding new prospects to attend the events is always a challenge. This is why, despite having a strict opt-in policy for its corporate e-newsletter, Cvent has turned to cold e-mailing without opt-ins as one of its primary methods of solicitation. Eden's best source for e-mail addresses, he said, is Salesforce.com's Jigsaw b-to-b database, which is searchable by company and title.
Once Eden has identified specific targets, he sends out a one-time invitation that is facilitated by the company's own software. The cold e-mails follow CAN-SPAM rules, with a prominent opt-out as well as a postal address. If recipients clickthrough to the site to sign up for a lunch seminar, they are also prompted to opt in for regular e-mail messaging.
There are some best practices that Eden has put into place to ensure fewer spam complaints, he said. For example, he won't e-mail anyone at a free e-mail account because there's a good chance that address is his or her personal address. “People's homes are their sanctuaries,” he said. “They don't want to be bothered or sold to at home. It's different if you're at work, though. You, as a businessperson, expect marketers to reach out to you and try to sell you something. Commerce wouldn't happen if business executives didn't sell to each other.”
He also limits the number of people he contacts at each company. “If you reach out to too many people at one company, you're overwhelming them,” Eden said. “Never try and talk to someone, their boss and their boss' boss. Then all those people have to talk to each other about who's going to go and that causes a problem.”
A better solution, Eden said, is to reach out to one person and ask—if you're not sure—who is the correct contact.
The program has been very successful. Seven percent of highly qualified prospects who receive the cold-call e-mails sign up to attend a lunch or dinner seminar. In addition, about 10% of the people who attend the lunch meetings buy the Cvent software, and about 70% of all of those people opt in to the company's newsletter, which has an overall opt-out rate of less than 1%. Also, more than 55% of the attendees opt in to get a free event planner account on the Cvent system.
“People don't get upset when you're inviting them to lunch or dinner,” he said. “Even if [our solicitation] is not a right fit for them, it's not really a negative thing. They might say, "no, we don't do events,' and that's that, but it's rare you're going to get people who are upset because you're inviting them to lunch at The Palm.”
Originally published July 12, 2010