VIP Experiences are Key to Closing B2B Sales

Posted on March 11, 2016

One of the unique aspects of being a contract CMO is the diverse range of B2B brand challenges that I encounter. While a Tech marketer by trade, my experience racing sports cars led to an engagement with Aston Martin Racing North America in 2015 to help them construct VIP experiences for B2B brand sponsors/partners to drive sales revenue.

This weekend marked the first round of the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge race season at the Circuit of the Americas (Austin, Texas).  Each race weekend, the team designs a focused 4-day program of private wine dinners, VIP race hospitality, networking receptions, designed executive introductions, and optional race car driving experiences. This weekend was no different as companies representing wealth management, property & casualty insurance, SaaS software, cloud technology, and other sectors were enjoying the VIP experience but also making connections and discussing business opportunities in a setting that is simply impossible to duplicate via digital touch points such as digital advertising, email nurturing, social media, etc.

The Missing Component for Converting CRM Opportunities to Sales

I was talking with one of the VIP guests whose credentials include successful executive marketing roles with Dell, Rackspace, and other technology firms. He is a car guy and was asking me how a technology company might “go beyond stickers on the car” to connect motorsports VIP experiences to revenue. I began to share some simple truths that he and I (as Tech CMOs) know to be true about long lead-time, enterprise sales:

  • Digital marketing is effective for reaching lower-level members of the buying committee who gather information, evaluate vendor alternatives, and make a recommendation to senior executives. However, it is less effective in engaging senior level executives (ask yourself this: how many C-level exec’s are clicking through PPC ads at 10pm?)
  • Lead nurture databases are also typically comprised of the Managers or Directors that represent the “information gatherers” but often lack the executive decision makers that control the budget decision (ask yourself how many C-level executives opt-in to email lists and content offers)
  • Outbound appointment tactics such as invitations to golf outings, dinners and sports events typically fail to engage executive decision makers as they have been used by vendor sales reps for decades (ask yourself how many executives making $500K+ struggle to eat/golf wherever they want)

So how do modern marketing and sales organization build relationships with executive decision makers to convert CRM Opportunities into closed sales?

Enter “bucket list” VIP experiences.

Cutting Through the Noise to Engage Executive Decision Makers

Despite spending handsomely on marketing technology many companies are still struggling to convert Opportunities into closed revenue because their digital obsession has crowded out the human factor. At the end of the day, people approve purchase orders and personal relationships dictate who wins the business.

I shared with my tech colleague that VIP motorsports experiences, and in particular sports car racing, are powerful because they have several advantages over golfing, dinners, and sports tickets for engaging executive decision makers:

  1. Participant (vs. spectator): sports car racing put VIPs in the middle of the action by integrating them with the actual race team (meals, strategy sessions, car setup, pit lane), putting them behind the wheel (driving race cars on private tracks), and enabling unique in-market activation (driver/car appearances, driving experiences on corporate campuses).
  2. Sensory experience: unlike a dinner meeting or whispering on the fairway at the US Open, sports car racing engages the senses with high-impact sights and sounds and invites connection at a primal level. There is no equal to the sensory experience of driving a race car at 150mph or feeling the visceral rush of 30 exotic super cars rushing past you on a race track.
  3. Lifestyle aspiration: sports car racing features exotic cars that successful people aspire to own.  Luxury brands such as Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, McLaren, and Porsche represent the very best in automotive technology, design and lifestyle — thus, people are drawn to them and they add to the exclusiveness of the VIP experience. For many attendees it is like experiencing a Forza Xbox game in real-life.
  4. Networking reach: unlike a dinner or sports luxury box, sports car racing offers unparalleled networking. Whereas you wouldn’t sit down at a stranger’s dinner table in a restaurant or walk into a stranger’s luxury box and begin handing out business cards, you can access multiple business networks at track and in-market.
  5. Intimate business setting: unlike large sporting events and even NASCAR races, the down time in between practice, qualifying, and the races results in lots of time for dining, drinks, and conversations in private meeting rooms, luxury RVs, and VIP hospitality tents. Real business conversations and deals get done.
  6. Female-friendly setting: unlike sports stadiums or large motorsport events (NASCAR), sports car racing often takes place in “destination” settings (Monterey, Sonoma, St. Petersburg) and offers a wide range of recreational activities, including luxury hotels with spa’s and nearby vineyard tours. The track side experience is also a more intimate atmosphere where wives can relax and be served chef-prepared food and beverages.

How Forward-Thinking Companies Use VIP Experiences

Best practice use of VIP motorsport experiences go beyond “stickers on a car” to drive engagement at each stage of the customer journey to support sales pipeline and revenue goals:

  1. Customer acquisition – securing valuable “face time” with executive decision makers for high-value Opportunities, especially those that have “stalled” (not responding to sales person). Also critical to effective ABM strategy.
  2. Customer retention – relationship building with high-value accounts prior to contract renewal to avoid churn. This is critical for cloud/hosting, SaaS, communications, professional services, and related subscriber business models (CLTV).
  3. Sales incentives – rewarding direct and indirect sales channels for reaching sales objectives. This can include MDF initiatives to generate new leads or close pending Opportunities with OEM or channel partners.
  4. Events/Trade Shows – reward event attendees or key accounts that take meetings during trade shows with a VIP driving experience at-show in a race car (“Top Gear” autocross in parking lot, nearby on-track experience, show floor demo, etc.)
  5. Recruiting – entertainment platform for attracting new channel partners or top talent (HR).
  6. Employee engagement – rewarding employees who exhibit desired behaviors or refer talent.

And perhaps the best part is the assisted attribution can be tracked via CRM.

A Few Success Stories

While we have a lot of work to do to continually perfect our field/experiential marketing efforts, we do have a few data points from the 2015 race season that suggests our approach is working for major brands:

  • A Fortune 500 wealth management company shared with us that they generated over $50 million in new business and a pipeline approach $300 million after a single race weekend program with the Aston Martin Racing North America team in 2015. The result was a 400% ROI and they are doubling their 2016 investment in VIP experiences.
  • An LED lighting company was introduced to a single automotive dealership network ($4B in revenue) to retrofit their dealership and parking lot lighting — a sales opportunity representing a 500% ROI on their first year sponsorship.
  • Just recently, the Aston Martin Racing North America team has struck a business relationship with Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim to help US companies expand their revenue opportunities in Mexico and Latin America by associating with the Aston Martin Racing program.

As if we needed further proof, Marketo founder Jon Miller threw his support into the ring two weeks ago on an ABM webinar when he stated that VIP experiences are critical to ABM strategy. He shared that Marketo’s own lead generation efforts revealed that inbound marketing was not effective for high-value, long sales cycle accounts. Instead, outbound ABM efforts were needed that included bucket list experiences to cut through the clutter to engage executive decision makers.

If your brand is looking for out-of-the-box ways to engage executive decision makers, consider re-introducing the human factor to your digital marketing and use bucket list/VIP experiences to engage your best buyers and customers.

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