How We Turned a Beloved 5,000 Person Tech Conference Into an Epic 22,000 Online Experience in 45 Days
That’s a wrap on #PulseEverywhere 2020.
Just nine short weeks after deciding to transform the much-loved Pulse event into an online experience, we hosted over 22,000 Customer Success and Product professionals from 50+ states/countries. Over 25 companies shared best practices and learnings across four keynotes, 27 sessions, and 40+ networking groups. 22 amazing partners and sponsors manned their virtual booths and engaged with our guests. Here’s a little of what we learned along the way.
1. Values Drive Value
I’m unashamedly borrowing this from our friends at Salesforce, Values Drives Value. We leaned heavily on our Gainsight values to make Pulse Everywhere authentic to the Pulse Community and Gainsight, which added value in so many ways:
Golden Rule: Think back to the end of February or the beginning of March. We read about the constant cancellation of big events. I was obviously worried about the impact COVID-19 had on the broad community, but honestly, I dreaded the potential hole in my budget if we had to cancel Pulse three months prior. Our amazing team applied the Golden Rule to each of their negotiations with venues, hotels, sponsors, suppliers, and ticket holders—and every single one of them responded in the same way. I didn’t end the day with a budget deficit and we now have stronger relationships with all our vendors, suppliers, and partners as a result. I have so much gratitude for how we all conducted our business at a truly stressful time.
Shosin (Beginner’s Mind): We applied a beginner’s mind to each aspect of the event. The format, the sessions, logistics, follow up, registration, networking, and speakers. Creating an online event with its own identity is important. It sounds obvious but don’t be tempted to stick to things you’ve always done. I think the whole experience for this new medium—it can provide many opportunities to engage, track, and measure things you weren’t able to before. I’ll dig into this a little further down the page, but the obvious ones revolve around the format of the event. Should we do one day vs multiple days? Live or recorded? How do we provide digital networking? How should we think about the sponsor/booth experience? Should the event be free or should it require a fee? How are we thinking about the experience for prospects and customers? We changed many of the key tenets of Pulse as we originally planned and kept others that made sense for the new format.
Success for All: Our customers, teammates, their families, investors, and the community are all equal constituents when you take on a nine-week, business-critical transformation of a beloved event like Pulse. The customer success community looks forward to Pulse for their annual meet-up, great networking, a ton of inspiration, learning, and some feel-good fun.
One of the most rewarding things about Pulse Everywhere, and one I didn’t totally anticipate, was the level of work-related endorphins it created for our Gainsight teammates participating from all over the world. Our Slack channels were blowing up with anecdotes from live chats, tweets from attendees experiencing the show, quotes from session speakers, gifs, and virtual high-fives—it was wonderful. It was special for our entire team to be able to fully engage with attendees and contribute to the event. Families got involved while our investors watched the team in action. Through Gainsight Gives, we let attendees choose a charity and we made a donation on their behalf. There was an entire area dedicated to connecting job seekers impacted by COVID-19 to career opportunities, and our recruiters were manning a virtual booth to share advice and guidance.
Child-Like Joy: Some of our child-like joy was available on social media and through our marketing. We shared a rendition of a famous country song with our customers’ executives, a Full House parody video featuring our teammates, live puppy cams, Nick’s family, and more. Internally we had so much fun as Pulse Everywhere grew with every passing week. Nick’s kids came up with “surprises” for him whenever we hit another thousand registrations milestone—getting faced with a pie, eating hot chilis, wearing non-Steelers related football shirts—ouch, (I heard that one was the hardest)! The engagement with everything Pulse was palpable; in fact, our internal slack usage actually doubled during the week of Pulse Everywhere.
2. Choose a partner, not a platform
We looked at more than 15 leading online event platforms to host Pulse Everywhere. Some rapidly pulled together in response to COVID-19, some were new and emerging, some have been around for a while—it’s certainly an evolving segment for sure. We ultimately decided we wanted the freedom to create something unique with Pulse Everywhere and not be constrained by a templated event experience. We chose to partner with Intellum to build upon their LMS and use our own Product Experience app Gainsight PX to add lots of sizzle.
I couldn’t be happier with the decision we made. It seemed a little risky and a touch crazy considering the limited timeframe, but we chose the right partner who worked with us to create exactly what we wanted, and just as importantly, executed flawlessly on the event days. We were able to deliver a unique event experience with Intellum with sizzle, measurement, and tracking installing Gainsight PX. The visibility we had into the real-time behavior of our guests allowed us to take action immediately. If the crowd was not moving to the afternoon keynote fast enough, our solution was to create an in-app reminder to notify them of the afternoon session. Our AEs and our partners are now able to follow up with their customers and prospects with relevant insights based on the Gainsight PX data.
3. Embrace the unique opportunities a virtual experience provides
As we set off on our journey, we debated (a lot) whether to record our content or do it live. There is nothing quite like the live experience—but there is also nothing worse than a live experience going wrong on the day of. As we recorded our speakers, I lost count of the number of times someone said, “I’m so glad we’re not doing this live!” Even in the heart of Silicon Valley, internet connectivity is glitchy. We streamed pre-recorded sessions and switched to live Q&A with the speakers right after the session. The real-time, in-app feedback from attendees (★★★★★) confirmed we found the right balance—the reliability and quality of pre-recording with the engagement of live Q&A worked really well.
The opportunity to make real-time changes to the event was very empowering—at an in-person event for 5000+ people, they’re often impossible, disruptive, and stressful. We made many changes throughout the day based on the data we had at our fingertips. Intellum, Gainsight PX, and a Slack group were all we needed to deliver success for all.
Pulse Everywhere was free, Pulse is not. The obvious difference in the overall cost of executing the two different events means that we could welcome over 22,000 people this year, when we had over 5,000 in 2019. Companies sent teams instead of having to select one or two people from their team, we had a global audience, and every single Gainster was able to participate without a dollar spent on T&E for anyone. Our attendance rate was 61%, which I’m really happy with. From our research 50% is about average for a free online event and one million viewer minutes over the two half-days—that’s quite the vanity metric 🙂 Day two was almost as well attended as day one, so I’m glad we added the extra time and content.
The two big questions I get more than any other are around cost and ROI. Pulse Everywhere cost us $10.90 per person net. Pulse at Moscone in San Francisco costs about $272 per person net. This takes into account all costs and income for both events. It’s too early to be sure on the ROI of the virtual event, but based on the attendee data we have, the follow up we’re able to do, and the deal intel the sales teams have through Gainsight PX—I would bet my bottom dollar on the ROI of Pulse Everywhere being significantly higher than the in-person events. To be continued…..
On-demand is as important as the day-of. I’m watching the registration numbers tick up and up after the event. Make sure the platform you choose has a switch to flip to on-demand the minute the live event is over—not having to wait for footage to be edited and pages to go live was so refreshing.
The attendee data you have is so rich and detailed compared to an in-person event. Take the opportunity to rethink your follow up strategy to really make the most of it. Get a head start on it, the earlier the better. The possibilities for cohorts and segmentation are going to have your marketing operations team buzzing with ideas—probably for weeks.
Multi-tasking happens at a whole new level. Your guests will listen to a session while watching puppy-cams, while engaging in their networking group, or while browsing through the partner content. Don’t plan for them to only have one thing to do at a time. They can and will be in multiple places at the same time! Be ready to entertain them.
Until next time
This is the first “wave” of virtual events. I’m looking forward to attending your events in the next few months and learning what works best for different audiences. We’ve exchanged a ton of information with other teams as we’ve gone through this experience and I hope we’ll all continue doing that to make them better at each turn. We’ve had lots of questions about how we used Gainsight PX, so the team will be sharing best practices on a webinar and upcoming blog posts.
So, until we do our full retrospective this week, I will share a couple of things on my mind for next time.
Editing four keynotes, 27 sessions, introductions, and closings to fit a precise schedule once they’re shot is really hard. Nominate a keeper-of-the-clock so they have a precise handle on the timing and content of every keynote and session video. Do pre-runs with the presenters off-camera to make sure they’re on time. We had track leaders doing an amazing job—but we learned that everyone runs a litttttle over time, and it adds up really fast. Editing the speakers can take away from the story they’re trying to tell.
Rethink the format of the content for the virtual experience. When your guests are home and not in the crowd, they need much more variety in the format to keep them engaged. We were watching the engagement in Gainsight PX—fascinating and a little addictive! They want to see the slides and the presenter—switching too often is distracting, for example. Shorter is sweeter—shorter sessions, shorter keynotes, and shorter breaks—keep things moving along. Without the lights, action, music, smoke machines, and giant video screens of an in-person event, it’s really hard to keep people’s attention.
Nine short weeks ago, we had some tribal wisdom about running virtual events we have all seen in the past with only one keynote and perhaps five breakouts. I will be forever grateful for how the team, who has been so passionate about working on Pulse for many years, turned on a dime to deliver a truly game-changing virtual experience for Gainsight and the Pulse Community.