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Using Online Events to Generate Leads During the Coronavirus Outbreak

04 September 2020

The coronavirus outbreak has fundamentally changed the way the world works—for the time being, and, perhaps, for the foreseeable future.

This is especially true in the business world.

On top of being required to shut down their physical offices and other locations temporarily, companies large and small have also had to cancel any live events they’d had planned for the months of March, April, and beyond.

To be sure, this poses a major challenge for businesses that had been looking to use these live events to generate leads and get potential customers interested in their brand’s products and services.

We chatted with an SDR that plans for DMEXCO every year, who had originally anticipated experiencing some major gains through this year’s event:

  • 50 meetings prebooked

  • 100 leads captured

  • 500K EUR pipeline

All this with just four salespeople, and a measly 30K EUR in upfront investments.

That’s a 500K pipeline, completely erased.

And they're certainly not alone, here. With such major events like SXSW and T&C Summit being put on indefinite hiatus, it's fair to say many sponsors and vendors are feeling the brunt of this worldwide shutdown.

So, how do you recover? 

The unfortunate reality is that no one knows when it will be safe for large groups of people to convene for such live events again.

That said, those who have had to cancel their live events basically have two options, here:

  • Chalk up the canceled event as a loss

  • Make the best of a bad situation by bringing your live event online

As Founder of SaaStock, Alex Theuma, explains, live conference companies “will need to adapt to the unknown”—specifically by moving their physical events into the online realm.

covid19 events leads alex theuma quote

(Which is exactly what the SaaStock team has been focusing on doing since they were forced to cancel their many upcoming live events.)

While those who don’t adapt aren’t likely to survive these uncertain times, those who do may actually end up coming out of it in better shape than ever before.

Note: Want to gather buyer intent data and signals out of your website with imported lists? Sign up and try Leadfeeder free for 14 days to uncover the companies that visit your website, plus details on how they interact with your site.

Key benefits of hosting online events

Even if hosting a digital event wasn’t your original plan, that doesn’t necessarily mean doing so is a less-than-ideal option.

In fact, there are a number of reasons that putting on an online event might actually be a better option.

For one thing, you won’t have attendees stopping in just to grab swag and any other freebies you might have to offer. 

If they attend your event, you can be pretty sure they’re doing so for the reasons you’ve intended.

You also stand to collect a lot more information from your digital attendees regarding their needs, expectations, and purchase intent.

This will allow you to identify behaviors and actions that will signal buyer’s intent not just in those specific individuals, but in others who may fit into their persona, as well.

What’s more, hosting a virtual event means you’ll potentially have access to a much larger audience overall.

In fact, Theuma tells us that SaaStock’s aim has now shifted to “make its virtual event accessible to a global market.”

covid19 events leads alex theuma quote

On a somewhat ironic note, the lack of a physical location for SaaStock Remote also means the event can support an almost unlimited number of attendees.

covid19 events leads Saastock

This, of course, would not be the case had the live events going on as scheduled.

Finally, as I’ll be discussing throughout the rest of this article:

If someone comes directly to your site from the event, you’ll know with relative certainty that the event is what triggered further engagement on their part.

In being able to attribute this engagement back to the success of the digital event, you’ll know that such events are exactly what your target audience is looking for from brands within your niche.

Note: Want to gather buyer intent data and signals out of your website with imported lists? Sign up and try Leadfeeder free for 14 days to uncover the companies that visit your website, plus details on how they interact with your site.

Generating high-quality leads using online events during the COVID-19 shutdown

Before I dive in, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room:

In spite of much more important things going on in the world today, your business still needs to keep the ball rolling in some way to come out of this on a somewhat positive note.

But, your target audience may not be looking to add any additional expenses to their load at the present moment.

People’s priorities have shifted, which has led to a shift in buyer’s intent.

Even major powerhouses like Forbes are seeing massive drops in organic visibility and the like—simply because there are more pressing matters to worry about at the moment.

(On the other hand, some industries—such as consumer packaged goods—are absolutely exploding. Again, it’s all about considering buyer intent data in your industry, and figuring out where things currently stand for your business.)

Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t plant seeds now that may lead them to buy from you once things get “back to normal” at some point down the line.

With that in mind, let’s talk about how you can use digital, online events to plant these seeds and continue to grow your following as best you can during these uncertain times.

Identify high-quality targets and leads

Before you go about creating a virtual event, you need to nail down exactly who you hope to attract to it.

This, of course, would apply even if everyone wasn’t in the middle of an international crisis.

Ironically, it may be easier for B2B companies to identify high-quality targets at the present moment.

Basically, it comes down to identifying organizations that fit your regular criteria to be considered a high-quality lead—and figuring out which ones are still operating under some sense of semblance of normalcy.

A key way to tell whether an organization is still active:

If those within said organization are still visiting your website.

Think about it: If at a time when most companies’ priorities have completely shifted, someone is still taking the time to check out your site and see what your brand is all about, there’s a pretty good chance they’re highly interested in what you have to offer.

Leadfeeder allows you to collect, qualify, and segment leads based on several factors, such as:

  • The specific pages they’ve visited on your site

  • The length of time they spend on your site

  • The number of times they’ve visited your site in the last 30, 60, or 90 days

Once you’ve identified those who continue to visit your site, you can then start building your list of potential leads.

While you may simply choose to target these specific targets, you might also decide to create Similar and/or Lookalike audiences to find other companies in the same industry or niche, which still may be operational.

From there, it’s a matter of creating highly-targeted content, PPC ads (specifically, retargeted ads for those who have already shown interest or intent to purchase), and the like to catch the attention of these still-in-business companies.

As is the case during “normal” times, this content should tie into the event you plan on creating to ensure you’re attracting the right audience for said event.

Before creating your event

Once you have a pretty clear idea of who you’ll be targeting with your event, there are still a few things to take care of before you put it all together.

First, solidify your purpose for creating the event. 

Here, the focus should be solely on determining the value you intend to provide your audience. 

Yes, your internal goals will involve lead generation and nurturing—but, now more than ever, these goals should be put on the backburner in favor of helping your audience grow and succeed in some way.

So, point blank, you need to clearly define what your audience will know and be able to do after attending your online event.

Going along with this, it’s also crucial to set an authentic, empathetic, and situationally-aware tone for your event. 

On the one hand, you certainly want to stay focused on the topic at hand (and, on some level, keep your audience distracted from the less-than-optimal situation going on throughout the world). 

On the other hand, you need to be conscious of the fact that your event just isn’t the most important thing going on in your audience’s life right now.

That said, it’s vital to focus on the health and wellbeing of your audience as human beings—not just as patrons of your brand. 

It’s also essential to not position your event (and your brand, overall) as the be-all-end-all of existence, as this will essentially negate any sense of authenticity you may have built into your event from the start.

Still, your virtual event needs to have a clear, audience-facing purpose that goes beyond putting on what Theuma calls a “glorified webinar.”

As you begin to develop your virtual event, ask yourself:

  • What are our motivations for putting on the event in the first place?

  • What separates our virtual event from other, more run-of-the-mill online events going on today?

  • What value do you intend to bring your audience?

Once you have a solid answer to each of these questions, you’ll be ready to start putting your online event together.

Developing your virtual event

So, you now have a foundation on which to build an engaging and informative virtual event for your audience.

Now, you need to actually build it.

You have a number of options at your disposal, here, such as:

  • On-demand videos: If you’re aiming to 

     that can provide ongoing value to your audience, you may choose to develop a series of videos and supplemental content centered around one or a number of topics.

covid19 events leads leadfeeder presents
  • Live-streamed video sessions: If you’re looking to directly engage with your audience and instill a sense of urgency in potential leads, live-streaming is an effective way to bring what was once an offline event into the digital realm.

  • Discussion forums/panels: Whether live or recorded, discussion panels allow you to bring a number of specialists under one roof (or, more accurately, onto one screen) to talk freely on topics related to your industry and niche.

You also need to determine the tools and technology needed to create and present your event. 

Hopin, for example, offers an “all-in-one live online events platform where attendees can learn, interact, and connect with people from anywhere in the world.”

covid19 events leads events without limits

Theuma explains that SaaStock’s decision to use Hopin mainly had to do with alignment:

“We found Hopin to be a feature-rich solution that allows for content, networking, virtual expos...all things that we at SaaStock do during our live events.”

Depending on the route you take, you’ll have a number of decisions to make as to how your event will play out.

A few examples:

  • Will the event be completely scripted, with you delivering information and value followed by actionable takeaways like? Or, will there be a general structure to the event, with room for you to go “off-script” as you engage with your audience?

covid19 events leads virtual keynote
  • Will the event be a one-off thing? Or will you make it available for those unable to attend in some format or another? Like  Search Engine Journal’s eSummit.

    covid19 events leads sej
  • What channel(s) will your virtual event be available on? What supplemental resources will you create and provide for your audience to further engagement?

Answer these questions, and you should have a pretty good idea of what your event will look like once it goes live.

Now, as I said earlier, even your interested audience members probably won’t be in buying mode for the foreseeable future—so you’ll want to avoid focusing all that much on your premium products or services.

Again, the most important factor to consider here is your audience’s needs, and the value you intend to bring them via your digital event.

To be blunt:

Be helpful, not salesy.

Get your audience engaged with your event not as a means to generate more business for your company, but for the sake of lending a hand at a time when they need it most.

Keep your audience engaged throughout your event—and beyond

Speaking of getting your audience engaged…

Whether you decide to take a one-sided or more interactive approach to your virtual event, you need to facilitate active engagement from your audience throughout your event.

(Otherwise, you run the risk of having your audience sit back, zone out—and completely miss the value being presented to them via your event.)

So, throughout your event, you want to be sure to:

  • Ask questions of your audience, both to review what they’ve learned and to think deeper on the subject matter being discussed

  • Provide actionable prompts, allowing your audience to apply what they’ve learned throughout your event

  • Deliver supplemental value in the form of additional content, guides, and activities related to the topic at hand

The idea here is to continuously reinforce in your audience an understanding of why they’re learning what they’re learning. 

(Basically, you want to avoid instances in which your audience sits through your digital event, only to shrug their shoulders and ask, “So what?”.)

It’s also vital that you follow up with your audience members after your virtual event has ended (or, for on-demand content, once they’ve completed the event).

In doing so, you’ll be able to:

  • Learn more about their individual needs and interests

  • Further, qualify your individual leads based on these needs and their engagement levels

  • Personalize the way you approach your leads, so you can deliver even more value to them as time goes on

Now, I’ve said this a few times so far, but I need to reiterate:

You absolutely should not be tying any sort of sales pitch into your digital event at the current moment. 

Even if a given lead is interested in buying from you, you’ll want to err on the side of caution—and allow them to take the next steps completely of their own volition.

In fact, I’d even go as far as to say the best sales pitch, right now, is no sales pitch at all.

Instead, you want to keep piling on additional value completely free of charge, with no strings attached. 

If your newly-acquired leads enjoyed and appreciated what you had to offer throughout your virtual event, they’ll likely be chomping at the bit for even more from your brand in the near future.

Think about it like this:

It’s not that your prospective customers aren’t buying from you; they’re not buying from anyone right now.


The time will come when things start getting back to normal, and these new leads will be ready to start making purchases again.

If you’ve been by their side throughout the entire ordeal, asking only what more you can do for them...well, there’s a pretty good chance they’re going to be ready and raring to give your premium products or services some serious consideration.

For now, be content in knowing that you’ll be using your virtual event to do your part in keeping the ball rolling—for both your target audience and your business.

And, above all else:

Be safe, and keep your social distance!

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