In our premiere episode of Aventri's Event Strategies podcast series, John Kearney, Aventri's Director of Go to Market Strategy interviewed Jeremy Donovan, the SVP of Sales Strategy & Operations at Salesloft. In this episode, John chats with Jeremy about the unforeseen circumstances around the coronavirus pandemic that forced Salesloft's decision to cancel their annual conference, Rev2020, and switch to a virtual event experience. Jeremy explained what went into Salesloft's decision to cancel, their pivot to a virtual format, and his predictions for what the future brings to Salesloft's revenue teams and events.
Watch the video, listen on the go, or read along with the audio transcription below.
Event Strategies: Episode 1 Audio Transcription
John: Welcome everyone to the Aventri video podcast series. We're excited to come to you today. I've got Jeremy Donovan with us today. Jeremy is the Vice President of Sales Strategy and Operations at SalesLoft. Welcome, Jeremy. Thanks for joining us.
Jeremy: John, Thanks for having me on.
John: Awesome. Well, we're very excited to have you today. So obviously, as you know, and the rest of the world knows, we're in the middle of a bit of a crisis, the Coronavirus, COVID 19. The pandemic is very much upon us. We're both sitting in our homes safely doing what we need to do to do our part here. But I wanted to bring you on, and thank you for joining because I think you have a very specific, good insights into, what this all means for sales and marketers around the globe. So, I’m happy that you're here, and want to jump into some of those items with you.
Jeremy: Great. Looking forward to it.
John: Great. All right. So, let's start. So, in March of this year of 2020, you and SalesLoft we're intending to have your annual conference, Rev 2020, in San Francisco. I was ready to go. It began on my birthday, March 9th, and so I was going to sneak up early for the weekend, and go up to Mendocino and watch the whales, traverse up the coast, but it was not to be. Rev 2020 was canceled, like most other events going on around the world. What was interesting about your conferences was that this happened before a lot of government intervention had come in, before there were mandates on event sizes and that sort of thing.
So, for our audience who's very interested in decisions like that, just talk to us briefly about why you did what you did leading up to the decision to cancel Rev 2020.
Jeremy: Yeah. I mean it's almost like some of this need needs to be archived, I guess, of what was actually happening in the world at the time. But we were, I think we were about a week, a week and a half out from, from the conference, pushing about 2,000, attendees. We were finalizing all the pre-conference madness—the presentations, getting all the final accommodations ironed out. Usually, with conferences, the last couple of weeks is a huge surge of ticket purchases and we were wrapping up our sponsorship stuff, and all those pieces. So very much in flight and then at least in the U.S., the early part of the fear started to take hold.
But as you mentioned, this all developed so rapidly that at the time, the U.S. government was not raising any alarms at that point. To some extent, there was a little bit of state and local stuff going on, mostly on the West coast, up in Washington State at the nursing home.
We were sort of debating. We started having people ask us, vendors start to ask us, are you guys going to have the conference? One or two conferences had been canceled before us. I think the one that was canceled before us that I remember most vividly was Facebook. They were supposed to have a conference in San Francisco. So that was I think the first one.
We were watching Saster, which I think was the same week as us or the week after, to see if they would cancel. I actually don't know what they ultimately did. But I think Saster was still planning on going on when we canceled.
If you were to sort of go inside the Slack channels and inside the conference rooms of SalesLoft it was a really hard day. Our marketing team had poured their hearts and souls for the better part of six to nine months into conference planning. And then all that work partially evaporates because then you just turn everything virtual, which we can certainly talk about. But yeah, it was a tough decision.
I will say one of the reasons I joined SalesLoft (it's a little cliché, you know, drinking our own Kool-Aid) but we talk about sales love. The outpouring of love towards our marketing team, from sales, from customer success, from product, from HR, from finance, like we're just really rallying around to give a kind of big to the people on our marketing team with deep empathy for them.
The same thing from our customers. People who were planning to attend, just showing them deep, deep empathy and compassion.
John: Yeah. I think that's true for marketers all over the world. So, our hearts go out to all of them. That leads into something you just mentioned, but how do we salvage this? I'm interested in the work that you all did for Rev 2020, but how do you salvage your events going forward?
How do you think about your strategy around events given the uncertain times in the future?
Jeremy: Yeah. What I see happening in general, because I read threads for example, on modern sales pros, which I'm an active reader of and even looking at what we're doing, and other companies are doing is the marketing budgets have not yet dramatically changed. Although as the days and weeks unfold, depending on how resilient the economy is to this, we'll see how that changes.
But certainly, a shift in dollars in kind of two ways. The one big shift is just shifting everything that was field marketing to digital. Digital could be, search engine marketing and that sort of thing. But digital is also virtual events. We definitely have increased our focus on podcasting, on webcasts, and then on organizing live virtual events as well.
It's not like the need to share best practices and information has gone away. In fact, as you and I were talking about this, it's almost like in this time when we're both sitting in our houses, as we record this, I can't remember what the percentage is, like 41% of Americans are now under stay at home directives. There's this incredible hunger for any sort of human interaction. It's fundamental right to know other people are out there, and they care, and you care about them, and so on. So, I think it actually has increased the willingness of people to engage in virtual events.
I had a marketing professor who said never use yourself as an example, as a case study, but I'll use myself as a case study. Before this, with a live webinar or a virtual event, I'd usually register, but my point of registering was so I can get access to the replays and then I'd watch the replays at 2X speed.
I've noticed my own behavior change a little bit. Now, I'm more keen to actually tune in live to those webinars. I guess it's like the difference between watching recorded sports (I'm not a sports fan, so hopefully this analogy works), but I would assume it’s the same thing as watching recorded sports versus live sports. There’s a different feel to something that's live. There’s a different human connection that you crave, especially when you don't get as much in riding the bus and the train, and since I commute into New York City, walking through the streets and so on.
Recommended Resources: Don't cancel your event, go virtual with Aventri! Learn more in our virtual event partners.
John: Sure, yup. I think we'll go back to live events at some point, and there's nothing to replace that. To your point about virtual events, there are distractions and there are other things that can kind of encumber those today, but my big prediction is that for the next however long will this last, we’re going to see an abundance of creativity, and finding new ways to engage better virtually, which will benefit us all. I know, even when we go back to live events, the power of virtual events, I think, will be a lot stronger than it is even today.
Jeremy: On a related note--I'm pretty amazed by the fact that the infrastructure to support virtual events and virtual meetings, in general, has been resilient enough to withstand the flood. I remember catching a news story this past week, the chairman or CEO of Verizon said like, “Yeah, no problem.” Which is pretty amazing that I would assume the amount of bandwidth that's being consumed is just astronomical.
One thing I did notice that I have gotten a few instances of when I tried to make a regular phone call, and gotten all signals, all lines are busy right now. Regular phone being cell phone, sorry, not land phone. I thought that was unusual. But otherwise, Zoom seems to be working well and I would assume it's true of other teleconferencing systems. Internet bandwidth seems to be okay, so that's been helpful.
John: Yeah, definitely. It turns out there's a lot of great virtual event companies out there that are presenting alternatives and presenting solutions. To name a few: Digitell, Intrado, Evia, On24, these are companies that are making big leaps and really helping in this time of need and bringing these new solutions to market.
Jeremy: I'll ask you a question maybe. I run a podcast, so I'm so used to being the person who asks questions and sits and listens. I'm a super introvert so it’s hard for me to talk so much.
John: Lay it on me.
Jeremy: One thing I think I would tremendously value, and I don't know if it exists, is like a great forum for one-to-one peer conversations.
So, I'm in sales strategy and ops. I'd love to have a coffee or virtual beer or whatever, one-on-one with a peer. I guess I could find them on LinkedIn and invite them, but it seems like a lot of work. I don't know if they're going to accept? What I'd love to have is something where I could be part of a group, I know that everyone in that group was a peer, and I know that people in that group would be excited and willing to have a conversation, like a 30-minute chat. Are you aware of anything?
John: Well, yes and no. So, I'll give you an offhand example, but I think it may hold true, and that's for kids and everyone right now that's asking the same kind of question--How do I interact with my classmates? I don't know how old your kids are, but mine are young, but my oldest is in kindergarten. They have these Google Hangouts that their teachers are setting up. So, Google has some sort of offerings. All of those virtual platforms I mentioned have something, and I'm not an expert on any of their solutions, but they all have some part of that.
I know right now, I could speak to Aventri, but I'm sure lots of organizations are doing it, is, especially we as an events company, is how do we create something that didn't exist last week that is going to serve as a place in our case for event planners and VPs of sales and marketing to come together and just have conversations. We are actually trying to get that off the ground right now, hopefully in the next couple of days. But my guess is a lot of organizations are wanting that. Another prediction is you'll see a lot more of that in the coming weeks.
Jeremy: Yeah. There’re organizations that sort of serve groups of individuals, like Gartner, for example, and Corporate Executive Board who served sales leaders so effectively. They're great at the asynchronous information dissemination and they'll organize events of 50 plus people. But in the prediction realm, hopefully out of this will pop out more of the one-to-one peer best practice sharing communities. I'm sure there's a few that are out there that neither of us are thinking of that serve different constituencies. The tech is obviously there. It's more like the network and the matching part of it that’s the last mile on that.
John: Thank you for that feedback. Because for us, that's the intelligence that we bring in as we're considering this for us and some of those questions around networking. My guess is we'll see a lot of creativity around that in the coming weeks as people and have this new need, which is kind of exciting to be a part of.
Okay. So, we've touched on some predictions. So, I guess just as a final question. What is the opportunity here? Is there anywhere that you're thinking, especially given we might have some slower times, where you're thinking about investing, for when we do come out of this? Any big opportunities that you have on your eye on and that SalesLoft may consider investing in the future?
Jeremy: It's a hard time to answer that question. I think the investments we're making are investments in our customers. I don't mean this to come off as marketing spin or anything and it's not. Because the company is so deeply wired in compassion and the individual. We're really thinking most about is the health, wellbeing, and job security of our customers. Like any company, we're going to try to identify the industries that are likely to benefit from helping others.
I think that's the best way to put it. That our beneficiaries during this time for obviously good reasons, and then just providing relief, as we can, to our other customers who aren't beneficiaries or are struggling and did it with prospects. It would come as no surprise that we're trying to think about creative ways for people to become SalesLoft customers without having to worry about any downside risk if their companies hit a bump. So, we're still figuring that out like everyone else is. But I think that's another thing that will come of this. You already see the generosity of companies, opening up their platforms in different ways. I use a podcasting platform called Zencaster for my podcasts. They opened up the next service level for everyone, for free, during this period.
I think that's the sort of thing that we're thinking about, the wellbeing and success of job security of the people who we serve.
John: Yeah. I don't think that's marketing spin. I think that's what, at this point, everyone's focused on. This is a lot bigger than the forecast for the next month and just getting back to the basics of a great customer experiences essential at this point.
Well, thank you, Jeremy, for your time. I really appreciate this.
Jeremey: Yeah. Thanks.
John: This is a new medium, this video podcast, and thank you for doing it. I thought, as you pointed out earlier, I think people are dying for a little more engagement and a little a video can be just a fix at a time like this. So, thank you for being game for that.
Good luck over the coming weeks and months. Things will surely evolve a lot over time. I look forward to talking to you again.
Jeremey: Awesome. Thanks, John. Thanks for having me on.
John: Thanks, Jeremy.
We hope that you found this podcast episode helpful. If you would like to hear more from Aventri Event Strategies Podcast series as well as our other podcasts, click here.