B2B Relationships Report:

Why event organizers are deploying pre-scheduled meetings

Written by Michelle Bruno,
DHALIA+Agency

Executive summary

Pre-scheduled meetings are having a moment. 67% of event organizers revealed they are looking to run one or more pre-scheduled meetings programs at their events in the next 12 months. But why is this?
The answer lies in business leaders’ desire to establish and maintain good quality relationships. No wonder an overwhelming 97% of event organizers said they’d like to increase the number of valuable B2B relationships made between participants at their events.

Serendipity is a highly regarded attribute of face-to-face events. However, structured meetings programs deliver more measurable customer satisfaction, value and revenue than ad hoc hallway encounters.

Whether its suppliers meeting interested buyers or new strategic partnerships being forged for the first time, the power of a good business relationship is immeasurable. But now organizers can measure – and monetize – these connections.
By providing pre-scheduled meetings and selling meeting packages, organizers can be more deliberate about helping their participants forge valuable relationships.

For organizers, they can now demonstrate better ROI to participants and grow their events at the same time. This is evidenced in our survey which found 72% of organizers agreed they would generate more revenue, if they offered pre-scheduled meetings.

How much revenue? Well, online revenue calculators show that organizers could generate over $900,000 in additional revenue if they simply hosted pre-scheduled meetings at their event (e.g. for a financial services event with 50 suppliers and 15 meetings per supplier).
While the concept of pre-scheduled meetings (also referred to as one-to-one, guaranteed and structured meetings) as part of conference and business-event programming has existed for several decades, a surge in pre-scheduled meetings programs has accompanied the post-pandemic return to in-person events.

To understand the reasons for the rise, DAHLIA+Agency collaborated with AI-powered event platform Grip.
The B2B Relationship Report is the culmination of this research partnership. In it, we examine the findings from our survey, one-to-one interviews and define a new four-step discipline, Event Relationship Management (ERM), to help organizers deploy this event strategy.

As the demand for pre-scheduled meetings increases, advancements in artificial intelligence will define and empower programs and platforms. Event organizers are on the cusp of a relationship-building renaissance.

Methodology

In March 2023, DAHLIA+Agency and Grip surveyed 91 senior-level event executives, conducted seven one-to-one interviews with select pre-scheduled meeting practitioners, and consulted with the DAHLIA+ event strategy team.

Key findings

67%

of event organizers plan to run one or more pre-scheduled meetings programs at their events in the next 12 months, either as part of an existing or a standalone event.

72%

of organizers revealed they would generate more revenue if they offered pre-scheduled meetings or expanded their existing meetings offerings.

87%

of event organizers believe pre-scheduled meetings at events are an important industry trend in 2023.

97%

of organizers said they’d like to increase the number of valuable B2B relationships made between participants at their events.

88%

of organizers believe that having pre-scheduled meetings between buyers and suppliers at events helps small and medium-sized businesses grow.

Several factors fuel the growth of pre-scheduled meetings

Organizations are looking to increase and diversify revenue streams
Revenue on pre-scheduled meetings programs is predictable
Matchmaking and meeting-scheduling platforms have emerged
Exhibitors and sponsors want assurance that their customer relationships are intact
Sponsors are experiencing across-the-board cuts in marketing budgets
Attendees place a high value on time and convenience
Attendees are registering much closer to the event date
Attendees want structured programs to connect with peers

A new four-step discipline, Event Relationship Management (ERM), is beginning to emerge

Curate

Learning customers’ needs

Engage

Scheduling meetings between compatible participants

Nurture

Facilitating follow-up meetings

reConnect

Scheduling meetings between the same participants or companies the following year

Foreword

The first known use of “conference” appeared in 1527. It was used to convey “a meeting of two or more persons for discussing matters of common concern.”

Fast forward five hundred years and we now have an endless variety of event types. When it comes to B2B events, there are tradeshows, conferences, confexs, roundtables, meetups, seminars, the list goes on!

But at Grip we’re now seeing the B2B events industry go “back to the future,” where meetings are the core part of the B2B event experience again. The evidence for this is in the massive growth in demand we’re seeing for pre-scheduled meetings during which organizers are deliberate about bringing the right people together. Often, this is buyers and suppliers meeting, but not always.

For example, we work with Playfair Capital which uses our AI-powered meeting scheduler to match investors with female founders.

Events with pre-scheduled meetings, like these, are all deployed in different ways. Some “host” their buyers by paying for their flights and accommodation (i.e. hosted buyer events) while others don’t. Some have pre-scheduled meetings as a standalone event, while others have pre-scheduled meetings added onto an existing event.

The bottom line is organizers are in the “relationships business.” They need to help their participants establish and maintain relationships. This could be as simple as helping an independent TV producer sell their new show to Netflix. A single meeting like this could lead to a deal that transforms their business, providing a massive return on investment on the meeting package purchased.
This value that organizers provide to participants is a huge win during the current downturn we’re experiencing. Marketing budgets are being squeezed and demonstrating ROI for any event spend is vital. Previously, marketers spent huge sums exhibiting at a show in the hope they would meet the right people. But now, they can purchase a meeting package and have meetings with pre-qualified buyers. No wonder pre-scheduled meetings are having a moment.

It’s clear the smartest organizers are going all-in on pre-scheduled meetings right now. Whether they are part of an existing event or a standalone event, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it ladders back up to a key insight: valuable relationships are the key to a successful business. Whether that’s building relationships with new prospects or maintaining relationships with key partners. That’s why, at Grip, we are doubling down on helping organizers run transformational meetings, enabling us to become the world’s number one events platform for B2B relationships.
Tim Groot, CEO and Founder at Grip

Introduction

Pre-scheduled meetings are surging in popularity. In our survey, 67% of event organizers revealed they are looking to run one or more pre-scheduled meetings programs at their events in the next 12 months. This is either as part of an existing event or a standalone event. The underlying reasons for this are manifold. The B2B Relationships Report aims to define the concept, underline the benefits and explore the impetus behind the surge. It also details success stories, revenue opportunities and the contours of a new discipline: Event Relationship Management.

To support the report’s findings, DAHLIA+Agency completed one-to-one interviews with select meetings program practitioners and surveyed an exclusive group of ninety-one senior-level event executives. Contributor insights and survey results are highlighted throughout the report.

What are pre-scheduled meetings?

62% of organizers say the term “pre-scheduled meetings” is not fully understood

It’s a relatively new industry term and different terms are used for the same process. Nevertheless, understanding pre-scheduled meetings starts with describing the hierachy of events, networking, meetings and processes.
Business-to-business events fall into several categories: meetings, conferences, conventions, exhibitions, summits, seminars, and forums. Most involve networking, which can be unstructured (event participants find and engage with one another ad hoc) or structured (event hosts facilitate one-to-one, one-to-many or many-to-many meetings that take place at a specific time and location).

Most event stakeholders are familiar with unstructured networking, which can apply to various activities, from cocktail receptions to hallway conversations.
Structured networking, which emerged several decades ago in the form of pre-scheduled meetings like hosted buyer*, is less well known.

Pre-scheduled meetings can take many forms. In the hosted buyer format, exhibitors underwrite the participation of key buyers (e.g. they pay for their flights, accommodation, food and event ticket). In exchange, buyers agree to attend a certain number of meetings with suppliers. However, not all pre-scheduled meetings programs are hosted. Neither are they necessarily between buyers and suppliers.

Unstructured

Event participants find and engage with one another ad hoc

Examples

Cocktail receptions, hallway conversations, etc.

Structured

Event hosts facilitate one-to-one, one-to-many or many-to-many meetings that take place at a specific time and location

Examples

Pre-scheduled meetings like hosted buyer, meet-the-buyer, etc.
Some event organizers orchestrate matches and meetings using software. Others manage the process manually. Pre-scheduled meetings programs can be full-service or self-service. They can even be part of an existing event (e.g. witness the recent trend of hosted buyer lounges appearing inside trade shows) or a standalone experience where the meetings are the event.

For this report, pre-scheduled meetings refer to planned discussions between select individuals that occur at a specific time and place within the framework of a larger event. Organizers cite IMEX,
IBTM and Grassroots Connect as leading events that feature pre-scheduled meetings.

Pre-scheduled meetings result from a process that involves matching individuals with complementary preferences, interests and behaviors, creating a meeting schedule based on mutual availability, and providing a space for the meetings to take place. The process alludes to the more comprehensive discipline of Event Relationship Management (ERM).

Benifits of pre-scheduled meetings

Pre-scheduled meetings deliver numerous benefits to organizers and participants. The biggest benefit for organizers is the ability to increase revenue. Tellingly, 72% of organizers reveal they would generate more revenue if they offered pre-scheduled meetings.

Revenue is particularly interesting to organizers because many exhibitors have reduced their marketing budgets due to the current economic downturn. Exhibitors view meetings-led shows, such as those with hosted buyer programs (and guaranteed meetings with pre-qualified buyers), as a good return on investment. Organizers can use revenue from pre-scheduled meetings packages to hedge against potential reductions from exhibitor attrition or square-footage shrinkage.

Multiple benefits to multiple stakeholders

Organizers

Exhibitiors & sponsors

Attendees

Boost ROI

Delivering on the event value proposition to foster connections and facilitate deal-making
Reducing the financial risk associated with event participation by knowing how many meetings they receive for their investment
Providing a better return on time with a tailored agenda and strict time frame

Revenue impact

Providing a new, diversified and predictable revenue stream
Making additions to the sales pipeline more predictable, i.e. more meetings correlate to a more significant pipeline
Streamlining the discovery of new products, suppliers and partners

Churn reduction

Boosting exhibitor and sponsor retention
Increasing the likelihood of a positive return on investment
Giving new attendees a more valuable way to connect with suppliers and peers

Increase event NPS

Increasing attendee satisfaction and Net Promoter Scores
Providing another way (besides exhibiting and sponsoring) to attract attendees’ attention
Ensuring meetings of higher quality

Better data & insights

Providing data and insight into the business-making activities of stakeholders
Making event participation more manageable as meeting suggestions are seen in advance
Justifying attendance to senior-level managers with evidence of meetings booked
Pre-scheduled meetings provide other business-event stakeholders with multiple benefits too, such as helping buyers and suppliers connect when there is no exhibition. At its 2023 Convening Leaders event, PCMA, the association for the business events industry, facilitated a hosted buyer program. “We wanted to bridge the gap between our supplier partners and the meeting professionals who come for education,” explains Jennifer Bishop, Strategic Director, Business Development and Account Management at PCMA. The pre-scheduled meetings gave participants “a structured environment they otherwise wouldn’t normally have.”

Pre-scheduled meetings help accelerate ROI by shortening the time it takes for companies to make a post-event sale. “After an exhibition, buyers are inundated with all the other people they’ve met, and [suppliers] are starting from scratch,” says Greg Reeves, General Manager of Connections Luxury, a private community for luxury travel decision-makers. “With pre-scheduled meetings, especially the kind we facilitate, the trust is there, the deeper knowledge of the product is there, and you’re skipping a few steps.”
The pre-scheduled meetings process allows event organizers to maintain control of attendee contact information, primarily email addresses. A majority want to do so because they consider attendee data proprietary to the organization and wish to protect attendees from being emailed, often aggressively, without their consent. Organizers can orchestrate structured meetings with mutual permission from participants to exchange email addresses or without requiring that email addresses be used to schedule meetings.

Finally, pre-scheduled meetings are viewed by many as a real benefit to smaller businesses. 88% of event organizers believe that having pre-scheduled meetings between buyers and suppliers at events helps small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) grow.

This is important for organizers as SMBs represent about 90% of businesses and more than 50% of employment worldwide.

Enabling smaller firms to benefit from pre-scheduled meetings is a smart strategy. Their marketing budgets are smaller and so therefore they have more ‘skin in the game’. That means they are often likely to complete their profile and choose their meeting preferences on time. Plus, with pre-scheduled meetings delivering value, they are less likely to churn as the event becomes a serious revenue generator.
A move is afoot for exhibition organizers to find other revenue streams besides square footage. Organizers run pre-scheduled meetings to increase ROI for participants (39%), Boost NPS (24%) and increase revenue (19%). While digital revenue is promising, monetizing relationships—especially those with all the attributes for success in place but lacking the “last mile” of connection—is one of the ways event producers will make significant gains in their income objectives.

Tim Groot, CEO and Founder of Grip, the AI-powered event platform built for business relationships, believes the value attendees place on their time and the work-from-home convenience to which many have become accustomed contribute to the growth of pre-scheduled meetings programs. “The default is no longer to show up at the show and see what happens. People want a tailored experience that gives them a return on time. Otherwise, they’ll stay home,” he explains.
Attendees are registering much closer to the event date, says Matt Murnane, Chief Experience Officer of fintech media company, Fintech Nexus. Therefore, his team advises attendees, “If you want to meet with certain individuals, you have to get on their radar as soon as possible.” Pre-scheduled meetings allow users to avoid the disappointment of arriving on-site and being unable to get face time with important contacts. “Knowing whom you’re going to meet with in advance also helps you prepare, especially if the meetings are only fifteen minutes.”
Especially after COVID, attendees want to connect with peers. They desire “structured programs to help them find people with similar jobs and solutions for issues they have,” says Liz Irving, Chief Marketing Officer at Clarion Events, Inc. in North America. Clarion uses a structured networking platform to coordinate peer-to-peer meetings, facilitate “packaged” buyer-seller meetings and support self-service (free flow) meetings activity across its portfolio. “What I’ve seen in our markets is people wanting to make sure they achieve valuable outcomes when they come to shows. They’re coming in ready to have thoughtful conversations.”

Why event organizers run pre-scheduled meetings

Pre-scheduled meetings success stories

While a pre-scheduled meetings program can succeed at any event, the most successful event organizers place structured networking at the center of their value proposition. Their program participants are less concerned with cost but highly sensitive to the efficient use of time.

Transforming the networking experience

Connections Luxury organizes hosted buyer events in exotic destinations. The principal activity during the events is pre-scheduled meetings between highly researched and rigorously matched buyers, such as luxury hotel properties, private jet companies and cruise lines, and suppliers, including travel agencies and advisors catering to high-net-worth individuals. However, Connections takes the hosted buyer experience a step further.

Based on the research of Nobel Laureate and neurobiologist Eric Kandel on changes in the brain when memories are made, the firm organizes “shared experiences.” Buyers and suppliers meet at a pre-scheduled time and location. They choose from a menu of activities. In the Middle East, it could include a tea ceremony, wellness experience, culinary class, or a walk on the beach to watch baby turtles hatch.“

The purpose of the experience is to scratch beneath the surface. It’s not a superficial exchange of business cards. I’m learning more about you as a person. You’re learning about me, and we’re building the trust to do business. After the event, we have a shared point of reference,” says Connection Luxury’s Greg Reeves.

Placing networking at the center of the event

“What do you give to a group of well traveled executives? You give them a comfortable place to meet. You give them efficiency. And you get them in front of the people they’re there to meet and do business with,” says Jill Blimline, Director Event Operations at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC).
Her organization’s conferences, which connect capital providers, assisted living facility developers, operators, and healthcare partners, are its main revenue stream as it doesn’t sell memberships.

Because the main objective (and the reason the organization can charge a conference fee higher than most other non-profit groups) of NIC’s highly successful events is to facilitate networking and deal-making, Blimline’s group offers structured and unstructured networking opportunities. It coordinates pre-scheduled meetings through a specialized software platform and also supports unstructured meetings, which participants coordinate independently through various on-site amenities.

NIC goes to great lengths to ensure its two events —one in spring and the other in fall—are configured for networking.
Hotels house both conferences, which the organization buys out so that virtually every room and open space is available for meetings. Hotel buyouts and securely managed spaces also keep poaching (companies not participating in the NIC events gaining access to its participants) to a minimum. It installs elaborately appointed networking lounges and even provides portable food all day, so participants don’t have to interrupt their meetings to eat.

NIC designs the event to support attendee behavior and needs. It uses its convening power and marketing strategies to ensure the right mix of people attend and conduct business. This supports the organization’s mission to enable access and choice using data, analytics and connections. This is what ultimately brings together the right investors and providers.

Automating the scheduling process

RX France uses the Net Promoter Score metric to gauge the year-on-year success of MIP Cancun, an event for television professionals producing, distributing, financing or buying content for Latin America and US Hispanic audiences.
Mip Cancun's results revealed
97% of participants were active in the pre-scheduled meetings program
2,418 meetings were scheduled before the event
The NPS score of 75 was the highest in the event’s history
MIP Cancun uses a hosted buyer format in which the suppliers (e.g., TV program producers) pay for their event tickets, and the event organizer pays for buyers’ (e.g. TV networks and streaming services) flights, accommodations and schedules. In 2022, 500 people attended.

For the most recent event, organizers streamlined the matchmaking process, reducing the pre-event questionnaire for suppliers to two questions regarding the genre of their show and their sales rights. They used AI-powered software (available via a mobile app) to collect profile information, suggest matches and deliver meeting schedules.

The platform also allowed users to easily book ad hoc meetings outside the planned agenda, resulting in more opportunities to make new connections, continue conversations, and transact business.
Click here to read the Mip Cancun case study

Supporting the need to meet

Clarion Events’ Smoky Mountain Gift Show came at the perfect time for souvenir buyers and suppliers. In the second half of 2021, gift and souvenir shop owners were eager to replenish inventory for what they hoped would be a busy season. After a pandemic imposed a year-and-a-half-long hiatus, their need to meet and buy was critical.
With connecting the right buyers and suppliers as the main priority, Clarion looked for different ways to engage participants and precipitate connections. For example, the team ran a daily prize drawing to get everyone on the show floor, organized a happy hour, and planned an after-show party that took over the city of Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

But one of the event’s most popular and successful features was Clarion’s AI-powered ‘MATCH!’ program. This structured networking system instantly paired buyers and suppliers based on their profiles and areas of interest. MATCH! made it easy for participants to plan and book their 20-minute, one-on-one meetings ahead of the show, accelerating the deal-making.
Click here to read the Clarion case study
Logo Clarion Events
Clarion’s program yielded:
44% increase in meetings year over year
100% buyer engagement
195 meetings booked against a target of 135

$900,000 in revenue potential

Organizers are keen to diversify revenue streams and monetizing pre-scheduled meetings is a path to diversification that’s calculable. Grip developed a pre-scheduled meetings revenue calculator that illustrates the income potential. Inputs, such as number of suppliers, number of meetings per supplier, industry, event type and event costs (buyer hosting, sales and marketing, operational costs, technology cost) deliver outputs, including:

Total revenue from pre-scheduled meetings
Customer price per meeting package
Net profit from pre-scheduled meetings
Profit margin


For example, the additional revenue generated by hosting pre-scheduled meetings at an in-person financial services event calculation for an in-person event with 50 suppliers and 15 meetings per supplier is $901,500, This represents a 40% profit margin for organizers.

The emerging discipline of event relationship management

An overwhelming 97% of event organizers say they’d like to increase the valuable B2B relationships between participants at their events. Thus, the growth in pre-scheduled meetings reveals the potential for a new discipline—Event Relationship Management (ERM)—consisting of four steps:
Learning customers’ needs to facilitate matches between professionals with mutual interests and complementary objectives. Pre-event surveys, examination of user behaviors and artificial intelligence can help facilitate curation.
Scheduling meetings between compatible participants in a suitable environment (exhibit booth, private meeting rooms, numbered tables in an open seating area) at the event. Set locations help streamline the meetings process and introduce the possibility of capturing meeting content and next steps.
Proactively working with pre-scheduled meeting participants to schedule a follow-up meeting, plant tour or product demo after the event. Software can help with scheduling and sending out reminders.
Scheduling meetings with the same participants or between the same companies at next year’s event. Keeping a record of meetings from year to year helps institutionalize relationship management and support companies experiencing staff changes
With a framework for ERM beginning to emerge, event organizers will naturally find ways to simplify the relationship-building process, including prioritizing a meetings-led approach, creating best practices, using specialized software, and enhancing program measurement.
The implications of investing in ERM—of which pre-scheduled meetings are a critical building block—are compelling. A business model that depends on increasing the volume of attendees every year is expensive to maintain. However, focusing on repeatable, high-quality meetings could lower the cost of attendee acquisition and yield more long-term benefits.

$900,000 in revenue potential

When pre-scheduled meetings software first came to market, most platforms required that users complete questionnaires about what they were searching for or offering. The software suggested matches between, for example, people looking for ball bearings and people selling ball bearings. The quality of the matches depended on the keywords users selected, and the accuracy and usability of the output (a meeting agenda) relied heavily on user inputs.
The software became smarter when developers added artificial intelligence to their pre-scheduled meetings platforms. It factored in variables besides keywords, including successful matches between other users with similar profiles, matches from previous years’ events and feedback from users about the quality of the matches. With every new data point, the platforms learned how to make better matches, raising the profile and value of pre-scheduled meetings programs.

The future of pre-scheduled meetings

The stage is set for the use of pre-scheduled meetings programs to expand. 87% of event organizers believe offering pre-scheduled meetings at events is an important industry trend.
While manual processes involving spreadsheets are likely to power very small programs, Software-as-a-Service platforms will become foundational for more complex pre-scheduled meetings initiatives.

As the demand for pre-scheduled meetings increases, advancements in artificial intelligence will define and empower programs and platforms. Grip’s Tim Groot envisions AI engines smart enough to generate personalized, high-quality meeting agendas without requiring any input from event participants.
Pre-scheduled meetings programs today hint at the much more extensive practice of Event Relationship Management, a framework for capitalizing on the primacy of the face-to-face interactions that are unique to in-person events.

The opportunity for event organizers is clear. By investing deeper in relationship-building, they can foster better and more satisfying customer experiences that create value and deliver revenue.

Appendix

About the author

Michelle Bruno, MPC, CEM, CMP, is a technical marketing writer, content strategist and technology journalist. At DAHLIA+Agency, she helps technology companies and event organizers find their communication, product positioning and technology sweet spots.

About DAHLIA+Agency

DAHLIA+Agency is a brand + experience + marketing agency. Its competitive masterminds have crafted and executed inspired, authoritative and provocative campaigns + experiences delivering exponential, winning results.

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