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An Inside Look at Drift’s Human-to-Human Virtual Event Strategy

September 22, 2021

If you’ve been in the marketing world for long, you’ll have heard of Janna Erickson.

The field marketing superstar has made her way through the marketing hall of fame, working with some of the most well-known teams in the business. (Think: TomTom, Kayak, Hubspot, and Drift).

As Event Director at Drift, her role includes everything from running large-scale events for 1000’s of attendees, to smaller VIP roundtables where the main rule is to not talk about the brand.  

Curious? Us too.

We caught up with Janna to find out why not talking about the brand actually works, how she aced a brand new virtual event on a brand new platform, and why a human-focused event strategy is the only way to go (plus we got to meet her adorable puppy, Ernie 🐶).

Check it out!

The backstory: Law-school candidate turned B2B events director

Janna Erickson has always been one to seek out a challenge — and if something didn’t work for her, she moved on.

After studying business in college with the hope of becoming a lawyer, she switched gears when she realized a legal career just wasn’t for her. Next, she tried her hand at recruiting, but quickly figured out she “hated selling people” and moved on to the team at TeleAtlas (later TomTom). It was there that she found her passion within the events team — and never looked back.

Not long after leaving TeleAtlas, Janna found herself managing events at HubSpot.

“I created a program called Grow with HubSpot which was a road show across the world. But I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do what I wanted at HubSpot because the team wasn't growing at the time,” she says.

Janna was ready to take her love of events to the next level. Luckily, a chance conversation with a friend who worked at Drift, led to an invitation to take on the role of Director of Events at the fast-growing brand.



The challenge: Caught in a demand gen wheel

Four years into her role at Drift, Janna and her team were killing it on the B2B events circuit. But when Covid hit and all Drift’s events went online, things got... tough.

“Last year, we automatically jumped into what everybody else was doing and got in on the demand gen wheel. But we've never been a pay-to-play brand. So we experimented with that and we kind of lost our brand just a little bit through Covid,” says Janna.

And it wasn’t just Covid that threw a spanner in the works.

“We originally used another event platform to host our RevGrowth events but we really maxed out on it. We went between live and pre-recorded and it broke, the event ended too early before the last keynote came on. We were like, ‘Okay, we've outgrown this, we need to start thinking about alternatives,” she recalls.

For a human-first revenue marketer like Janna, pushing the boundaries without cutting corners on attendee experience was everything. She knew she had to get 100% focused on creating the best virtual attendee experience possible, starting with a platform that was truly up to task. 


The solution: A binge-worthy virtual event platform

“It was tough at the beginning because although I’d done virtual events, I’d never really been in the webinar world. I wanted to make sure our new RevGrowth event didn’t feel like your typical webinar,” says Janna.

Her mission: Find a binge-worthy virtual event platform attendees will love — and find it fast.

“We went through a process of going through all the platforms we could find, and I made a requirements list,” she says.

Here’s what was on Janna’s wishlist:

  • Easy integration features and access to API
  • Mobile-friendly viewing
  • 100% human customer support
  • Customizable branding options
  • Runs like Netflix so attendees can binge-watch the event

That’s when she took a second look at Goldcast.


But convincing the rest of the team wouldn’t be easy.

 “I got a lot of pushback internally at the beginning. They were like, ‘Janna, they're so new. What are you doing? Why can’t we use the other platform? Why can't we build this ourselves? What are we doing?’”

Janna wouldn’t budge. 

“I said, ‘Just let me take a chance, I promise it's going to work.’”

Lucky for her and the entire Drift team, it did. In fact, they kinda knocked it out of the park. 

“We took a lot of the same elements from our in-person events. We stuck to the one stage, the one day, we made sure we had a DJ involved. Plus, we had an all-star line-up including Coca-Cola, Amazon, GoFundMe and the former CMO of Beats by Dre,” says Janna.

Wish you were there? Us too. Luckily, you can still check out the full session videos on the Drift website. 😉


The results: A data-driven (but human-first) virtual event

Planning: Map the attendee journey

For Janna, experience is everything — that’s why her first step was to focus on the all-important user journey to make sure the pipeline was nurtured at every stage.

Here’s how she did it:

1. Ask the what, why, how: Put yourself in the attendees’ shoes by asking, ‘What will they get out of the event?’, ‘Why will they sit (and stay) in this room?’ and ‘How can we make it a no-brainer for them to ask their boss to be out of work for the day?’

2. Look at the end-to-end experience: For the ultimate attendee experience, Janna suggests you know the answers to these questions: 

  • What will the registration process be like?
  • How do attendees get their confirmation email?
  • Is it automatically pushed to their calendar?
  • Will they be given reminders?
  • How will the event make attendees feel? Have you thought about the sensory experience?

3. Focus on how the event makes attendees feel: For Janna, the best way to engage attendees is by focusing on a sensory experience. “At the end of the day, you want people to feel like, ‘Okay, I'm 100% pre-registering for the next event’,” she explains.  

4. Drill down on UX with a smart virtual event management platform: For Drift, that platform was Goldcast.

“For registration, we have our own landing page and our own chat bot — then that integrates with Marketo, which then integrates with Goldcast. All our confirmation emails come through Goldcast with the magic link, we use Goldcast’s add to calendar feature, and also all the reminders come from Goldcast. After that we go to the main agenda page and then to the event page. So, post-registration, after they go through that bot flow, everything goes over to Goldcast,” says Janna.



Execution: Work with sponsors and sales to hit your MQL goals

Janna’s team have some pretty aggressive MQL goals (or as they’re affectionately known at Drift, ‘Interested People’), and they work across departments to accelerate those relationships.

“We have a number of Interested People that we need to hit for these events. Part of hitting those targets is down to our Demand Gen team on the promotion side, who manage who we co-market with,” says Janna.

To really drill down on bringing those MQLs in, they have strict partnership KPIs to hit.

“We go to companies that have already hit a high ICP rate with us in past events. That’s where they have a lead share, and they have to register at least 500. Once they hit that goal then they can have the full lead list,” she explains. “It’s a great way to make sure we're getting the right people.”

And that’s not all. Janna’s team also works with sales to pull the right attendees to the right events.

“For sales, we have to make sure they have all the assets, and that they understand who they should be inviting and why they should be inviting them. And then we also add VIP experiences too for their higher levels. For example, it could be a VP from an enterprise company who wouldn't necessarily attend a RevGrowth event — but they'll attend the VIP experience with our CMO, and then tell their team to attend RevGrowth. So, there's all those different touch points,” explains Janna.

Post-event: Simple data grabs to make the sales handoff easy

The biggest thing for Drift’s events is the data behind them.

“One of the main reasons we went to Goldcast was the data grab. A lot of software doesn’t have all those different touchpoints,” says Janna.
“When it comes to data, I need to know ‘Was that a smart decision?’, ‘Was that a smart investment?’, ‘Are people resonating with that content?’” explains Janna.

Here are some of the KPIs Janna and her team track:

  • How attendees interact
  • How they engage with the event
  • Who was at what keynote and for how long
  • What was going on in the chat

Once they’ve got the lowdown on attendee behavior, sales then use it to home in on key accounts.

“These insights are great for sales to build talking points. Instead of just saying, ‘I saw you attended RevGrowth’, they can say, ‘I saw you were doing X during this session, what a great session, I loved this, what did you think?’ It gives them more of a human touch,” she says.

And it wasn’t just sales who loved the new format. 

Goldcast’s in-event commercial feature meant Janna could entice sponsors with a super easy offer: All the sponsors had to do was provide a video commercial and any resources they wanted to share with attendees. 

Zero staffing commitments, zero pressure, maximum ROI.

“Instead of having pay-to-play on speaking, sponsors could have a commercial. That meant they wanted to know how many people viewed their commercial of course, so that was also a benefit because you could say, ‘You're not speaking but I'll let you know how many people viewed your commercial. And you're not having a booth but you'll have a section on the resources page that you can put resources and replay that commercial and we can give you all the data off of that’,” she explains. 

Sounds simple? That’s because it is. 

“For the sponsors, they're like, ‘This is so easy! All we have to do is provide that, we don't have to staff anything, we don't have to prepare anything else, and we're getting the leads that we typically probably would have got if we were speaking anyway,” explains Janna. 


What’s next? Evolving the B2B B2H event marketing strategy at Drift

Janna’s marketing approach has one central message: Remember you’re marketing to humans.

“At Drift, we’re very against trade show booths and feeling like you're being sold to. We want you to feel like you're leaving there with information that’s tactical and that you're going to bring back to your day-to-day life and how you operate as a marketer, a sales professional, or even as a human,” she explains.

Janna knows ABM can be challenging. But for customer-centric field marketers like her, simply going back to basics and focusing on the prospect as a human is the one sure way to win.

“If ABM is done well, it delivers super impressive results, but the struggle is there because getting the alignment across the organization is so tough. How can you get everything aligned for a faster pipeline, higher close rates, larger deal sizes, etc? That's where you need to just go back to the human and what the human wants. And then once you can figure that out and it's just lining all the pieces up,” says Janna.

So, what does a human-first event actually look like? For Janna, it’s all about keeping it small, organic and dropping the hard sell.

“We’ve been doing a lot of smaller events, more along the lines of round tables — which have been highly successful, but it's very exclusive, invite only with around 20 attendees. In these events, we don't talk about Drift. We want it to come up organically, keep it very natural. If Drift comes up in conversation, that's great. If it doesn’t, that’s fine too — it's all about building trust, so they think of us later,” explains Janna.

“We’re back!”

Janna and the marketing team knew they’d hit a winner by hosting their RevGrowth event with Goldcast.

“I loved the branding, I loved the look and feel of Goldcast — but I think the most valuable thing was the support and the way the Goldcast team felt like part of the events team. You don't get that interaction with other platforms,” says Janna.

But the biggest win was feeling like they’d reclaimed their brand focus after a tough year.

“The success this event brought was something that internally at Drift we really needed. At the end of the day, everyone felt like, ‘Oh my God, this feels like the old days!’ Our CEO was so happy too. We have some improvements, but we know what they are, and we know that the Goldcast team wants to work with us to get better and grow — and that unity is huge for us,” says Janna.
“Everybody was pleased. Our CEO even wrote in our leadership channel, ‘We're back!’, which felt so good.”


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