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Event leadership | 7 March 2022

Event Success Book Preview: SAP and the Power of Event Data

Bizzabo Blog Staff

Are you using events to generate pipeline? If so, event data can tell you everything you need to know to keep your customers and prospects coming back for more. In this preview of our upcoming book, Event Success: Maximizing the Business Impact of In-Person, Virtual, and Hybrid Experiences, get a glimpse into how one major event used analytics to achieve event success. 

SAP throws thousands of events each year, but the German software company is most well-known for its flagship event, SAPPHIRE NOW. The event hosts more than 24,000 customers, prospects, and partners each spring and has been going on for more than 30 years. 

When Nicola Kastner was promoted to SAP’s VP, Global Head of Event Strategy in 2019, breathing new life into SAPPHIRE NOW became a key part of her role. Despite SAP’s established reputation, Kastner knew that she needed to mix things up in order for this main event to continue generating its largest amount of pipeline. 

Luckily for SAP, Kastner is a data-oriented professional who understands that an account-based marketing (ABM) strategy works best when supported by data.

“I never considered myself an analytical person in the past … but when I understood that data could provide so many insights … it literally changed my trajectory away from being an event planner — or in the event business, so to speak — to being a business strategist.”

Nicola Kastner
VP, Global Head of Event Strategy
SAP

Building a Roadmap for Event Success

When planning SAP’s 2019 flagship event, Kastner started by outlining her objectives for the event, which included the following:

  • Be customer-first
  • Be outcome-oriented
  • Be data-informed

Using these objectives as a framework, she laid out the goals of the event: Solve real customer needs while seamlessly integrating them into the SAP customer journey. With those goals in mind, the next step of her analytical approach was to dig more deeply into customer personas.

Questions Kastner asked herself in the planning process included: 

  • Who is coming to the event? 
  • Why are they attending? 
  • What department do they work in? 
  • What products do they currently own? 
  • What type of business, industry, or vertical do they operate in? 

After collecting data on who would be attending and why, she realized she needed to find common ground among the large attendee base if she wanted to create a cohesive event that served its purpose. 

“If you think about SAP and 77% of the world’s business transactions operating on our platforms, that’s a lot of industries, a lot of customers,” said Kastner. “And we needed to think about the common foundation for all of these different customers, industries, and segments.” 

In realizing that accelerating changes in the economy, society, and the environment affected everyone, Kastner was able to pinpoint five overarching themes for SAPPHIRE NOW:

  1. Business model disruption
  2. Data proliferation
  3. Empowered customers
  4. A diverse workforce
  5. Resource scarcity 

With those five themes in mind, Kastner was ready to build an event that brought each theme to life through experiences that would resonate with attendees — all while working toward her objectives and goals. What she came up with would go on to win awards. 

SAP Sapphire Now event success

Creating a Unique Event Architecture

Based on the data-driven themes she recognized, Kastner and her team designed five interactive “neighborhoods” for attendees. With a three-day event and roughly 1 million square feet of real estate in the Orange County Convention Center, SAP’s customers and prospects were invited to explore the neighborhoods that spoke to the macro issues they needed to solve most.

Each neighborhood had its own design concept, content, demos, networking spaces — even food and beverage options. Attendees could float between the soft borders of SAPPHIRE NOW’s “city” or spend all their time focused on one area. 

The event was so successful that it was awarded the 2019 BizBash Event Style Award for the Best Corporate Event Concept in the $500,000+ budget category. This architecture hit all of Kastner’s marks: informed by data, understanding what SAP customers need, and putting those needs first. Plus, SAP solved real problems while moving attendees along the customer journey. 

Applying an Account-Based Marketing (ABM) Strategy

SAP’s sales and marketing teams came together with an ABM strategy to make SAPPHIRE NOW the success it was. This collaborative, growth-focused strategy combines the powers of both teams to create personalized experiences for attendees in order to move them further into the pipeline.

Kastner compares it to evolving from a grocery store, where patrons walk around checking off items on their list, to a meal kit delivery service, where customers are proactively offered the ingredients they need. Like the latter, a data-backed ABM strategy gives customers the ingredients they need most, making them more likely to purchase. 

“ABM is a big part of our marketing strategy and a huge part of the approach that we take within the event. Because we have key customers that we want there, we have plans that are developed for those customers.”

Nicola Kastner
VP, Global Head of Event Strategy
SAP

Because SAP already knows the buying habits of its customer accounts, it’s much easier to direct key accounts toward customized solutions when the time is right. SAP is also able to invite target accounts that are more likely to be making purchasing decisions to the event, with each getting a custom journey within the event, as well as through other marketing touchpoints. 

Given the abundance of data event professionals are now working with — and the collaborative approach between sales and marketing — Kastner knows it’s more important than ever to ask questions about data. Here are a few: 

  • What is the source of truth? 
  • How is data collected?
  • Who owns the data? 
  • How does the data get updated? 

“In a hybrid environment, we have the opportunity to target the right event type, at the right time, for the right customers, and I believe that, when physical events come back, a highly targeted ABM approach will be a core part of the strategy for many companies.”

Nicola Kastner
VP, Global Head of Event Strategy
SAP

Using Data To Close the Event Impact Gap™ 

The challenge event professionals like Kastner have faced is that customer and event data is often either missing or captured in isolation, it can be hard to see and measure progress towards business outcomes, resulting in an Event Impact Gap™.

This ability to definitively demonstrate the value of an event — something you must be able to prove in order to secure resources for future events and gain support from stakeholders — can go a long way in getting what you need to host the kind of event that speaks to both in-person and virtual audiences

As Kastner and her ABM strategy show, events can play an important part in driving the customer journey. According to Kastner, events serve as one channel in an omnichannel journey that adds value to customers. Integrating data into the mix only strengthens the outcomes and further proves value. 

Event Success Book

Get Answers: Pre-Order Event Success and Close the Event Impact Gap™

After a revolutionary couple of years for the events industry, data is the most effective tool we have to ground events in reality and leverage their potential as sales tools. These tools give us the opportunity to reinvent the events industry and propel it forward to achieve its full potential. 

Learn from more industry leaders like Nicola Kastner about creating event success, reaching the right audience at the right time, how to choose the right technology partner, and more in our upcoming book, Event Success: Maximizing the Business Impact of In-Person, Virtual, and Hybrid Experiences

The best part about our new book? We’re donating all of the proceeds from pre-order sales to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to support its Ukraine relief efforts. Pre-order now to learn how to improve ROE (Return on Events), realize measurable increases in revenue, and more.

Editors note: As of March 2022, Nicole Kastner is the former VP, Global Head of Event Strategy at SAP.