How this marketing leader is navigating the post-pandemic world of B2B events

Salesforce APAC CMO talks through the shift from physical to virtual events and what the next phase of B2B events has to look like

Salesforce local MD, Pip Marlow, with Dylan Alcott at the 2022 Salesforce World Tour in Sydney
Salesforce local MD, Pip Marlow, with Dylan Alcott at the 2022 Salesforce World Tour in Sydney

When Leandro Perez arrived back in the APAC region in February 2020 as Salesforce's vice-president and CMO, he had no idea of what he was about to walk into.

His return to region came only two weeks out from the local iteration of the company's annual World Tour event, which he expected to see function like a well-oiled machine.

"I had come from HQ where I was part of the team delivering the Dreamforce keynote and taking it around the world. So when I came into region, I thought 'the machine is running, we know what we are doing'," he says.

Covid-19 had other plans however. When it became clear days later the crisis was spiralling out of control, Perez and his colleagues made a snap decision to cancel the local event's physical component and take it all virtual.

"These folks had been planning this for months, and then suddenly that plan wasn't there anymore," Perez says. "I had to do two things. One was help them not lose motivation. The other was we had to manage strong stakeholder in sales and distribution, and they had big expectations."

That Perez and his team were able to achieve both outcomes speak volume of their adaptability – some of which Perez attributes to the ability of Salesforce' platform to support virtual engagements. These include Community Cloud software, which allows users to create virtual meeting rooms. The experience also kicked off a learning journey that has had a significant impact on how Salesforce managed future events and continues to play out, through the recent 2022 Dreamforce conference and beyond.

While 2021 saw the World Tour return with a purely digital model, subsequent events have been run in a hybrid fashion, which has posed its own challenges. Perez says prior to Covid, it was common to record keynote presentations for digital playback, with the remote audience always viewed as a secondary audience.

"When that first pivot happened, we realised there was no one in the room, so the online audience was the most important audience," Perez says. "But then we went to year two and thought about all the other sessions. How do you capture footage, how do you uplevel it?

"When you go online, you have to have another eye on the quality of what was being said, because it is going to live online. That is another set of expectations. So, it meant all the bars were raised. I was telling the team 'I know you are all marketers, but now you have to think like broadcasters', because now it is digital, it is a different machine altogether."

The 2020 pivot saw the streaming audience grow from 10,000 to 80,000. The following year, World Tour was spread over a number of weeks with a more tailored program and recorded a further bump in viewership. This success has led to a proliferation of hybrid events, which unfortunately now pose the dual challenges posed by both live and digital formats.

"It is unfortunate, but in this new world, a marketers' jobs just got even harder," Perez says. "Now we need to be continually looking at what we have done. We've got higher expectations, but maybe the budgets haven't grown at the same capacity, so that is what keeps me busy."

Regional customisation

A key outcome from these changes has been the elevation of the vendor’s streaming platform, Salesforce+, and its expansion out to the regions. This has included creating custom regional content to support global events, to ensure regional viewers have a convenient and tailored experience.

"Years ago, we would have never gotten an APAC 'anything', whereas last year we introduced a takeover, which was a dedicated in our time zone broadcast of the keynote, and we had our own show," Perez says. "This year I pushed that even harder, but I made it really short – 15 minutes of local regional with the main keynote to get' the main messages. I then gave our CEOs of India and APAC an opportunity to reflect.

"Now I am chopping that up with my team. It is all going on social, pointing back to Salesforce+, because there is so much more content we are able to juice from that."

The result is a blurring between the traditional roles and content and events team. "I brought together my strategic events team and my strategic experience team, because I realised straightaway that as soon as we moved to digital, and we weren’t going to be doing physical events for a while, I wanted them to master the art of broadcast and share it with the whole team," Perez says.

"Now I am starting to get my team to think about how our series are going to develop. Is there a bigger content play that I can bring through Salesforce+?

"It's all about keeping people engaged - how you keep people watching then do something."

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