When the pandemic hit in 2020, software companies were in a race to rethink their marketing and sales strategies. One strategy that boomed was virtual events. One rule that remains true online or offline is that the goal of events is not to just get people in the room but to convert them into happy customers.
- Generated 14,000+ leads in 9 months using virtual product workshops.
- Great conversion rate – drive pipeline and directly impact sales.
- Exceptional feedback from attendees: “This is hands down the best workshop I’ve ever taken.”; “This was the clearest and easiest to follow a workshop.
- Instruqt Hands-on Labs made it a great virtual product workshop experience.
- Use Hands-on product workshops to create upselling opportunities in accounts.
Amanda MacLeod runs all of HashiCorp’s field marketing worldwide. Essentially, she is in charge of all their regional marketing aligned to all of their sales regions, including North America, Europe, and Asia. In this interview, Amanda shares how her team successfully delivered half-day-long product workshops to over 14,000 cloud engineers since the start of the pandemic that drives the pipeline and directly impacts sales. Here’s the full story of what makes the virtual product workshops successful at HashiCorp.
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How do events fit into your marketing mix?
Events are definitely a big part of it. We do everything from workshops to executive dinners and everything in between to engage all the different accounts and all the people we work with within our customers.
How did the HashiCorp product workshops look like before the pandemic?
Our workshops were in person. They’ve been growing over time and getting large right before the pandemic. We would go on tour with the workshops. We did them in all different cities across North America, Europe, Asia. Everyone would sign up in advance. The plan usually was; they arrive, we present them in person, attendees’ hands on the keyboard going through our products like Terraform. The duration of these workshops was at least a half-day, so pretty long, and usually, we would organize a social event afterward.
How did HashiCorp tackle the pandemic and shift to virtual?
As you can see in the photos, the workshops were gaining a lot of momentum right before the pandemic. So, when the pandemic hit, HashiCorp did react fast. We shut down travel before everything else got shut down. [Insert photo from the physical workshops in Amsterdam] So, we had to make some quick decisions on what to do. So, I called an emergency meeting with my team. We sat down with the entire team across all the regions. We went line by line to get an overview of the scheduled events, the location, the number of people signed up, and which were live events.
As we’re going through the list, we quickly realized we could do this virtually. As we’re already a remote-working company, we’ve always used Zoom and all the tools. We’re familiar with all of that. Especially with the workshops, we realized, OK, let’s do it and see what happens. You don’t know until you try. We flipped all events to virtual within 48 hours. We communicated to all the delegates and sent them a Zoom link instead of the address. We didn’t want to lose momentum. The team mainly plans about a quarter at a time. We had a lot of great things planned. We didn’t want to miss those opportunities and just wait and see. So we decided to be proactive and went for it.
14,000+ product workshop attendees since the start of the pandemic is an achievement. Can you describe a bit of the scale of the virtual workshops?
We tested just how large we could make these throughout the pandemic. What can Instruqt handle, right? We’ve been pushing the limits of our team, Instruqt, and everyone. To see just how far we can take this. So, previously, as you saw in those rooms, our largest ones were probably around 100. The largest workshop, I believe, was 150 attendees in Amsterdam right before things shut down. Then as we turned virtual, it needed to be balanced. We work closely with our solutions engineering team. They lead the workshops. We have TAs with the SEs in every workshop to ensure all participants get the assistance and guidance they need.
Moving forward, we wanted to make sure everyone still has that personalized experience, but then, how many people can we accommodate in the workshop? So, we were careful and made sure we had a lot of SEs. We figured out the math of how many people per SE and just kept pushing. We experimented with, “what if we let these many more people in and tested along the way, we have this many SE, and we were able to keep pushing that out. Our bigger workshops had a few hundred people at one time, which, of course, were from all different cities all over the world, So you’re able to reach people in a new way.
At Hashicorp, Field Marketing works closely with Solutions Engineers. Could you describe a little bit how the collaboration works?
We are always in lockstep with sales and then in lockstep with the solutions engineering team all along that way. I always look at us as the two pillars supporting sales, and we work in a tight partnership. Because they’re the technical ones, they’re the ones who keep the workshops going. They found Instruqt and said this could be a great way to run our workshops.
From our team, Sean Carolan and Lance Larsen worked on this right when we were just about to start using Instruqt, so it was perfect timing. They jumped in, helped us, walked through everything. We said OK, let’s test this, how this will look virtually. And things were pretty seamless as we’ve already set up Instruqt for the product workshops. They helped us with everything from the infrastructure of the workshops to the presentation content. When the pandemic hits, you need to suddenly check all your technology and make sure it’s all going to work. They’re there to help us.
How would you advise marketers on working more closely with their solutions engineers?
We’re all one team. We’re all going after the same goals. We’re all trying to make sure our customers are educated on our products and have a great experience. This is something that I think marketing as a whole and the Solutions Engineering team can do effectively. It is that balance of the right product experience, the right messaging, and then the right content, the right education, the right technology. And that’s where we come together.
From the logistical perspective, how are these workshops different from the physical workshops?
Yes, they have changed. As we saw in those pictures, it’s all one big room. Everyone sitting in there has a desk. We have one presenter in the front, and the TAs would walk around as they’re going through the lessons. Now, with it being virtual and with Instruqt, we can still kick off the workshops. And the same way we did before, where we have presentations to set the stage. We’ll give a little background on Terraform or whatever we want to focus on—and then go through the lessons planned. What we can do in Zoom now is people then get into these smaller breakout rooms.
When it’s time to do the lab Instruqt, we have a TA or two in that room with them. And it’s a much smaller group, so you get more conversation and chatter and questions. And it’s just a more intimate experience. People will interact in a smaller group, go back into the main room, participate in some more presentations, and go back to the lab again. And that’s kind of your group through the day, rather than one big room.
Did you have to make adjustments to the length of the workshops?
That was the big question for us when this hit because they’re long. The workshops are usually about a half-day. It takes time for people to walk from a workshop and feel they learned a good amount of content which is more than just scratching the surface. And so that takes time. But sitting in front of a screen for that long was a different experience. This was a concern of ours. But we’ve found ways to make it a bit more engaging.
We found that people do want to stay on when it is a good experience, and they’re happy to spend still a half-day going through that whole to the full length of the content. So, our workshops are still about a half-day long.
What is your strategy to keep people engaged all the time?
We are learning as we keep going. We’d keep trying new things. Again, in collaboration with our Solutions Engineering team, we always come with fresh new ideas. We started to do some things, even little things, like just having some music initially and during the event. We have music during the breaks and while everyone is just doing their hands-on labs in Instruqt. Stuff like that can make people feel a lot less stagnant and static.
Activities like a raffle, a contest, or maybe some quizzes create good engagement. We ask them how much they learned, what they remember from two hours ago, and get some fun prizes. We also add a personal element to help people get to know each other. We ask attendees to change their name on the breakout sessions instead of just Amanda MacLeod; it will say: Amanda MacLeod, HashiCorp. So you can see what other companies are there and who else is there.
How are participants reacting to the hands-on elements of these workshops?
We ask attendees to do surveys after every workshop. The feedback surveys have been a joy to read. People are happy. We can also see through the analytics in Instruqt what the completion rate was; how far people get, how many people finished. And in the surveys, we’ve had some exceptional feedback phrases like
“This is hands down the best workshop I’ve ever taken.”
“This was the clearest and easiest to follow the workshop. The Instruqt platform made it a much better experience!”
A ton of companies are doing various types of workshops. There are various types of training. In our industry, everyone has done a workshop. This isn’t their first workshop. So they do have some background, and they’ve been enjoying this experience,
Conversion into sales pipeline. You generate a lot of excitement at the events. How do you connect with your sales teams so that you can eventually see the outcome from it?
It’s great to get all these people in the room. But if it doesn’t move them forward, then it’s not performing well. Our goal is not to get them in the room. Our goal is to help our accounts move faster, understand our products better, and get signed on more quickly. So these workshops have helped us through all the stages of the sales cycle. From getting people in the door, learning about these products, and making it possible for people to dabble in and experiment with them. Maybe these attendees are somewhere in our sales cycle, and they’re curious about it. They’ve heard about it within the account. So we go back to them and say, “Hey, let us give you some hands-on experience, and you can kind of test it for yourself and see how it goes for you.
This goes for existing accounts and new accounts. The most important thing is that they are successful with our products. They do see the value in our products, get up and running, and then they renew in 12 months. For new customers, it’s super important that they get this education, feel comfortable with the product, and get up and running. In addition to that, maybe one person or a few people from an account will attend one of these workshops. Then we follow up with them and ask, “How did it go? Do you want us to come, and do you want your whole team to participate?” Workshops can be that first stage, which helps us continue to get further into the account and reach more people. So, it opens up the door to an account.
How do you see hands-on product tutorials impacting the entire customer life cycle?
We don’t just want to turn the leads into customers. We also want them to renew, which ultimately means they are using the product. Are they missing the product? Are they taking advantage of it and fully realizing that value? Ultimately, while the manager signs the check, it’s all of those engineers who use those products every day. These are the attendees at these workshops. They’re running Terraform every day and learning its benefits at the workshops.
Looking back, what is the one big lesson that you learned from organizing virtual events?
I would say that they work! It’s a different experience than being in the room with each other. I can’t wait to get back out in the field and be with everyone. But there are also unique advantages to virtual. I think these workshops, in particular, have so many advantages with timing. It’s 8 AM in San Francisco; Noon on the East Coast, and evening in Europe. People can pick the timing that works for them. Everyone has different stuff going on: family, kids, various meetings, and work. Now they can choose rather than the situation where; this is the one-time slot happening in Minneapolis this week. They can choose what time works for them and make it work, and as I said earlier, they are long days. It’s half a day. It’s a big commitment, and so it being virtual and being at home gives people a bit more flexibility if they need to step out. Kids are running around. They need to get a snack, whatever you do. They can take care of that, come back in, and have that balance.
So, do you think virtual events are here to stay?
I definitely think virtual events are here to stay. The overall picture will probably be some hybrid mix. But I believe they are here to stay. They have their advantages that you don’t get with in-person events that make them worthy of continuing. **
Reflections from speaking with Amanda
In this virtual world, we are no longer limited by distance, costs, or scale. You can run workshops where your attendees are engaged, active, and learn a lot about your products. When you can adjust your mindset and execution, it can offer huge opportunities for growth.
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