When is a 1-2-1 the right event format and how can you spot a good one?

August 2018

1-2-1s connect executive decision-makers with providers of products and services through pre-scheduled meetings. A long established part of the events repertory, they have recently attracted fresh interest – both for the revenue growth they offer and for their potential to disrupt existing formats. There have been several instances of organisers acquiring 1-2-1 providers (Emerald/CPMG, Comexposium/WWM and Tarsus/Connect are just three recent examples). Others are looking for opportunities to introduce 1-2-1s into their established events.

The model can attract a senior audience with the purchasing power to give suppliers a solid return on investment. They can prove a successful and highly profitable addition to an organisers’ portfolio.

When evaluating an opportunity for a 1-2-1 there are three important considerations:

  • What is driving the underlying need for 1-2-1?
  • Which model will best meet the need?
  • Is the opportunity both sustainable and scalable?

When do 1-2-1 events work best?
1-2-1s are most effective in sectors or industry verticals that exhibit at least some of these characteristics:

A highly competitive or complex underlying market. Competition reinforces the need for buyers to innovate, while complexity makes it more important to share knowledge. The 1-2-1 model means buyers can have more effective discussions with suppliers about their innovation needs. It also encourages buyers to collaborate – especially if events include small group case-study sessions or boardroom presentations.

The need for a tailored, intangible solution. Suppliers can tailor their pitch to the buyer’s specific circumstances and work with them to design bespoke solutions.
Suppliers for whom face-to-face time with key buyers is important. The 1-2-1 model allows suppliers to engage exclusively with targeted buyers for longer periods than may be possible at a trade show. It is particularly suitable for suppliers who might not otherwise have this kind of access, such as newer or smaller companies.

Critical mass of buyers with a regular purchasing need. To be sustainable, a 1-2-1 needs to maintain a core base of key buyers. So while not all buyers need to come back every year, the buyer base needs to be sufficiently large and loyal to offer suppliers regular sales opportunities.

Which variation would be the best fit?
1-2-1s can take different forms. They can be part of a broader tradeshow or conference, or be standalone events. Attendees can be fully hosted or “self-serve”. And the size can range from deliberately small and intimate to large and even sector-leading.

The meetings themselves can also take different forms. Options range from one-on-one “speed dating” to boardroom-style meetings where suppliers can address multiple buyers in a workshop environment. The right option in each case will depend on the complexity of the sale and the seniority of the buyers, as well as their willingness to share ideas, best practice and solutions.

What makes a 1-2-1 scalable and sustainable?
Organisers will typically seek scalability in their events, as well as sustainability. Some factors to look for include:

A robust buyer recruitment process. Suppliers need buyers with a budget. To deliver a good return for supplers 1-2-1s organisers need to be confident that every buyer has the budget. Thus the importance of each buyer is magnified in a 1-2-1, in contrast to a large scale trade show, where organisers can rely on the scale of the attendee base to deliver RoI to exhibitors.

Buyer incentives. A fully or partially hosted buyer programme is an effective way to ensure that scheduled meetings with suppliers take place. It may not always be necessary – for some buyers high exhibitor quality together with the incentive to find a product or solution may be sufficient; in other cases must-have content can be relied on to deliver buyer footfall. However in both cases the risk of a no-show remains, and consequent impact on supplier return on their investment and their satisfaction.

Effective scheduling and matchmaking system. Bringing complementary sets of buyers and sellers together sounds easy, however unless there is some form of automation at the heart of the system, it is not scalable. Another potential pitfall is to allow supplier preference to unduly drive the process. This may at first seem reasonable, as they are after all the paying customer, and the buyer is often hosted. However 1-2-1s that fail to deliver valuable meetings to its buyers are likely to discover that any amount of hosting cannot sustain a quality buyer base over time. The good news is that organisers do necessarily require unduly complex algorithms to achieve results, and third party software solutions are readily available.

Scalable customer relationships. The nature of the 1-2-1 model, in particular the focus on exclusively high value buyers will tend to provide a natural limit to event size. However the same buyer relationships may often provide the opportunity to address adjacent supplier groups in the form of spin off events that can drive revenue growth for the portfolio.
Unlocking the benefits of 1-2-1s

The 1-2-1 can be a powerful tool across a variety of sectors. For suppliers, more face-to-face time with the decision-makers in their industry means it’s easier to make deals – and track return on investment. For buyers, effective matching means they only spend time with suppliers who offer what they need and have prepared for the conversation. And for organisers, there’s strong revenue potential, as well as the chance to capture the most senior attendees in a market and build a loyal base of buyers and suppliers.