4 Ways to Make Your Virtual Annual Meetings a Success

When we hosted THRIVE 2020, we purposely scheduled it early in the year knowing our clients would be gearing up for a busy annual meeting season in Q2/Q3. Then, COVID-19 suddenly grounded flights, altered travel schedules, emptied hotel rooms, and squashed in-person events.

Investor relations and marketing teams immediately had to reimagine the mainstay of the stakeholder-firm relationship—the annual meeting. However, instead of the pandemic closing off communication, it opened up a new opportunity for investors and managers alike to lean into the flexibility and transparency offered by virtual annual meetings.

We spoke with a marketing director at a lower middle market fund of funds about how they traded in the Ritz Carlton for a ritzy online experience and wanted to share these tips to keep investors satisfied in 2021 and beyond. 

1. LESS IS MORE IN VIRTUAL ANNUAL MEETINGS

Annual meetings are vital in connecting your team with all of your external stakeholders in order to network, talk about performance, and share ideas regarding strategic direction. That full schedule does not translate well to an online summit, so teams have had to quickly rethink the best use of the available time.

One thing that our client mentioned was that instead of the traditional two-day, “all-in” program, they set up a virtual annual meeting as a series of 45-to-60-minute webinars spaced three to six weeks apart. This allowed them to reduce the risk of webinar fatigue because each event had a concise, tailored message. In fact, in their first pre-annual meeting COVID-19 check, they actually saw a 30% increase in registrations because people didn’t have to block days on their schedule and book travel.

2. FOCUS ON WHAT INVESTORS REALLY WANT

While some people like a steak dinner and schmoozing, ultimately, what matters most to your investors is the meat of your firm’s performance. They come to annual meetings to understand where and how value is being created in the portfolio and to better understand how you’re positioned to take advantage of opportunities and/or avoid risks. You want to be able to provide that information to your investors, but you don’t have to wait until they are with you at a conference table.

Creating a track record dashboard to securely share information with your stakeholders can accomplish many of the same goals and also make the data easier to consume than on a slide in a presentation. While there may be fewer opportunities to answer questions during the meeting, interactive data access like this allows the investor to ask any questions they have on their own time when it’s convenient for them.

Additionally, as uncertainty about the pandemic and its aftereffects lingers, investors remain hungry for your firm’s updates. You can meet that need and increase your touchpoints with them by storing your presentations, videos, and dashboards before or after your meetings in a secure portal or data room.

3. FIND THE RIGHT TECHNOLOGY TO SUPPORT YOUR VIRTUAL MEETING

The sudden switch to online events is a major paradigm shift. Beyond the simple things (like not having anyone flush in the middle of your presentation!), you also need to make sure that the communication platform you select is secure, protects your data, and has clear audio streaming features.

While many people have moved to Zoom Webinars, we have also seen success in some of the advanced solutions from On24, BrightTALK, and BigMarker.

A few things to consider for your annual meetings include:

  1. Does the software require you to download to view or is it in-browser?
  2. How does the webinar solution help you manage event marketing and registrant tracking?
  3. What is the breadth of viewer analytics you receive during and after the event?
  4. After the presentation ends, how is view-on-demand access controlled?

4. GET “ALL HANDS ON DECK!” TO PREPARE FOR YOUR ANNUAL MEETING

Your investor relations team and fund managers are always involved in preparing for an annual meeting, and moving to an online format doesn’t mean there is less work to do. In fact, it might actually increase the amount of effort needed and require resources from across the firm. As our client stated, “We are going to over-communicate until they tell us to stop.”

In order to host a successful virtual annual meeting, team members from each department will have to connect with LPs to make sure they are well informed about market changes, investment performance, and how your firm is adapting to new business requirements. And others in the organization will have to get involved, as well, to provide the kind of white-glove service participants receive during an in-person event throughout the extended virtual event.

Ultimately, the expertise firms have developed in coordinating virtual annual meetings will benefit them in many ways in the months and years ahead.

Will you be hosting virtual annual meetings? If so, how will you ensure they are engaging and effective? We’d love to hear from you and are happy to explain how our suite of products can help. Send us a message here.

And annual meetings aren’t the only activities that have gone virtual. Fundraising is being conducted largely remotely these days, too. Get insights on how the most successful firms have adapted to this approach in our information-packed webinar The Art of Virtual Fundraising.

A traditional crm was built for general ‘customer’ scenarios

Software platforms have made the world a better place by making work a better place. Indeed the world is better off when people enjoy their jobs even marginally more, and workplace applications on big CRM platforms like Salesforce.com have done that and much more.

But the potential that platforms like these offer presents diminishing returns: once the platform provider has engineered too many industry specific components into its platform, its usefulness for other industries begins to be threatened, and with that so do the usefulness of the component tools built into the platform.

So it is with the CRM category that Salesforce.com has defined: it is generic enough to work for many industries, and yet still offers the potential for others to round off the edges and nail more vertically-oriented and extremely tailored software solutions.

Private capital markets are actually a great demonstration of this dynamic. Where generic CRM platforms simplify — appropriately so — to assume there’s a business, a customer, a sale, and service of that customer, there are a few industry-specific pieces that are missing.

Take for example, that investors become customers by investing through legal entities the GP raises. It’s a subtle but important nuance that just doesn’t make sense at a platform-as-a-service level (because it’s overly complicated for a simple one-time sale that many industries require), but which can easily be added without 10 years or software engineering. Once provided, the rest of the platform’s components become tremendously powerful again and you’re set to take over the world.

As a traditional CRM in our pillars methodology, these nuances must be present to properly account for investors in these legal entities, potential target companies and which are owned by these entities, the context of all interactions with these parties (as well as the appropriate overlap, ie co-investments), and how you’re arriving at finding these opportunities on both sides of the equation, such that you’re able to piece together what’s effective and what’s not. Not just because we say so, but because these are the very relationships and data that are key to the motivation behind a CRM in any industry.

It’s critical, too, that the valuable publicly-available information that helps to enrich CRM systems and save users painful steps of entering it themselves is fully-integrated at the platform level.

Again, look no further than the 3,000+ pre-built integrations that Salesforce.com — the creator of the CRM platform concept — has at a platform level to do so, and which only exists by way of holding just short of overly-specifying certain industry workflows that would present challenges to properly integrate.

Stakeholder reporting and communication (investor relations) draws on a range of datasets

The traditional “customer service” model of CRM systems once again makes overly-simplified assumptions about the customer relationship when applied to private capital markets.

In fifteen years I personally have yet to hear the terms “warranty” or “service call” in this market because it’s just not the same. But make no mistake, as uncomfortable as it may be to say aloud, customer service is more important now than ever and it’s constantly happening; the industry is, after all, considered to be a financial “service”.

As it turns out, that service is primarily information-based — it’s driven by data and takes the form of reports and analysis that drive decisions, and then end up again in investor-facing reports and analysis.

The foundational elements of a private capital markets CRM must be built such that they accommodate this data (like we discussed above), but so too that it can accommodate additional supporting data that investors (customers!) need in the context of service.

Oftentimes this supporting data — financial metrics and time-based values, for example — is believed not to meet the traditional definition of CRM and the natural thought is “well, better do this in Excel!”.

While I happen to believe Excel is still the greatest software application ever built, its introduction to this value chain we’ve discussed herein actually creates the problem many firms suffer from: key data needed to provide customer service (again: effectively the entirety of a firm’s reports and analysis) is now in disparate systems and detached.

Both of those dynamics are important and distinct: not only is this supplemental data disparate, but when brought together there is no logical association that can be made between the two data sets.

Allow me, then, to make the point very simply: not only can this financial and time-based value data (you may be thinking about is as “portfolio monitoring” or “accounting”) be a part of a CRM, it is arguably the most important part of a CRM because it’s at the core of what providing service to the customer entails — information that comes out of data!

Firms need a digital method to engage stakeholders (ie investor portals)

Investor portals are not new; in fact, for many of us — including myself — they conjure up horrifying nightmares in which we’re aimlessly guessing at folders to find the newest document we need.

So in lies the opportunity: not only have the portals we’ve come to hate not simplified the process of acquiring information, they’ve failed to create an entirely new experience that is “customer service” driven.

To be fair, this is not a B2C market where you’d be long out of business for not having focused on customer service and thus the customer’s technology-driven experience. But don’t expect to be around too much longer if you aren’t thinking about this shift.

Today’s institutional investors increasingly expect this same consumer-like experience, and a massive opportunity is being missed by not providing it. It’s not about providing them the experience they desire; it’s more about the ability to measure engagement that is had in return.

Put simply: what’s keeping the market from providing this experience is the availability of the information that’s required to create the service that provides the experience.

If you’ve hung in this long, you know that by focusing on your CRM, you have the data that’s required to manage the customer relationship and the technology-driven experience through which that information is shared to create a differentiated and opportunistic customer experience.