It isn’t easy to define what is event software, precisely. And that’s because the term itself has been applied to a broad, and quite varied number of tools. Over this article, we’ll unpack all the types of software used in the event planning process. And maybe you’ll be able to decide for yourself just what event planning software is to you.
And a contributor to the uncertainty around what event planning software is comes from the interchangeability of terminology. What the heck is the difference between event planning, event management, event marketing, and just plain event software? We’ll get into that, but even a Google search offers confusing results and competing advertisers who offer wildly differing tools.
I did a quick Google search on the phrase event planning software to illustrate this point. On the first page alone, results ranged from table layout software to event marketing companies. And clicking through to a review site called Capterra wasn’t much better. The results were all over the place:
The above companies include attendee registration, CRMs, project management, marketing automation, hospitality software, and one website so disjointed, I barely got out with my sanity.
What is event software? Well, that depends on what you need it to be. So let’s explore the options.
The Five Event Planning Software Categories
I found there are five overall categories for event planning software. Most of the tools that event planners use will fall into these buckets. I find it helpful because as you try and decide what software suits your specific needs, you can look at the high-level area that you need help with.
Just take some time and think through the below categories. Do you feel any of these areas is a weak spot for your business? Do you find one of the five to be a massive headache? Are you occasionally dropping the ball? If so, then maybe it’s time to explore some event planning software solutions.
The five event planning software categories are:
Event Booking & Sales Software
I consider bookings to include everything from the moment a client lands on your website until they sign the contract and pay the first invoice. So that refers to the software that provides your contact forms or lead management. It also includes CRM, proposals, and invoicing.
Event Management Software
Event management, at least for this discussion, refers to the activities that help you create an exceptional experience. That means task management, event timelines, seating, and event design. The software should include tools to help you stay on top of your to-do list, wrangle vendors, and plan the decor. This is probably the bucket closest to project management in any other industry.
Event Marketing Software
Event marketing software helps you get bums on seats. It’s the digital toolkit to help you sell tickets, register attendees, set up an event website, and track RSVPs. This segment includes event websites, payment gateways for ticket sales, email marketing, and yes, RSVP software.
Attendee Engagement Software
This is slightly more difficult to explain because the event software in this category can get a little obscure. The obvious examples include check-in software and surveys. But there are also event mobile apps with up-to-minute event details, polling software, networking software, and more. Basically, any software that helps attendees get the most out of the event while it occurs is event engagement software.
Many of the more expensive event software options include comprehensive reporting tools. In the corporate world, post-event reports are expected. They include check-ins, speaker engagement, return on investment, revenue, and sales. But some tools offer analytics that gets deeper into the behavior of the attendees.
With those five buckets described, let’s look at the wide variety of event planning software that fits each bucket. We’ll take it one by one. If you think you’re in the market for event planning software, the first step is to decide which bucket your needs fit. It will help you actually figure out which tools fit your specific needs.
Is All-In-One Event Software better?
If you look at the biggest software names out there, you’d think the answer is a resounding yes. But I’m not so sure. For a start, all-in-one software has a steep learning curve. Then, there’s the issue of paying for tools you don’t really need. When your software is jam-packed with every possible feature, the complexity and price rise in correlation.
And this might work out well for you if that’s your preference. But there’s one more tradeoff. From a software development perspective, maintaining a massive codebase with a wide range of products is extremely difficult. This means that often a flagship feature will get all the internal resources while other features languish. So while it appears you’re getting a lot of features, those features are actually sub-par and poorly maintained.
So don’t be wowed by massive lists of features. First, make sure you need them. Then make sure you need them all in one application. And if so, then all-in-one tools like Bizzabo, Whova, or Cvent might make sense.
The Different Types of Event Software
If you were to ask a corporate planner, “what is event software,” you’d get an answer quite at odds with that of a couple planning their own wedding. And that’s the primary source of confusion, other than interchanging terminology. What constitutes an event is so broad that the software that serves event planners can barely figure out who their customer is.
Often you’ll see event companies using the same marketing language despite their customers being utterly different. A backyard wedding to a social mixer, a fundraising gala to a five-day music festival, all have their own needs and solutions.
So, I opted to break down the areas they serve rather than try and define what is event planning software. I discovered there were two ways I could break it down, and I’ll show you both. Because many companies offer a combination of the below tools, choosing the right planning software is a process of finding the service that best solves your problems. And not the product with the most features.
So let’s dive into the elements that make up what event planning is.
CRM (Customer Relationship Manager)
Customer Relationship Management is, to put it drily, a term for managing your interactions with customers and, importantly, potential customers. CRM is a common term for a tool for managing your contacts, sales, and to a lesser degree, productivity. You’ve probably heard of Salesforce, the largest CRM in the world (I think), but event planners sometimes use their own event-centric CRMs.
If you’re a solopreneur, freelance event planner, or small event business, the best CRMs out there are Honeybook, Dubsado, or 17 Hats. These tools have large event planner customer bases, and they understand the event industry. But they’re not specific to event planners. Venues often use Gather, or Tripleseat (who own Gather), and several other CRMs focus on the enterprise market.
CRMs in event planning software are used for booking clients and closing sales. Event-centric CRMs begin with a form on your website, a sprinkling of automation, and carrying the process to the first deposit.
Pretty self-explanatory, but just in case, I’ll define it. If your event business needs to invoice clients, then you’ll need invoicing software.
You’ll find event invoicing software built into many CRMs, but here’s what you’ll want to expect.
Your invoicing software should be able to take a broad range of payment options. I’d recommend finding a software solution that offers the ability to receive payment from credit cards, Paypal, wire transfer, and, for a stretch goal, integrations with payment gateways. My favorite invoicing solution is InvoiceNinja, but this too is a crowded space, so you’ll find a good fit.
Proposal software is another event planning tool that helps close deals. The event-centric CRMs mentioned above, like HoneyBook, have baked-in proposal software. Still, sometimes you want a more focused tool. In that case, there is a myriad of proposal software options, but you might check out Prospero, or PandaDoc.
Good proposal software includes additional features, like quotes, e-signatures, and, of course, the ability to take payments. At this point, I’ll mention that some event planning software combines CRM, invoicing, and proposal software altogether, but we’ll discuss the all-in-one concept elsewhere.
Seating, Floor Plan & Event Design
Deciding where to seat people, where to place the buffet tables, or plan an exhibit layout can be frustrating and messy. Many event planners feel comfortable enough in design software like Adobe Illustrator. But there is specific software for this too.
Social Tables is arguably the leading seating software, but there are many more of ever-increasing power. My favorite is Allseated – with an extensive library of venue floorplans, they take things to another level with their 3D designs and virtual walk-throughs.
It’s 3D functionality that takes things from layout to event design software. So if you find that your biggest headache is layouts, then these solutions are for you.
Task Management Software
Task management software refers to tools that help you manage your to-do lists between booking a client and the actual event. It’s basically project management software that understands the needs of event planners.
As one planner told me, “using project management software for events is never quite the right fit.” So while you can often find a reasonable workaround using tools like Monday, Trello or Asana, there’s a difference when using genuine event planning software.
I would recommend ThymeBase for task management- yes, that’s our own tool. But it’s not pure vanity. We’ve worked closely with over thirty event planners for over 9 months to build what is needed precisely. Plus, we have sparkle pops!
To my mind, one of the main criteria for task management is a mobile-first design. When it comes to planning events, work happens on-the-go. Make sure you can quickly add tasks, whether you’re doing a venue walkthrough with the client or at your desk.
Event Timeline Makers
Event timeline software helps planners create day-of timelines. It’s often called run-of-show by planners in the TV industry. The timeline details the minute by minute plan for vendors, and clients, and so your software needs to consider the realities of the event itself. Timeline Genius is a good solution with a powerful suite of timeline features.
I’m proud of ThymeBase’s timeline tools too. One thing that sets ThymeBase apart from others is that the timeline maker is mobile-friendly. That means you can build out the timeline on your phone. There’s also a mobile-first shareable URL that’s always up-to-date, and can be downloaded as a PDF in one click too.
Event Website Builders
In a world with Wix, WordPress, and GoDaddy Website Builder, it might seem like event websites are entirely unnecessary. But there’s a benefit to clicking a button and spinning out a website designed for the type of event you’re hosting. This is one area where convenience rules.
In the wedding industry, WeddingWire is pretty good, but my vote goes to Zola – their combination of website and registry is beautifully done. Most of the big all-in-one solutions I mention above do a decent job in the corporate or general events world.
This software option is pretty easy to grasp, right? We’re talking about software that helps you sell tickets to your event. Again, the all-in-one guys tend to do this well, but I’d go with Eventbrite for my money. They’re the leading place to list your event and sell tickets.
I’m not going to delve into this too much. There are so many options and, frankly, very few of them are materially better than a simple Excel or Google spreadsheet.
Email Marketing Software
When it comes to event marketing software, email marketing and automation are significant features. There’s no event-specific email marketing software out there, but there are incredible tools. My alma mater, Mad Mimi, is excellent, as is MailChimp (though they’re getting quite extended with scope creep). Aventri is event marketing software, and they make email a large piece of their offering.
To be honest, this caught me by surprise when I first began researching check-in tools. Checking in seems like such a simple action and one that belongs on paper, and I was surprised at how competitive space actually is.
I’m not sure I’m super happy recommending any one solution. It really depends on your event type, and a quick Google will uncover a broad range of options for you. I don’t know any check-in software well enough to make a reliable recommendation.
Wedding Planning Software
Although wedding planning software usually includes many of the features above, it’s a niche within the all-in-one planning software group. So I figured it deserved its own mention. The most well-known is Aisle Planner, but there seem to be some also-rans popping up here and there in the wedding space.
For most planners, there isn’t a need to use wedding-specific software other than pricing. Because many other all-in-one options are targeting enterprise companies and corporate planners, the wedding solopreneur or micro-business is locked out by price. Overall, Aisle Planner’s main attraction is their all-in-one aspect, rather than excelling at any one feature.
So, What Is Event Software?
Well, it’s whatever you want it to be. I guess you could think of it as building blocks that shore up any gaps in your event planning processes. The critical thing is to not be swayed by bloated features or the kitchen sink software’s promises. Instead, think of the right tool at the right time. That’s what makes event planning software useful.