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How To Host A Successful Webinar

by Todd Davidson

You've decided to test webinars and add them to your marketing mix. You know your target audience and set your goals. You want plenty of qualified leads.

But before the next hand is dealt come a number of big questions: What will make them attend? When should we hold it? Who is the speaker? How and when do we promote it?

These questions seem daunting, but the answers are not. Some thought, planning and teamwork will bring you a webinar with solid, qualified leads.

Content Is King

No one wants to attend a webinar that's an infomercial. Instead, pick a subject that really speaks to the audience you want to reach-one that is educational or answers a problem they face.

What's the target's "hot button?" If you offer a topic they need to know about, you'll grab their attention. Give them useful information and a learning experience.

Content is your top priority. Each of your targets will ask, "What's in it for me?" Select a good topic, and they will come.

A Big Name Helps

Who will be the main presenter? Choose a recognized expert, an author, a person who has succeeded in solving the problem presented-the more respected and known, the better your attendance.

Selecting someone outside of your organization lends credence to the value of the event. Remember that the keynote presenter doesn't necessarily present the complete webinar. Others, including you or your associates, can also participate.

Big-name presenters may be easier to get than you think. Of course, you can pay them, if that's in your budget. Once they learn about the planned promotion of the event, the amount of publicity they'll get, and the exposure to an audience they want to reach, they may reduce their fee or do it for free. An offer to share the leads might be all it takes.

The webinar gives them a platform, access to an audience, a chance to be the expert and gain more recognition for themselves or their company.

But a big-name presenter is not essential. Putting all your eggs in one basket may build a bigger audience for that one webinar, but a series of content-focused events pull more and better qualified leads in the long run. Multiple events offer prospects more convenient options of dates and times.

Timing Is Everything

You might have the greatest webinar ever, but if you have it on the wrong date, weekday or time of day, your target audience will be doing other things. Think about your prospects and check the calendar.

Eliminate holidays and the days before and after them. Forget about Mondays and Fridays. Mondays are too busy, and Fridays are for last-minute projects or early-departure days. Are there any tradeshows that may conflict? How about end-of-the-month quotas?

Consider the time zones of your expected audience. Since most attendees will participate at their desks, when will they be there? If you market nationwide, a good time is 1 p.m. Central time. If you market in only one or two time zones, schedule the event between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Many prospects like to attend during lunchtime.

Thirty Days Away Is Best

Once you pick a date and time, when should you begin promoting the event and accept registrations? Thirty days is the optimum timeframe. Any amount longer, and the prospect may forget or lose interest. Less than 30 days doesn't give you enough time to promote for maximum attendance. Also, it's easier for your prospects to plan to attend something a month away than it is to plan for next week.

Realize that if you are planning only one webinar, some of your hoped-for audience won't be able to make that day or time. A series of webinars is better, or a choice of two dates for the same topic would help solve that problem.

Trying to hit a home run with just one big event on one day is not the best strategy. Some valuable prospects may be vacationing, traveling or ill that day-give them a choice of days or a series.

4 Strategies Will Ensure A Full House

Here they are:

1) Leverage existing relationships. Take a good look at your trade groups, associations that pertain to the topic, your affiliates and your vendors. How can they help? Perhaps they may cosponsor the event. Publicize it in their newsletters. Place a registration link on their website. Ask them to participate in some way.

2) Use your customer base. Unless you're a one-product or one-service provider, your existing customers should be contacted often. They already know the value of your company and are very likely to attend the webinar. However, all too often, they may not know about your new offerings. They are your best prospects.

New, qualified prospects are the lifeblood of any company. The goal of the webinar is to identify and deliver them. It's easier for new prospects to respond to an informative webinar, because their worry about the sales pitch is lessoned.

3) Merge promotion into your normal marketing program. That is the most economical method, because there is little or no additional cost. All your advertising-search engine ads, newsletters, e-mail, banner ads, your own website, even print and broadcast-is ideal for mentioning the webinar and giving the link to register. It's also a response-builder.

If you exhibit at a tradeshow, have fact sheets and registration materials on display and urge staff to meet, greet and mention the helpful free webinar. Talking about the webinar may quickly lead into serious discussions of products and services on the spot.

4) Special campaigns get attention. In addition to merging the webinar promotion into your normal marketing, test some solo offers. These should feature the content, the value of attending and the convenience, and they should provide an easy way to respond. As you discover the value and results of webinars, you'll budget more for special campaigns.

Involve Your Sales Force And In-house Staff

Invitation calls by your sales force to customers and current prospects are a wonderful way to get registrations and warm up prospects. A personal invitation is usually appreciated and remembered. It's an easy call to make and take, and may lead to some business right on the phone.

In-house staff can also help in the promotion. Be sure they are aware of the webinar. Provide them a script for discussing it with every customer and prospect they help.

Keep It Simple, But Get What You Need

A quick and easy registration process helps maximize attendance. You don't want to lose a good prospect by making registration too cumbersome or lengthy. Your goal is to get complete contact information, reinforce the value of attending, find out the source of the lead and get some qualifying information.

All promotions should have the same registration page link so that you work with only one database.

Don't Lose 2 Out Of 3

Our experience has shown that unless you send reminders after the registration, 67% of registrants won't show up for the event. What a waste!

To prevent this loss, send an immediate "thank you for registering" e-mail with a request to mark their calendar. Follow this up with another e-mail reminder about 10 days before the webinar, a phone call reminder the day before and another e-mail one hour before the webinar starts.

Maximize Attendance After The Webinar?

Even with all the reminders, some registrants won't attend-an unscheduled meeting, an illness, the press of business that day...things happen. You don't want to lose these prospects, because they have already expressed a level of interest.

Record the webinar as a Flash file and put it on your website. Send non-attendees a "sorry you couldn't attend" e-mail with a link to the file on your website. Preparing the file costs around $500, but this gives you a permanent webinar that's on your website for other prospects to view.

If you choose not to archive the event, at least send non-attendees another e-mail (or call) with dates and times of repeat webinars.

Are They Hot, Or Warm?

Right at the end of the event ask the attendees to complete a quick, on-the-spot survey. webinars are interactive. Use this feature to get immediate feedback and more qualifying information.

About 75% of attendees usually fill out the survey. They ask other questions, provide input that improves future events and, most important, give you insights about their level of interest, needs and timeframe. Plan your survey carefully.

Follow Up Quickly

After the event, send each attendee a "thanks for attending" e-mail. Send a survey to those who didn't complete one earlier.

Now that you have hit the jackpot with all of these qualified leads-some warm, some hot, some as connections for the future-implement your sales plan. Get the information to your sales force and monitor progress and results. With a carefully planned event, you are sure to win new business.

Todd Davison is President of Bulldog Solutions.


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