Forget the Doughnuts; Try a Webinar

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The new killer app in business-to-business marketing is the online seminar, known as a "Webinar." The technology for Webinars has been around for a number of years, but it was notoriously unstable. Plus, it took marketers a couple of years to experiment and come up with ways to run a good Web-based seminar. When Webinars are bad, they are awful.


By now the Webinar has matured to where it can be a reliable part of the business marketing mix. Just think: Instead of hiring hotel meeting rooms, ordering endless doughnuts and coffee, and running roadshows around the country, you can invite your customers and prospects to log on from their desks and hear your sales pitch. No muss, no fuss. You get global reach, low costs and enviable time savings.


Best of all, the technology has evolved to be very flexible, with plenty of useful features. You can present slides or draw live on whiteboards. You can invite attendees to vote in real-time surveys. You can take questions from the audience, either publicly or privately. Attendees can correspond with each other using text chat while the speaker is presenting.


You can even give an attendee control of the demo, to annotate a document or move around a Web site on his own while the others observe.


Business marketers use Webinars for all kinds of purposes. For product demonstrations, analyst briefings, sales training, channel partner communications, even as a substitute for a trade show - the Webinar can be applied all over the business marketing process.


Like regular seminars, the Webinar's best use comes relatively late in the selling process, where you already are in contact with prospective buyers and you want to communicate more detailed product information to move them along the buying cycle.


As useful as a Webinar can be, there are still myriad ways to blow it. So have a look at the following guidelines for creating a successful Webinar:


o Keep the customer experience top of mind. No one likes to listen to a presenter drone on and on, whether it is live or online. Prevent your presenters from reading their speeches. A tip: Put a person in the room with the presenter, so the talk can be directed at an individual instead of at a computer or microphone. It will sound much more natural and engrossing to listeners.


o Use concurrent conference calling for the audio. Voice-over Internet protocol, or voice delivered live online, is not yet ready for prime time. There is nothing worse than slides that are out of synch with the presenter's voice.


o Be sure your content is compelling and relevant. Recast your message into benefits for the listeners. Talk more about "you" than about "we." Boring offline is simply excruciating online.


o Listen to your audience. As the audience gives its feedback via live chat, make sure the presenter is responsive to comments like "slow down" or "speak up."


o Add variety. Use multiple presenters and break their sessions into small bits to keep a fast pace and maintain listener attention.


o Experiment with the speakers' phone equipment in advance. Headsets are preferred, but make sure the sound is clear and the fit is comfortable. Avoid using speaker-phones, where possible.


o Stay away from audio or video streaming. The technology is still too fickle.


o Build in a lot of interactivity to keep listeners interested. Use the polling questions. Encourage listeners to type their ideas into a text chat box. Give prizes for the best answers.


o Record the event for later viewing. This will broaden your audience size and cut your cost per contact.


o Follow the rules of direct marketing to drive attendance. Offer an incentive, like a white paper or a book. Follow up with confirmation e-mails before the session.


o Conduct a poll at the end of the Webinar to further qualify attendees. Ask them their reactions to the product discussed. Ask them questions about their intent to buy, their authority to buy and their likely time frame. And don't forget to ask them whether they would like to see a sales representative.


o Get your feet wet. The Webinar is here, it is ready for action and it can drive a bunch of business. For those of you who are just getting started, the following are some suppliers of Webinar technology and services: PlaceWare, WebEx and Centra.


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