Tom Blue writes a blog called Marketing Revisited ("Lessons and Observations from the Marketing Trenches"). Last week he wrote a piece entitled "Harness the Market-making Power of Webinars." In his entry, he talked about how he had paid no attention to webinars until he was invited to be a presenter with Research In Motion (aka RIM... the company that makes the ubiquitous BlackBerry handheld communications device). Since then, he has incorporated webinars into his sales and marketing plan at client companies and is a firm believer in their value.
I love happy use case stories about webinars, so I called up Tom and had a chat about his experiences. He graciously consented to letting me write up the interview for this column.
As Tom wrote on his blog, he had been flying around the country as a spokesperson and traveling sales/marketing specialist for Nextel as they sold BlackBerry devices for use in the real estate industry. While the on-site seminars worked well in terms of audience attendance and sales, the approach didn't scale very well.
When RIM invited Tom to present on a webinar, he assumed that it would involve a lot of specialized setup and expensive technical production requirements. As with many people who haven't tried producing a webinar, he didn't realize that the basic requirements can be no more than some PowerPoint slides and a telephone! He was able to show up as a guest speaker from his own office, without fancy modifications to his computer or any production studio overhead.
He wasn't sure how a virtual presentation would go over with a non-technical audience spread out around the country, but was pleasantly surprised to see that the realtors on the line were receptive to the format and asked many questions using the webinar software's Q&A functionality. Tom says that the whole experience was "a whack-you-upside-the-head-with-a-baseball-bat revelation." This was a way to reach many more people with far less cost, planning, and inconvenience than his traditional live presentation format.
Tom moved on to work with other clients, driving their sales and marketing operations to stimulate growth. He now says that every new business venture or client case he is involved with gets a checklist item right up front... "What is the potential role of webinars in sales and customer service?"
He has been working since last year with a company whose name he has kept confidential, referring to its product as "SmartWare" just for reference purposes. I was a bit confused at first, as there is a SmartWare company on the web, but that is purely coincidence and shouldn't be taken as his client's real name. Tom has been following the success of their business operations on his blog in a series he calls "Real-Time Case Studies."
Tom has moved to a model where he does all sales presentations to prospective customers using webinar technology. He says that his two salespeople are able to handle a workload that would take five people to do in a traditional fly-and-drive mode where they visit each prospect for a live presentation. Tom estimates that if they were to switch to a live presentation model for sales that the extra internal costs in travel, meals, equipment, and staff would probably force them to double the product licensing fees they charge to customers.
He says that a typical sales webinar may be attended by just a few people or as many as 40. The audience can gather in one room or log on from their own computers and locations. Again, Tom wondered if online presentations would be effective as a sales tool. But he is completely convinced now. He says that they have an "astonishingly high" close rate and customers almost never ask for a followup live visit. They can literally close the deal and get the order remotely.
In addition to initial sales presentations, the company uses their web conferencing software for customer education and support as well. They run live application sharing to run the software on their own computers while the clients watch remotely to learn the proper way to install and configure it.
The success of webinars for sales and support has inspired Tom to look for additional ways to leverage the technology. For one thing, he would like to record his webinars for on-demand access and repeat use. The company has not yet built a library of past presentations for people seeking information. He also sees an excellent opportunity to introduce more community building among the company's customers. Because the company sells to educational institutions that don't compete with each other (at least in this particular application area), the customers tend to be mutually supportive. Tom sees web conferencing being used for group meetings where participants can share best practices and use-case walkthroughs, as well as helping each other with problem situations. He also wants to start using webinars as more of an initial public education and lead generation tool.
I asked Tom which vendor and web conferencing product they are using as well as the criteria they used during the selection process. He said that because one of the company's initial presenters was familiar with WebEx, they just basically fell in to using that product without a formal comparison and selection period. They use Meeting Center right now, as they haven't needed the more formal registration management and other features of Event Center for large inbound events.
I asked whether there were any frustrations and regrets so far and Tom had to think for a long time. He eventually said that there are occasional circumstances where an audience member will have difficulty logging in to the event or getting the connection established. But those are infrequent situations and they have always been able to overcome the initial problems. He said there hasn't been anything that has made him second-guess his vendor decision.
Many people are tentative about trying out webinars because of doubts about their cost, technical difficulty, audience acceptance, or effectiveness. Just as Tom found out, testing the use of webinars in your business can be much easier and less expensive than most people think. And the results can have a tangible effect on your bottom line profitability and customer satisfaction. I urge you to take the plunge if you haven't already tried them. If you are just getting started, my free educational presentation on March 8 will be perfect for you. It will give you an overview of what you need to think about from initial planning through delivery to followup. You can register at www.EffectiveWebinars.com and maybe even win a free hour of webinar consulting!