Yesterday a sales representative from WebEx sent me an email. Attached to the email was a marketing document entitled "Why WebEx: 7 Important Factors to Consider When Choosing an On-demand, Web Meeting Applications Company." At the end of his email was one of those signature blurbs with 22 bullets in bright blue listing the company's market penetration in various categories. Then he called me and enthusiastically ran through the salient differentiation points in the marketing document with facts and figures about their primacy in each category (naturally). I sat there, quietly listening with a smile growing ever wider on my face. Finally he came up for air and I asked him, "Did you just come back from a sales meeting?" He laughed and said yes, they had just had several hundred people brought together to hear the good word and get motivated about their products.
Let's pause for a moment. Where do you guess I am going with this piece? Am I going to disparage him and the company? Am I going to challenge their claims? Am I going to mock his enthusiasm? Am I going to promote them and tell you to buy the software? Nope. None of the above. I'm going to talk about all the things WebEx is doing right with their sales and marketing programs and why their competitors better get on the ball. Forget about the software, services, and support for a minute.
This was an example of an extremely effective sales and marketing program being supported across the board and I loved it. These guys had been properly supplied with pitches, angles, and facts. The company provided backup documentation and research. The salesmen were told to spread the word and this guy sounded like he BELIEVED it and loved the product, loved the company, and wanted me to be able to share the sheer joy of their offerings. I was thinking of the great scene in "Boiler Room" where Giovanni Ribisi gets a call from a bored telemarketer reading a script to sell him a newspaper subscription and lambastes him for his lack of salesmanship and drive, then steps him through a power sales call. My contact needed no such prompting.
WebEx spends more money and effort on their promotion and marketing than any other web conferencing vendor. Okay, that sentence is not literally correct, since Microsoft spends more as a vendor, but not on their Live Meeting product. I took a look at the last WebEx annual report, covering activities to the end of calendar 2004. Their sales and marketing expenditures for the preceding three years were on a steady rise from $58 million to $74.2 million to $84.2 million. And I know they made a big advertising push in 2005, so it wouldn't surprise me to see another healthy jump for last year's budget. If you go to Google and enter almost any search phrase you can think of pertaining to web conferencing or webinars, WebEx will come up with a paid sponsorship position. If you go to a portal site or general technology page talking about the web conferencing, you will probably see a WebEx click-thru banner advertisement (except on Webinar Success, which doesn't accept vendor advertising). And just from a personal perspective, they are the only vendor who regularly calls me to keep me informed of company news and product updates, even though I have contacts at all of the big guys.
If this keeps up, they are going to turn themselves into the de facto synonym for web conferencing. It will be like people saying they need to Xerox a document or get a Kleenex to blow their nose. Share of market perception and recognition (as opposed to volume market share) is a massive, powerful force in business. Raindance and Microsoft better take a long, hard look at what's going on in the public marketplace or they are going to find themselves the Betamaxes of the web conferencing world, where debates on quality and features may turn out to be less important than convergence upon a single recognized technology.
So good for you, WebEx. You have truly put your money where your mouth is and I respect that. However, this in no way absolves you from the need to keep enhancing features in your software until I am completely and 100% satisfied that every aspect of functionality is perfect. And that hasn't happened yet with ANY webinar software!
(And for my readers, here are the standard disclaimers... I don't own any stock in WebEx or any web conferencing company. I don't have any co-marketing or reselling arrangements with WebEx or any other webinar technology vendors. My opinions are my own and are never meant to influence investment decisions.)