I can't believe it has been nine years since I wrote one of my most controversial blog posts. In 2008 I asked "Can You Charge For Webinars?" It started a firestorm that still gets hits to this day. I felt obligated to publish a second post trying to clarify the fact that I didn't believe webinars should always be free… It is perfectly reasonable and appropriate to charge for products, services, and delivered value in any context… including webinars.
One of my colleagues recently posted a deceptively simple question on a Facebook group for webinar professionals: "What webinar platforms have strong ecommerce solutions?" As with most business concepts, it's hard to craft an answer without acknowledging the many different ways that companies might want to make money from their webinars. Let's see if we can break it down and formalize requirements.
I'm going to eliminate content marketing and lead generation from this discussion. We'll concentrate purely on direct and immediate revenue generation associated with webinars.
1) The first thing most people think about is charging admission to attend an upcoming live webinar. The sale is likely to occur through one or more of the following channels:
- Integrated as a step in the web conferencing company's webinar registration process
- Integrated in the hosting company's own online "shopping cart" system
- Completed through a third-party sales system such as Eventbrite
- Completed through human agents accepting emails, faxes, or phone calls
So a webinar product that collects admissions during registration might satisfy some of its clients, but certainly not all! Vendors should formalize APIs or planning guides that explain how to best use their product with any of these payment collection methodologies.
2) Once you know how you're getting your money, you have to determine how much money you will get. Considerations include:
- Offering pricing tiers or discounts for different population segments
- Being able to repeatedly test the payment/registration process
- Giving out complimentary registrations if necessary
- How much the payment processor takes (percentage based on charged price, fixed amount based on registration count, fixed amount per event?)
- When do you get your portion of collected funds (at time of sale, transferred to your account in a lump sum at a later time?)
3) The next wrinkle in the process is protecting your revenue stream. Can you prevent one person from paying and then sharing their login information with other parties?
4) And finally, what is your dispute resolution process? If a paid participant is unable to join the session for whatever reason, will you refund their money? Do you have a methodology in place for managing the mechanics? How much will you lose by "eating the costs" you were charged by your payment processor when the sale was initially made?
Four planning points isn't so bad, is it? Hang on… We're just getting started.
5) Now it's time to figure out how to deal with charging for recorded content. Some webinar products that integrate payment processing into upcoming event registration don't extend that mechanism to registering and paying to watch a recording. Can you support the following scenarios?
- A registrant pays and attends the live webinar, then wants to review it on a recording without paying again
- A registrant pays and doesn’t attend the live webinar, but wants to watch the recording without paying again
- Someone does not register for the live webinar, but wants to pay and receive access to the recording later
- Someone pays and starts watching the recording, but has to stop in the middle… Can they re-watch without paying again?
And over all of this hangs the same specter of securing your revenue stream… How do you stop a customer from sharing the viewing link with others? In many cases, your best strategy may be to produce your recording as a standard audio/video file and upload it to a service that manages pay-per-view mechanics for you. Vimeo is one of the best known, but there are many, many third party streaming video hosting sites that will let you charge to serve up content.
You can see how the product features you look for will vary based on the way you want to do business with your viewing population. But we're still not done. Now we need to look at revenue collection from within the presentation!
6) Can you make sales during your webinar? If the point of your webinar is to sell a book or a consumer product or a service subscription, you probably don't want to charge admission to view the pitch. Instead, you want to complete a sale while the prospect is watching and listening to you. Sure, you can provide a link to an external website that manages the sale, but many people believe that you can be more effective with an order button that works from within the webinar platform itself to let the prospect fill in the required information and complete the payment process without leaving the webinar. This is less common among the big name enterprise webinar products geared more towards marketing and training. You may have better luck finding the capability in BtoC-oriented webinar products that target very small or sole-proprietor businesses.
If you want to let customers purchase from inside the webinar platform, think carefully about how this translates to on-demand viewings. Will your ordering button be active in the recording? Do you need to change the call to action for on-demand viewers? If you transfer the recording to a streaming video portal site, you may need to do extra post-production work to overlay an active web link where your order button was during the live webinar. Don't leave this to chance… Plan your strategy before your live webinar so you will know how to encourage action for all listeners.
I would like to see more webinar vendor announcements in 2018 covering these use cases. Webinars are a business tool, and a serious part of doing business is driving direct revenue-collection activities. Vendors have left the planning and execution as an exercise for their customers for too long. It is time to put revenue recognition as a priority feature requirement in full parity with collaboration and feedback capabilities.