It has been almost two years since I was introduced to eatNgage and their fascinating model for engaging and incentivizing remote meeting attendees. I had a chance to catch up with eatNgage CEO Avi Tessler last week to see how things are going and what they have learned so far.
You can read my full description of the eatNgage business model on The Webinar Blog at "Would You Like Pizza With That Webinar?" As a very brief recap of the basics, the company is NOT a webinar technology vendor. They will work in conjunction with your choice of remote conferencing technologies.
The idea is that you can invite a targeted list of contacts to attend a web conference, audio conference, or video conference. The company's software can help find a mutually convenient time slot if you are working with a small number of people. Or you can schedule a standard "one-to-many" webinar at a set time. eatNgage lets your invitees select a meal from restaurants found in their local vicinity and have it delivered shortly before the meeting starts.
As the host (and eatNgage customer), you get to set a per-meal budget, which includes tax, delivery charge, and tip for the delivery person. Attendees do not see pricing, but are presented with a limited set of curated choices for each of the establishments in their area. eatNgage manages communications with each attendee to remind them of the meeting, ensure that they are on-site to receive the meal delivery, and track when the meal is on its way. Restaurant gift certificates are also available for people in remote areas not served by restaurants on the list of eatNgage vendors.
Avi told me that the company has enhanced its systems and geographic reach since I last saw it. Most of Canada is now served by food retailers in the system, and US access has expanded to ever smaller metro areas (eatNgage has a number of well-represented fast food franchises on its lists, which are found almost everywhere).
They have improved back-end integrations with customer systems to allow automated tie-ins with calendar invites, LinkedIn messaging, and Zapier API communications with several major web conferencing services and customer management systems. This will continue to be a focus for development over the coming year, with the goal of providing tighter integration with customer relationship management systems, salesforce management systems, marketing automation systems, and so on.
Administration and event setup have been greatly simplified as well, with as much as possible being automated to take the burden off of busy meeting organizers.
One of the things that gave the company teething pains was difficulty in relying on automated API integrations with the food suppliers in their system. Menu choices would change and not get updated correctly, local offers would not be reflected accurately, and so on. So now the menu choices for attendees are updated manually by the eatNgage crew with a reduced list of options that are popular and stable across each franchise chain or local vendor.
Avi offered me a lunch with our remote meeting so I could check out the latest experience from the consumer side. That means I have to reveal that I was "bribed" by the cost of a chicken caesar salad for this write up! I found it easy to navigate through the restaurants in my area and the menu selection process was colorful, simple to follow, and had just enough choices to give me a good set of options without being overwhelming. I was given a delivery window and a driver from the GrubHub food delivery service showed up at my door promptly, handed me my food, and didn't wait expectantly to see if I would give him a tip.
I was most interested in what eatNgage has seen in terms of practical use and results from its early customer adoption. Avi said that their customers report attendance rates near 99% for people who select meals with their meetings. And that is not just for small one-on-one sales calls, but large one-to-many webinars as well. As a matter of fact, Avi says that they are seeing a higher use volume for the big webinars than for the small meetings (which ran counter to my guess on usage). They have worked on events ranging in size up to 500-1000 webinar attendees, which is quite impressive.
I was fascinated by one particular use case that Avi told me about. Say you are going to have a booth at a big trade show or industry conference. There's always a marketing push to try to drive prospects to stop by your booth. Some companies use eatNgage to hold a "lunch and learn" for prospects before the show, covering the basics of their offerings and inviting them to the booth to learn more or have a discussion in person. Because the relationship has been established ahead of time and people feel that they have already received value from the host, they are more likely to actively seek out the booth and to be receptive to continued talks.
I brought up the idea that it's nice to use the tactic of "giving something" before "taking" the prospect's time and attention, but Avi was more philosophical. It's not just a case of buying attention. You could do that with mugs, t-shirts, or toys. There is something more fundamental in sharing food with someone. It creates a sense of shared experience and comfort. "Breaking bread" to establish a sense of community goes back to the Bible, and as early as the 1300s, people were singing a hymn entitled "Let Us Break Bread Together." So Avi recommended not just providing food to your attendees, but making a point that both presenter and listener should eat together during the conference (if practical).
It's fun to see this kind of complementary offering going along with the more standardized technology and techniques of remote presentation. As people become increasingly familiar with and reliant upon remote collaboration, we're going to need these kinds of things to differentiate options and to encourage attendance. eatNgage seems to have established a strong early foothold in this new area. I'll keep watching to see what developments get added.