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Using roundtable reports to develop customer relationships

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Ask most b-to-b direct marketers to list their top challenges and they'll probably say, “developing better relationships with senior-level decision-makers.” The challenge becomes how to make these extremely busy individuals curious enough to want to learn more about your products or services.

For many years, marketers have attempted to leverage their intellectual knowledge by developing and offering white papers as a tool for creating interest. However, the sheer volume of white papers lately has dramatically diminished their effectiveness, and senior-level executives may not be that interested in hearing the perspective of yet another consultant or services provider.

Although these executives may dismiss another white paper, they might be interested in the perspectives and opinions of their peers in the corporate world. Here, interview roundtable reports can create curiosity and interest.

The strategy is straightforward. First, your list of participants should be peers of the audience you're targeting. Your existing base of clients is a great place to start identifying participants.

Next, develop a list of questions. The report should focus on a specific challenge these executives faced, but the final report also needs to have a promotional element.

This is a fine line to walk. Include too much third-party endorsement of your company and the report quickly morphs into an advertorial; too little, and it may not generate the tangible results desired. A balance can be achieved through the questions each participant is asked.

Each report will have its own questions, but you might want to consider asking about specific problems that your panelists' companies faced, the consequences if the problem hadn't been addressed, options the company considered to solve the problem, results achieved and lessons learned.

Conduct your interviews by sending questions in advance and scheduling time to conduct individual interviews over the phone. Each interview should be recorded and transcribed. Although the interviews are conducted individually, you'll want to ask the same series of questions of each participant to merge the answers together in the final report.

It's important not to forget to include a call to action at the conclusion of the report. In any good marketing campaign, each step in the process encourages people to take the next step. Here, a logical call to action might be to arrange a personal executive consultation to discuss key points not covered in the article.

The report itself can be distributed to your existing list of contacts or offered on the landing page of your website.

Naturally, the goal of any free report is to begin building a relationship, but it's important to remember that this is only the first step in a process consisting of many steps. Following up with recipients on the phone shortly after the report is requested often achieves the greatest results.

Regardless of what follow-up strategy is implemented, I believe you'll see that using roundtable reports for generating interest in your product or service can be a powerful and highly effective approach.

Mark Satterfield is CEO of marketing and business development consultancy Gentle Rain Marketing (www.gentlerainmarketing.com). He can be reached at mark@gentlerainmarketing.com.

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