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Webinar Essentials

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CXT Software caters to small, private courier companies. The Phoenix-based company designs, sells and implements software that lets its customers schedule and track deliveries, create invoices and manage drivers. Its seven employees get sales leads from its Web site, said Todd Wiebe, the company's VP-sales and marketing. The majority, he said, are from out of state. Instead of jumping on a plane, Wiebe uses Web conferencing as the first tool in his marketing arsenal. Upon initial contact, Wiebe sends prospects a link to an online demo.

"It's really easy to set up a meeting. Although we haven't done any analysis, I know for a fact that the more demos we do, the higher our close ratio is," Wiebe said. "And the more demos we do where we can involve one of the company's owners-and it would be hard if we had to get them to fly out to prospects-the close rate goes up even higher. Our close rate on demos is at least 50%."

Wiebe joins an ever-growing group of marketers that are using Web conferencing as a major part of their overall strategies. And for good reason. An August 2003 Bitpipe study found that 71% of people surveyed said they were extremely likely or likely to access a webcast when faced with selecting new products or services. In fact, 80% of respondents said they use webcasts to stay on top of new and emerging markets and technologies, and 69% said webcasts are the way they obtain preliminary information about vendors and products. Bottom line: Webcasts aren't a throwaway marketing vehicle.

There are two main types of marketing webinars. The first, like Wiebe's, is targeted at existing prospects and customers. The se-cond is designed for lead generation. Both replace live events such as trade shows at a fraction of the cost, said Brian Burch, CMO of Raindance Communications, a Web conferencing provider. "It costs about five times more to have a live event," he said. And you know who signed up and actually attended your event, whether that number is 100 or 10,000, which isn't unheard of in the Web conferencing world.

But while garnering hundreds or even thousands of attendees might sound like a good thing, unless those attendees can be converted into prospects, they've wasted your time and money. After all, you'll pay per seat for most hosted Web confer- encing solutions. Your best defense: Qualify registrants at the time of signup, said Vanessa Baker-Simon, senior product marketing manager with Web conferencing technology provider WebEx. "You ask them a series of questions-what they hope to learn, what they're looking to get out of the conferencing, how they heard about it," she said. WebEx's product, like many other Web conferencing tools, provides a lead scoring system that can identify hot leads.

The most successful events, experts said, are those that are soft sells. Paul Whalen, Internet marketing manager for Fluent Inc., a Lebanon, N.H.-based software company, said you can create more good will and interest in your company and products by giving attendees information that has nothing to do with your own agenda. Whalen creates between 20 and 24 webinars each year for his company's customers-scientists who use computer-aided technology-but very rarely talks about his company's software during those conferences.

"We don't do a sales pitch," he said. "We want people to walk away with knowledge." Whalen markets his webinars to an internal list of about 12,000 people. The company also uses its e-mail newsletters and sales staff to get the word out, he said. Fluent webinars, which run an hour and include a 15-minute Q&A session, focus on new information in the scientific community. Outside industry experts act as moderators, he said.

Once the Web conference is over, the work is just beginning, said Rob Solomon, chairman-CEO of Bulldog Solutions, an Austin, Texas-based webinar provider. You only have a finite period to turn those watchers into buyers-or potential buyers. To that end, Raindance's Burch, who works with his company's customers and runs his own marketing events, said he recommends creating a FAQ list based on attendee questions.

"We collect every question-especially those that we can't answer at the event-and send them out as a public Q&A so everyone gets a copy of every question asked and answered," Burch said. "We also send out the results of any polls we conducted."

Solomon suggests sending out an e-mail or white paper immediately following your Web conference, and then watching to see which customers come to your Web site or download the document. Those who take these steps should be first on your call list. Either way, your sales team should also get a list of every attendee, including their contact information, Solomon said, and think about contacting them in some way.

"It's all about getting buy-in [from sales] so the next 24 to 48 hours after your event, your salespeople are calling the leads," said Solomon. "If you do this right, your salespeople never have to make a cold call again. You're calling people who already know what you do and what you're about."

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