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Using webinars, virtual events to accelerate sales cycles

BUYERS' SELF-EDUCATION

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Webcasts and virtual environments have become top tools for driving not only lead-generation programs but also for driving the entire funnel, said Mark Bornstein, senior director-content marketing at virtual platform provider ON24. “B-to-b buyers are self-educating all of the way through the funnel,” he said. “You can use virtual events and webinars for every stage of the buying cycle.” (See sidebar.) ON24 customer CA ARCserv, for example, built a webinar program that each month features a series of live events. The program is designed to engage prospects and move them toward a decision to use the company's data protection and recovery solutions. “The progression is set up throughout the course of the month,” said Stefanie Scott, program manager-marketing communications for the company. “We start with thought leadership and best practices. Later in the month, we offer product-focused demonstrations. We get in front of them about the issues first and then work them through to take a look at how we can help solve their problems.” Marketers who want to maximize the impact of webinar programs also need to use data to better target their audiences, said Zachary Reiss-Davis, a Forrester Research analyst. “It's really about knowing how to target your content to only one part of the buying process at a time,” he said. A group of prospects will likely be interested in different content than a group of existing customers, for example. “I need to not try to recruit both customers to the same webinar,” Reiss-Davis said. Marketers are increasingly leveraging social data to better match content to individuals, he said. “The biggest distinction is knowing your audience and what types of information they're looking for from your brand,” he said. Marketers that want to build buyer intelligence also should consider developing “perpetual environments” in which they deliver multiple marketing touches, said Michael Doyle, principal at consulting firm Michael Doyle Partners. Doyle launched the Virtual Edge Institute and led the educational organization until August, when he opened his consultancy. Rather than hosting webinars on an external site, for example, marketers should build one environment in which they can house a variety of marketing assets, including webinars and interactive forums. Visitors can register once to access the site, then log on for subsequent visits. The format simplifies registration and aligns customer data in one dashboard, providing uniform measurement, Doyle said. Moreover, it facilitates communication. “We're creating webinars and YouTube videos, but we don't put them all in the same place,” Doyle said. “Why do we want to drive people to YouTube? The goal should be to drive [the audience] back to me and have someone look at more of my content. It's better to have [the audience] in my environment where they're going to find more of my things.”
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