Digital conferencing helps build relationships

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Once a year, EZ-Data Inc., a company that provides software and Web-based solutions for financial and insurance companies, organizes a client/partner conference. People come from across the country to attend this conference, where they have the opportunity to meet with EZ-Data's other clients and partners; catch up with the company and the new products and services it is offering; and learn about new and different ways to use the company's system. Last year, after the conference concluded and EZ-Data had purchased a new Web conferencing system from iLinc Communications, the company decided it was time to take its client and partner relationships to the next level.

"A once-a-year physical conference is fine, but once a year doesn't build a relationship," said Morgan Underwood, VP-marketing at EZ-Data. So the company decided to set up quarterly meetings—smaller versions of its annual partner conference—with 50 to 75 people in attendance. The meetings, however, would be held using audio and video tools provided by iLinc. Clients and partners could dial in from around the country to meet with EZ-Data.

The iLinc system, Underwood said, has helped the company develop client relationships and build its brand. At the quarterly meetings, EZ-Data provides updates on products, makes presentations about new ways to use them and invites clients and partners to speak about new ways they are using EZ-Data's systems.

"Like any technology, some of our customers are using some pieces [of our product], some customers are using others," Underwood said. "We make certain that part of the meeting is always what's coming up with the product and what are we working on. Here's the new stuff, but let's have [a client or partner] talk about how they're using this feature. They'll share some of what they're doing and what they're finding."

Additionally, Underwood said, the quarterly meetings give EZ-Data the chance to troubleshoot and brainstorm with clients about products currently being developed. Asking attendees what their priorities are for new products allows the company to develop a "top 10" list.

According to Mark Yeager, VP-marketing at iLinc, the conferencing system is well-suited for a company such as EZ-Data. "We provide a suite of products that includes specific functionalities for the common ways that people meet online—training, technical support, online marketing events like webinars and sales presentations," he said. "For most presentations, what they're usually doing is showing PowerPoint [slides]. We have tools that enable you to annotate on top of those PowerPoints—you can write on those, mark them up and emphasize different areas."

Additionally, Yeager said, the ability to record audio and video is a key feature behind the success of EZ-Data's quarterly program.

Underwood said one benefit of a Web-based meeting is people can choose to attend at their convenience—whether it's later, by downloading audio and video files from the Web, or in person from their offices. "Our clients are mostly back east and [in the] Midwest," Underwood said. "

This aids with the company's ultimate goal: To build relationships and keep the conversation going with clients throughout the year, well beyond the annual meeting. "We think it's a key part of the brand actually," Underwood said. "It's not a one-way communication; it's not just between us and the client. It's between the clients and each other. It's not just us presenting, we always have one or two clients that do part of the presenting."

Finally, he said, the cost benefits are clear. "It's a lot more cost-effective to do it in one fell swoop," Underwood said. "Everybody feels pretty good that you've actually made the attempt [to connect more regularly]. We continually look at ways of saying `Is this the most effective?' We're constantly fine-tuning. What we've seen is that making the [quarterly] effort, when you go into the annual meetings—because you've been keeping in contact with people all year long—it's a pretty positive feeling; it's more [like] you know these folks."

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