A good way of allowing potential customers to get a feel for your product or service and for your company, without feeling under pressure that they might be hassled by a salesman, is running a series of webinars. This is particularly true in the B2B world, in which it is less likely that you have a demo or trial version that customers can play with before buying.
Webinars allow you to make a presentation to a large audience over the internet, answer their questions, conduct surveys, and develop a reputation of thought leadership in your industry. The most commonly used platform for growth-stage companies to do webinars is currently GoToMeeting, and I would say that the webinar series run by Hubspot on marketing are a good example to follow.
But you will not get the most benefit out of running a webinar series if you simply show up and deliver a presentation. Here are 6 steps you should aim to do well if you want to get the best return.
1. Pick the right topic
You should always have a target audience and an objective in mind when coming up with a webinar topic. Are you trying to find potential customers that are nearly ready to buy from you? Are you trying to educate the customers of a reseller of yours? Are you trying to build a reputation for thought leadership with one of your key target customers?
Identify topics that are useful to you during your sales process. Webinars take time so you should try to see them as a way of generating content that can be used in different situations. They should not be seen in isolation: build on other whitepapers or blog posts that you have written.
The other advantage to webinars is that they can be a two-way conversation – not just a one-way presentation. For instance, if you are developing an ROI model for your product or service then you could use a webinar to gather feedback and insight from practitioners in your industry.
2. Pick the right date
A typical drop-out rate (the proportion of people who register for but then do not attend the webinar) for webinars is anything from 30-50%. Find out in your sector whether people are more likely to attend if it is on a Wednesday rather than a Friday, and whether it is over lunch or at the end of the day. Don't organise it at the same time as a major industry conference or sports event if you suspect that they might draw your customers away.
3. Publicise the webinar
Identify who you want to attend. It might be primarily potential buyers from one company, or one sector, or one country. It might be anyone who has attended one of your previous events, or everyone in your marketing database to whom you've spoken in the past and with whom you want to reopen a dialogue.
Find out where those people will be and go to them to publicise the webinar. Think about posting on relevant LinkedIn groups and Twitter, and certainly your website, blog, and newsletter.
4. Prepare for the webinar
Once you have a list of attendees, go through it an identify the key individuals from that list. You might have 50 attendees but if one of them is a key decision maker in a target customer account then you should tailor your webinar to ensure that she receives the right messages.
Identify individuals who are regular attendees to your webinars or events. Think about sending them a note before the webinar thanking them for their continued interest and asking them whether they have any particular questions that they would like to raise. If those people are supporters of yours then you might be able to ask them for referrals or for support in developing future webinar ideas.
Prepare your answers to the questions you expect to come up. This also gives you an opportunity to kick off the Q&A section with a confident answer to a prepared question, to encourage others to come forward.
Prepare any collateral or documentation (such as the presentation slides) that you will send to the audience afterwards, so that it is ready to go within an hour of finishing the webinar.
5. Execute the webinar
If you have the resources to do so it can be interesting to conduct a discussion in parallel with your webinar on Twitter. Create and share a hashtag on Twitter, share it with your audience, and allow them to discuss your webinar with each other and to raise questions with you.
Usually webinars are divided into two-thirds presentation and one-third Q&A. The first two-thirds can also be used to conduct surveys, gather feedback, and ask for questions.
Tell your audience exactly how you will follow up with them and what you would like them to do next. For instance, you can invite attendees to your next event or ask that they join whatever social networking groups of which you are part. If you recorded the webinar then let the audience know when it will be available. Provide your contact details in case anyone wants additional information.
6. Follow up
Send out your marketing collateral as soon as you can after the webinar. Then send individual responses to any unanswered questions. Ensure that you send the collateral to everyone who registered but did not attend.
GoToMeeting provides an 'interest rating,' which allows you to benchmark and qualify attendee interest in a webinar on a scale of 1 to 100, based on their proprietary algorithm, which I imagine will take into account for how long each person attended, whether they responded to survey questions, and whether they were doing other things whilst the webinar was running. You can use this as one way of prioritising your follow-up. The individuals with a high interest rating are likely to want to be involved in future webinars so consider asking them for input to the next topics.
If there were any key individuals in your target customer accounts amongst the attendees, or amongst the no-shows, then consider passing their details to your sales team to follow up personally.
Finally, collect all the names and add them to your CRM system, so that you do not lose the contacts that you invested time in locating.
This is a lot to think about for any growth-stage company but, as with any demand generation tactic, you should always be looking to optimise the return you get from your limited resources.