Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Hosting successful Seminars

Today seminars - especially Technical seminars have become a common place. This month in Bangalore alone there are about 14+ seminars on various topics being held on diverse topics which range from CRM to EAI to lead free packaging to market research. These seminars are aimed at engineers - and is used to dissimate information of a particular product/service. Most engineers like these seminars - and marketers love conducting such seminars.

Seminars & its web variant Webinar are becoming a vital tool in the marketing mix. High tech products can be more easily promoted by seminars. But hosting successful seminars is not easy. Marketing manager has to overcome several challenges in order to host a successful seminar.
First step is to know the target audience, understand the needs and anxiety of your audience. This step involves choosing a right topic which is of interest. Most often, the right audience will be the employees, managers & executives of your customer firms, vendors and partners. Choosing a topic will help identify the target audience.

The next step is to figure out how to make them (audience) attend the seminar. This involves answering various questions such as: When to hold the seminar, Where to hold it? Who will be the lead speaker? How to promote the event? Etc.

It is the marketing manager’s job to work out the answers to the above questions. It needs lots of thought, planning and teamwork to host a successful seminar.

Content is king

No one wants to attend a seminar that sounds like a commercial advertisement. So pick a subject that really speaks to the audience you want to reach. The seminar should be educational and answers a problem faced by your audience.

Content of seminar is vital for its success. Content of the seminar should be boldly published to grab the attention of the potential audience and should promise useful information and a learning experience. Your target audience will ask themselves "What’s in it for me?" - and if the topic of the seminar is something of their interest, they will come.

A big name for keynote speaker helps

Who will be the main presenter? Choose a recognized expert, an author, a person who has succeeded in solving the problem presented—the more respected and known, the better your attendance. Selecting someone outside of your organization lends credibility to the value of the event.

For example, getting Dr. Philip Kotler to be the keynote speaker for a marketing seminar will ensure a huge audience. In such seminars others will also be presenting - others, including you or your associates, can also participate.

Big-name presenters may be easier to get than you think. Of course, you can pay them, if that’s in your budget. Once they learn about the planned promotion of the event, the amount of publicity they’ll get, and the exposure to an audience they want to reach, they may reduce their fee or do it for free. An offer to share the leads might be all it takes. The seminar gives them a platform, access to an audience, a chance to be the expert and gain more recognition for themselves or their company.

But a big-name presenter is not essential. Putting all your eggs in one basket may build a bigger audience for that one seminar, but a series of content-focused events pull more and better qualified leads in the long run. Multiple events offer prospects more convenient options of dates and times.

Timing is everything

You might have the greatest seminar ever, but if you have it on the wrong date, weekday or time of day, your target audience will be doing other things. Think about your prospects and check the calendar.

Eliminate holidays and the days before and after them. Forget about Mondays and Fridays. Mondays are too busy, and Fridays are for last-minute projects or early-departure days. Are there any trade shows that may conflict? How about end-of-the-month quotas?

Consider the time value of your expected audience. Since most attendees will participate if the seminar is before lunch (or if includes lunch). Seminars in the evening times must be avoided.

Most of your target audience may be heldup at work to attend the seminar. But having the seminar in the morning will be welcome as that will be the first activity for the day. From experience, I know that most prospects like to attend during lunchtime. (A free lunch has its own attraction)

Time to Promote

Once you pick a date and time, you need to decide on when to begin promoting the event and accept registrations. It has been found that Thirty days is the optimum time frame. Any amount longer, and the prospect may forget or lose interest. Less than 30 days doesn’t give you enough time to promote for maximum attendance. Also, it’s easier for your prospects to plan to attend something a month away than it is to plan for next week.

Realize that if you are planning only one seminar, some of your hoped-for audience won’t be able to make that day or time. A series of seminars is better, or a choice of two dates for the same topic would help solve that problem.

Trying to hit a home run with just one big event on one day is not the best strategy. Some valuable prospects may be vacationing, traveling or ill that day. So give them a choice of days or a series.

Proven Strategies to ensure a successful seminar

By practice, people have found a few proven strategies to make seminars successful. They are:
  • Leverage existing relationships. Take a good look at your trade groups, associations that pertain to the topic, your partners and your vendors. How can they help? Perhaps they may cosponsor the event. Can they publicize it in their newsletters, emails and website. Place a registration link on their Web site. Ask them to participate in some way.

  • Use your customer base. Unless you’re a one-product or one-service provider, your existing customers should be contacted often. They already know the value of your company and are very likely to attend the seminar. However, all too often, they may not know about your new offerings. They are your best prospects.

    New, qualified prospects are the lifeblood of any company. The goal of the seminar is to identify and deliver them. It’s easier for new prospects to respond to an informative seminar, because their worry about the sales pitch is lessened.

  • Merge promotion of seminar into your normal marketing program. That is the most economical method, because there is little or no additional cost. All your advertising—search engine ads, newsletters, email, banner ads, your own Web site, even print and broadcast—is ideal for mentioning the seminar and giving the link to register. It’s also a response-builder.

    If you exhibit at a tradeshow, have fact sheets and registration materials on display and urge staff to meet, greet and mention the helpful free seminar. Talking about the seminar may quickly lead into serious discussions of products and services on the spot.

  • Special campaigns get attention. In addition to merging the seminar promotion into your normal marketing, test some solo offers. These should feature the content, the value of attending and the convenience, and they should provide an easy way to respond. As you discover the value and results of seminars, you’ll budget more for special campaigns.

  • Involve your sales force and in-house staff. Invitation calls by your sales force to customers and current prospects are a wonderful way to get registrations and warm up prospects. A personal invitation is usually appreciated and remembered. It’s an easy call to make and take, and may lead to some business right on the phone.

    In-house staff can also help in the promotion. Be sure they are fully aware of the seminar. Provide them a script for discussing it with every customer and prospect they help.

Keep it simple, but get what you need

A quick and easy registration process helps maximize attendance. You don’t want to lose a good prospect by making registration too cumbersome or lengthy. Your goal is to get complete contact information, reinforce the value of attending, find out the source of the lead and get some qualifying information. All promotions should have the same registration page link so that you work with only one database.

Don’t lose two out of three

Our experience has shown that unless you send reminders after the registration, 67% of registrants won’t show up for the event. What a waste!

To prevent this loss, send an immediate "thank you for registering" email with a request to mark their calendar. Follow this up with another email reminder about 10 days before the seminar, a phone call reminder the day before the seminar will warm up your audience.

Maximize attendance after the Seminar?

Even with all the reminders, some registrants won’t attend—an unscheduled meeting, an illness, the press of business that day… things happen. You don’t want to lose these prospects, because they have already expressed a level of interest.

Record the seminar as a video file and put it on your Web site. Send non-attendees a "sorry you couldn’t attend" email with a link to the file on your Web site. Preparing the file costs around $500, but this gives you a permanent Webinar that’s on your Web site for other prospects to view.

If you choose not to archive the event, at least send non-attendees another email (or call) with dates and times of repeat seminars.

Are they hot, or warm?

Right at the end of the event ask the attendees to complete a quick, on-the-spot survey. Seminars are meant to be interactive. Use this opportunity to get immediate feedback and more qualifying information.

About 75% of attendees usually fill out the survey. They ask other questions, provide input that improves future events and, most important, give you insights about their level of interest, needs and time frame. Plan your survey carefully.

Follow up quickly

After the event, send each attendee a "thanks for attending" email. Send a survey to those who didn’t complete one earlier.

Now that you have hit the jackpot with all of these qualified leads - some warm, some hot, some as connections for the future - implement your sales plan. Get the information to your sales force and monitor progress and results. With a carefully planned event, you are sure to win new business.

1 comment:

mrktg said...

When a person is getting ready to start a business, whether a home-based business or one in the traditional brick and mortar building, they should consider attending business successful marketing seminars. Regardless of the amount of experience they have, there are always things to be learned from others.