What’s a Webinar?

Like many other Internet phenomena, the names of two things (‘web’ and ‘seminar’) were smushed together to make up a brand new noun (‘webinar’). After all, why not?

Webinars are increasingly being leveraged by B2B organizations to generate awareness and preference. Typically delivered via a purpose-designed platform, the format is less costly than holding a seminar. Most platforms include options for video and audio broadcast, screen sharing, and presenting slides.

When to Webinar

Producing a successful webinar requires planning and commitment. As with any speaking engagement, you want to ensure that the presentation enhances your reputation and brand equity. Being prepared and polished will position you for success, while diving in at the last minute will likely cause something important to be overlooked.

There are two common content approaches for webinars:

Product-centric webinars focus on teaching an audience about a product or service. They’re commonly used in the sales cycle to educate prospects on the value proposition and its effect on cost or profit centres.

Is this approach for me?

Ask yourself the following:

  • Is our sales cycle long (months or years) and multi-part?
  • Is the value proposition obscure, technical, or non-intuitive?
  • Is educating the prospect a significant part of our sales process?

Product-centric webinars can help smooth over these friction points by presenting the answers in a structured, compelling way.

Industry-centric webinars are often a component of content marketing, and build brand equity through sharing expertise. Think of the industry-centric webinar as a new format for the famed ‘panel discussion’ at conferences. This approach can be very effective when the webinars are produced continuously (but you also need fresh content for every webinar). This requires more effort, but the residual value to your organization can be worth it if you treat the webinar as a content asset. You can syndicate recorded webinars through your marketing channels for as long as the subject matter remains relevant.

Is this approach for me?

Ask yourself the following:

  • Is my target market in a highly competitive industry, or is painful disruption in progress?
  • Are my existing customers uncommonly invested in keeping up with industry trends?
  • Is my industry or product suite commoditized or “non-sticky”?

Industry-centric webinars can help you build engagement through demonstrating a critical intangible asset: your expertise.

Can Webinars be Effective for B2C Marketing?

Yes, but this context is uncommon. If a consumer product is so complex that it requires training seminars, you’re likely better off investing in a product redesign than additional marketing. If you have a B2C business and want to connect with customers through more engaging media, consider producing a video blog.

Earning Your TOMA the Webinar Way

Preference (TOMP) is a stronger indicator of future sales than awareness (TOMA), but many B2B organizations nurture preference through relationships. This often leaves awareness as the main focus of demand generation.

TOMA is most effectively generated through engagement-building (ultimately a game of systematic outreach). Webinar production is high-effort, so it makes sense to slot this tactic in near the bottom of the lead-generation funnel. Your vested interest is in making sure that the webinar spaces are occupied with the highest-quality prospects, as converting 100% of attendees to leads is extremely unlikely. To maximize opportunity value from the attendees who don’t convert, we can design our webinar using a concept from the data analytics world: microconversions.

Macroconversions vs Microconversions

A macroconversion is any action taken by a prospect identifying them as a lead or directly generating a sale. Macroconversions include submitting a sales inquiry or calling a salesperson.

A microconversion is any soft action that suggests future purchase interest. Microconversions include opting in to an email marketing list and subscribing to a social media feed.

Designing for Conversion

Successful webinars generously share value with the audience, but also make it easy to continue the conversation by:

  • Giving your audience a frictionless method to convert to a sales lead;
  • Building a passive audience—through email opt-ins or social media subscriptions;

Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL)

Mitigating CASL risk is best advanced by adopting the principles of permissions-based marketing: ask before doing, do what you say you’re going to do, and ask if it was valuable. If CASL compliance is on your mind, visit fightspam.gc.ca and talk to a specialist in the field.

Producing a Webinar: The Play by Play

At a high level, here’s how to start. Over time, tweak this outline to better fit your organization:

1. The Cocktail Napkin Plan

Every successful event starts with a plan. You don’t have to produce a novel, but it’s important to sketch out the basics. Your plan should identify the basics: who are we presenting for, what we will present on, why does this add value, and how will we promote registrations? Collecting and analysing engagement data is also key to determining if holding webinars makes sense for your business. This analysis can help paint a picture of the costs involved and how webinars influence deal opportunities. Examples include number of registrations, referrals, landing page analytics, and macro/micro conversions.

As you produce more webinars and develop optimal workflows, preparation timelines will shorten. Many organizations that hold regular webinars produce them in three weeks, start to finish—though they also tend to have the benefit of an existing audience (another reason to design for microconversions). A final tip on planning: holding webinars on a Friday is perilous—you risk losing the momentum generated from your presentation.

2. Collect Registrations

If you’re using a purpose-designed platform, registrations will be automated. If using a more generic conferencing platform like join.me, you’ll have to manually track and collect registrations. Beware: this will be time consuming, so carefully consider the cost/benefit of the cheaper platform.

3. Prepare Collateral

This collateral could simply be email copy and a website banner, or a full content marketing push leading up to the event. Whatever you decide, it should answer the following question:

What value will my audience get from attending?

Always prepare a formatted, professionally-branded presentation deck and make it available for download after the webinar.

4. Promote, Promote, Promote!

Promote to your existing customer base first (if it fits your objectives), and then through your established marketing channels. If you’re concerned about securing enough registrations to make the webinar worthwhile, consider co-marketing it with a strategic partner.

5. Remind, Remind, Remind!

Half of your registrations or more will be no-shows without timely, consistent reminders. Send out a reminder email (including a calendar invite) a week prior, a day prior, and four hours prior. Even with these reminders, there will still be some no-shows. With each webinar you produce, begin to look at the historical no-show data and factor this into your planning.

6. Hold the Event

It’s a good idea to be set up and ready to go 30 minutes early to conduct a last minute technical check. If including Q&A in the webinar wrap-up, have someone on your team collect, vet, and organize the questions as they’re submitted (most platforms include a chatroom or messaging feature). The principles of effective presentation are as important to webinars as they are to keynotes. It’s especially important to clearly enunciate and speak at a normal pace, as web audio can suffer quality issues. Presenting while standing up is helpful, even if there’s no video broadcast—this gives your diaphragm room to expand and makes it easier to speak clearly.

7. Follow-Ups

Follow-ups should start within a day of holding the webinar. If you lack the bandwidth to complete all of your follow-ups within a day, start with the sales leads. If you plan to stream the webinar recording in the future (hint: do this), let your audience know that an email will come once that link is available (great for capturing some of the no-shows).

Final Thoughts: Hand it Off or Bring it Home?

In designing for conversion, there’s a fundamental question to address:

Who’s going to handle the leads?

For many organizations, it’s the sales team. For organizations without a structured sales team, someone has to be assigned to follow up. This requires a ‘handoff’ between the presenter and the person who’s going to chase down the deals. Leveraging the pursuit marketing model can eliminate this inefficiency.

In pursuit marketing (for webinars), presenters also chase down the deals. One of the strongest advantages of pursuit marketing is the continuity between presentation and follow-ups. There’s no time lost in handoff activities.

If your organization has a sales team, experiment with involving the sales team early on. Have a salesperson (or sales manager) participate in planning and delivering the webinar. This can help dissolve silos between sales and marketing. When marketers and salespeople are joined at the hip, wins get chalked up more quickly and more often.

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Direct Marketing Magazine.

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