If you are in the IT industry, chances are you have probably used seminars as a lead-generation tactic and experienced a mix of good and disappointing results. So what makes the difference between a seminar that generates leads and one that doesn’t? The purpose of this whitepaper is to help you identify 10 common pitfalls, so you will have a better chance of getting the results you’re aiming for.
Not establishing goals
Seminars can be used for a variety of reasons: training/education, strengthening relationships with existing customers, and of course, lead generation. But let’s not forget that seminars are just a means to an end. The real question is: Does a seminar constitute the most cost-effective way to generate leads for your organization, or should you consider other marketing tactics?
If you’re convinced that a seminar is the best way to generate qualified leads for your organization – and it may very well be the case – then all metrics need to be aligned towards that goal. You may want to consider the quality of attendees (decision makers or middle managers?), the number of leads, and/or the revenue generated over a one-year period.
When a seminar attracts an impressive crowd, it is almost inevitably considered a big success. But is it really? You need to stay true to the metrics you have established prior to the event. You may very well have lots of attendees but miss your lead generation goals. The reverse is equally true. Your seminar may suffer from a low attendance rate due to circumstances beyond your direct control (did you say “snow storm”?), but your registrant list may still contain some good leads you can follow-up on.
One last question you may want to ask yourself as you set your goals is whether seminars should be part of your lead generation or your lead nurturing strategy, as both produce leads. It actually makes a lot of sense to reserve seminars for leads that are more advanced in the sales cycle. When a prospect is still in the early information-gathering stage, he or she may prefer an informational whitepaper to a product demo.
Not knowing your target audience
The importance of knowing your target audience can never be emphasized enough. Many marketers blame the poor quality of their contact list for not attaining their lead generation goals, but the reality is that you could have a very good list and still miss the mark if you do not invest time and effort into getting to know your audience.
First, you need to consider the demographics of your audience to determine if a seminar is indeed appropriate for them. For example, if your target audience is scattered throughout a large geographic area, a webinar may be more appropriate. Second, you need to evaluate your audience’s needs and preferences. Do they have a strong preference for in-person events because they enjoy networking with their peers? Would they be more inclined to accept a webinar invitation because the time commitment for an in-person seminar (travel time + actual seminar time) is too overwhelming? Another advantage of webinars is that they can be recorded and reused as educational offers on your website or for future campaigns, whereas seminars are typically one-time only events.
As you learn more about your audience, you will gain a better understanding of the type of publications they read and the sources of information they trust. You can use that information to rent specific lists, identify the websites you should advertise on, or even select national or industry events you could leverage.
For all those reasons, it is usually not a very good idea to mix audiences. Different audiences are interested in different content. So, if you plan to hold one single seminar for both business decision makers and technical decision makers, you should at least consider offering separate tracks, in addition to the main session. Having a “Who should attend?” section in your invitation can help recipients determine whether the seminar will meet their expectations or not.
Also, keep in mind that the lead generation process does not stop at the seminar itself. Ideally, you should have gathered some information about your audience prior to the event, but you should also use the seminar as an opportunity to learn more about your audience’s changing needs. Asking attendees to fill out an evaluation form and including a few pre-qualifying questions is a good way to evaluate how prospects progress in the buying cycle.
Why should people in their right mind take two or three hours of their busy schedule to attend a seminar? Again, you need to understand your audience’s expectations to determine what’s of value to them. This could be listening to an industry expert or thought leader on a specific issue, discussing best practices with a leadership panel, getting the perspective of one of your key customers, networking with peers, etc.
In order to deliver value, your seminar should provide content or “an experience” attendees would not easily get elsewhere, because if a prospect can basically obtain the same information in less time or at a cheaper price somewhere else, your value proposition is not strong enough.
Another advantage of establishing a strong perceived value is the ability to charge for your seminar. After all, if you are providing true value to your attendees, why not? Paid events tend to have a higher perceived value and typically have significantly fewer no-shows than free events. In addition, paid events usually attract higher-quality attendees (C-level). The biggest challenge will be to meet or exceed attendees’ expectations, which is why you should not, under any circumstances, deliver a sales pitch at a paid event.
Once you’ve established your seminar’s value proposition, you can start working on the invitation. This is often easier said than done as not everyone is a good copywriter. The copy should emphasize the benefits of attending the event. Whenever possible try to substantiate your ability to deliver on your value promise. For example, you can include enthusiastic quotes from past attendees or name some of the tangible benefits clients have received since implementing your solution. By all means, refrain from the temptation of describing how great your company is. You’ll have a great opportunity to make your organization shine once you’ve raised interest and attracted qualified attendees. Focus on selling the seminar. For that same reason, avoid titles such as “Account Representatives” or “VP of sales,” both as keynote speakers and invite signatory. They make the audience suspect that the seminar is just another excuse to deliver a sales pitch.
What about the length of the copy? Both short and long copy can work as long as the message is compelling. Whatever you decide, make it easy for your recipients to make a decision. For example, you can write a clear and concise invite that allows time-pressed decision makers to easily skim the content and points them to a different page for a more detailed agenda. Naturally grammatical errors, typos, etc. should be avoided at all cost as they reflect poorly on your organization.
Remember that the title of the seminar or email subject line is the first thing the recipient will read. Research indicates that short, action-oriented email subject lines typically drive higher open rates. The best way to find out is to test two different subject lines on a sample of the list and then use the one that works best. The nice thing about email invites is that the results are more immediate and easier to measure than with direct mail.
Not doing the math
Direct marketing is all a numbers game and the best way to determine whether you have enough contacts in your database to organize a seminar is to start with your attendee goal. Typically, seminars in the IT industry experience a 40-60% drop-off rate – unless you have a high-impact speaker – and the response rate rarely exceeds 2-3% whether you use email, direct mail or phone, or any combination of the three. So, if your goal is to have 15 attendees, you need 25 to 38 registrants, and at least 190 valid contacts. Those benchmarks vary by vertical industry and organization, of course, but the point is that when organizing a seminar, the size of the list does matter.
Relying on one communication vehicle to spread the word
Sure, email is an inexpensive way to send invites, but did you know that even in the best case scenario, only 20% of emails are actually opened? Also, knowing that your email invite has been opened doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s been read. Lots of people use the preview pane in their inbox and that typically inflates your open rate.
Multichannel marketing communication, a combination of email, direct mail, and telemarketing follow-up, typically achieve higher response rates, but again, the first step in determining the right marketing mix is to know your audience and their communication preferences. Some groups prefer electronic communications while others prefer more traditional marketing channels. If your budget allows, following up with a phone call is a great way to boost attendance and acquire more email addresses. If you have budget constraints, try to prioritize the list and only call a few recipients. While social media is not a fit for all audiences, it is definitely emerging as a new communication vehicle. Some companies now advertise their live and virtual events on popular blogs or social groups like LinkedIn or Facebook, and have been quite successful with this method.
Even if you have three moms, it still takes nine months to make a baby. In other words, do not try to compensate for poor planning skills by investing more resources into promoting the seminar. All too often this approach wastes a lot of marketing dollars, as it underestimates the seminar announcement lead time. When targeting time-pressed business decision makers, you should typically estimate a three- to four-week lead time. That means your recipients should have the mailing invitation in their hands three to four weeks prior to the event date, and that the registration process is already in place (online, toll free, etc.).
On the other hand, promoting a seminar too early is equally bad because even if you get more registrants, you are very likely to experience a higher drop-off rate. So what’s the secret? Timely reminders (online, by phone), either one week or a couple of days prior to the event.
Promoting your seminar at the right time may sound tricky but it is essential. This can be as simple as avoiding scheduling events at a time that conflicts with your audience’s schedule (i.e. end of the fiscal quarter for controllers), or as elaborate as identifying event triggers that signal or predict changes in the behaviour of your recipients. For example, if your organization offers ERP solutions and you use your database to track prospects who use ERPgizmo, one trigger event could be an announcement by ERPgizmo Inc. that impacts their users such as the end of their support plan. In this case, inviting ERPgizmo users to attend a seminar shortly after the announcement can help you generate a good deal more qualified leads.
Not involving internal and external partners
An internal awareness campaign can do wonders to build seminar attendance. A good first step to identify your internal audience is to compile a list of all personnel in contact with your target audience: from sales teams to the receptionist who answers calls on the toll free line or the webmaster who receives online information requests.
Sales teams would be the first ones to benefit from a seminar that drives qualified leads, so why not involve them early in the planning process? Field agents can provide valuable feedback on the target audience’s pain points, areas of interest, trigger events and scheduling conflicts. Besides, prospects are more likely to respond to a message from someone they already know than to an anonymous automated email. While it is the role of marketing to put together the seminar invitation, sales professionals can easily personalize the invite and send it to their list of personal contacts or warm prospects. Seminars can even help sales representatives rejuvenate leads that have stalled.
External partners can be anyone from business partners who sell complementary products or services to non-competing organizations that target the same audience (industry or trade associations, specific publications, etc.). Explore co-marketing opportunities and areas of collaboration such as asking the organization to send the seminar invite on your behalf, to provide keynote speaker, to promote the event on their Web site and in their newsletter (online and offline), etc. External partners can help you broaden your audience and/or decrease your costs.
No follow-up strategy
This is probably one of the biggest marketing budget wastes: focusing strictly on the low hanging fruits and completely ignoring the long-term buyers. Those prospects may not be ready to buy today, but they still took the time to register and/or attend your event, and that in itself is often an indication that they intend to buy at some point in time – whether in 6 months, 18 months or 24 months. It is therefore imperative to develop a lead nurturing strategy that will keep in touch with those early-stage prospects until they become sales-ready. In this view, marketers should not wait until after the event to start developing sales follow-up tools such as email templates and educational offers. A simple nurture plan may look like this: Marketing sends a whitepaper immediately after the seminar, inside sales or sales follows up with a personal phone call a few weeks later, the prospect then receives a personal email with a link to a customer success story, etc.
Whenever you use seminars to generate leads, make sure you also plan a formal debriefing session with all parties involved (sales, speakers, business partners, etc.) shortly after the event to go over what went well and what needs to be done differently. Was the seminar a success? A disappointment? From what standpoint? What lesson can be learned? This first debriefing session will help you identify all the technical aspects that need to be improved.
But since the assumption here is that you’re using seminars to generate leads, you will also need to estimate the number and quality of the leads generated (both immediate and nurture leads) not only shortly after the event but also a few months later. You may be surprised by the results. Some long-term opportunities may have reached a higher level of qualification, and vice versa, some supposedly hot leads may never have materialized into opportunities.
No silver bullet
When it comes to lead generation, many organizations are looking for the hidden secret and the one and only tactic that never fails to generate leads. Is it a seminar? Is it a webinar? Is it telemarketing?
Unfortunately, marketing is not an exact science, and what worked two years ago may no longer be cost-efficient today. Similarly, what seems to work for your competitors or business partners may simply not work for you for a variety of reasons (different contact lists, lower credibility in the marketplace, etc.). While there is no recipe for success, adopting a thorough and methodological approach will undoubtedly help you optimize your seminar strategy. You need to experience, measure and adapt accordingly. And if, for some reason, you come to the conclusion that seminars are not the answer to your lead generation needs, at least you’ll know exactly why.