March 1, 2008

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Technology Proves Useful in Message Dissemination

Larry Warren

March 1, 2008

Some of the world’s leading technology companies are using what seems like a simple technique to generate hot sales leads at very small cost. Invitations to Web-based seminars – or webinars – are popping up on business home pages more frequently than ever as a late 90’s technology becomes more refined, easier to use, and downright inexpensive. In terms of content, a webinar isn’t a whole lot different than a sales or product seminar held in a rented hotel conference room. Expert panelists explain their product, project their PowerPoint on the big screen and answer questions from the audience at the close of the session. The same thing happens during a webinar, except there’s no pot of coffee or pile of pastries at the back of the room. In fact, Utah companies using webinars are finding they are generating better leads for as little as a hundred dollars a month in distribution fees – less than the cost of that pile of doughnuts. “Webinars are really key,” says Omniture’s marketing director, Mikel Chertudi. “Sixty to 70 percent of all the sales-ready opportunities [we have] come from webinars.” Bringing it to You The ability to link thousands of remote users via the Internet to a live presentation coming from a business like Omniture was clunky and expensive just a few years ago, but now several companies have refined the process and offer their services as facilitators. Two of the leaders in the field are Webex.com and Gotowebinar.com. A typical webinar begins with an e-mail invitation sent to a presenting company’s e-mail list, along with a home page invitation for anyone to attend online. A registration function is attached, and e-mail reminders go out as the date and time of the webinar approaches. Attendees are given a phone number to call for the audio portion of the webinar, and the video appears on their computer screen. Some technologies use Voice-over IP technology instead of phone audio, but in either case the attendee’s audio is usually muted to prevent interruptions. Questions are sent online and answered by the webinar presenter, generally toward the end of typically hour-long programs. As simple as it sounds, webinars are much like any luncheon series, with added convenience, but the convenience comes with a challenge. Because of the lag in the adoption of any technology, webinars are not likely to be successful unless they have compelling information that’s presented well. At Omniture, the Orem-based producer of online business optimization software, that idea has led to more thoughtful presentations co-coordinated by a director who produces them and has presenters run through rehearsals before going live. “We’re really stepping it up,” says Chertudi. “Even the best presenters need coaching.” At Infopia, Marketing and Communications Director Chris Frank is also a big fan of webinars, but stresses that any successful message must be pertinent to a company’s online community. “You have to create content that is valuable. It has to be part of an overall strategy.” Infopia, a Salt Lake City-based provider of selling technology for online retailers, created a book on e-commerce and created educational resources related to the book. Infopia promoted the book among partners and on the Websites on which it advertises, and then added webinars as an overall extension of the effort to establish the company as an authority in the industry. “When people try to use them as sales tools, they can flop on you,” Frank warns. Rather than the hard sell, smart webinar producers promote the events as opportunities for attendees to learn best practices in their particular businesses. Chertudi agrees: “It does set you apart. We’ve rebranded ourselves as marketing experts on demand.” By presenting top quality, informative webinars that potential customers learn from, those potential customers become sales-ready opportunities. Webinar content can be new material, material recycled from other presentations, or both. Webinars can bring in presenters from other locations and partner companies. Presenting companies can get more exposure by issuing press releases announcing upcoming webinars. They can function not just as lead generators, but also, as with Infopia’s strategy, as a positioning tool to set up the presenting company as an expert in its field. “You become the company people think about when they think about growing their business,” Frank says. Omniture’s Chertudi did 21 webinars on various subjects in 2007 and looks to step it up to three a month in 2008. “Our industry is so new, there’s so much opportunity for learning,” he says. “Every one of these is new content.” Once the webinars conclude with a live question and answer session, they can be re-edited and made available as pre-recorded webinars on a company Website. Still, as cost effective as webinars are proving to be for savvy users, they don’t replace the personal contact. Most customers and vendors still want and need that personal contact. One thing webinars can never do is stream face time, handshakes, coffee and doughnuts over the Internet.
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