In this article I will look at ways we can engage partners and customers better in an age where physical events are no longer possible. We will look at where the problems lie and propose a few solutions that can help re-establish a pulse to technology Sales and Marketing.
What are Webinars for?
Ask yourself – how may webinars have you sat through in the last few months? My guess is that the answer is one of “ More than ever, More than I would like, Too many to remember”. Every single company in the digital sphere has decided that producing webinar content is the way forward. They are concentrating on trying to present empathetic, relevant topics that they hope will ring true with the audience. The feeling is that this is the only way they can create engagement with their audience. The problem is they are doing exactly the opposite.
Let us first look at what these webinars were looking to replace (well not replace exactly, as webinars have been around for years). These digital events have had the additional burden recently of taking over from physical events , which have had to be abandoned in the face of the Corona epidemic. Technology brands have been organising meetups, briefings, advice sessions and masterclasses for many years as a way to communicate the benefits of their platform of service to partners and customers in a way that does not reek of a hard sell, and that offers some tangible benefit to those attending. The thinking goes like this:
- I provide good content and interesting speakers to attract people to the event
- Once they are at the event, I intersperse some promotional content to deliver the message I want them to take away
- The sales team talks to interesting prospects and establishes personal relationships
- I establish expert status, garner trust, and demonstrate that I understand my customer’s problems
- I get the audience’s contact details anyway so now I can spam them with promotional content to my heart’s content (GDPR allowing!)
- Sales Flood in – Kerching!
In looking at this process I can see why companies have come to the conclusion that Webinars can replace this process. Lots of the boxes get ticked – and I end up with the customers details so at least I can keep marketing to them. But there is an essential difference, and that is in the level of engagement that is produced, and therefore in the eventual propensity to buy.
What do Customers Want?
What is being overlooked is why customers attend events. Of course relevant content is a factor, but the main reason most people for-go their evenings solace and attend an event is not so much to educate themselves, but more with the aim of meeting other relevant people that can either buy their product or help them sell their product. I personally will suffer 2 hours on a train, garbage beer and truly terrible pizza and some pretty dull content just to say the words “ Hi, I’m Justin from Shopware, the German Open Source eCommerce platform, and I would like to ask……” to the whole room. It also helps if I have a chat with one or two interesting people. They don’t have to be customers – just people who will add to my Network Effect.
Modern business revolves around symbiotic networks that allow people and businesses to meet relevant contacts, potential customers and allow serendipity and luck to play apart in winning new business. We all know that you “Make Your Own Luck” and in attending these webinars, we at least can persuade ourselves that we are making the lucky break possible, even if in fact the chances are slim. Customers and attendees need to feel they are contributing positively to their chances of success.
None of this is should be much of a surprise – This is all good old-fashioned Customer Focused Strategy really. All we should be doing to attract customers is to work out what they need and help them to achieve/attain it.
Stop Broadcasting and Provide the Forum
So, what can we practically do in the modern business environment to replicate this symbiotic relationship? The answer is to stop broadcasting and instead introduce an agenda and let the attendees work it out. Of course, it is not easy to give up control (and anyway the Brand Police might not take to kindly to it). However there are a few things that we can practically do pretty easily that we can always roll back if things get out of hand.
- Keep mikes open & cameras on – ask them to mute when not speaking (after all even my 8 year old can do this!)
- Polls – Keep people on their toes – and invested in the answers to your questions and introduce live chat into the actual webinar
- Allow attendees to see full attendees list – at least give them the chance to stalk fellow attendees on LinkedIn
- Keep a group chat on – get feedback in real time and allow a bit of irreverent backchat
- Encourage questions live – and address them as they come in. This can be done either in chat or with voice/video depending on the size of the group.
An excellent example of how well this can work was provided by a US eCommerce commentator TJ Gamble. For both the Adobe Summit and the Shopify summit, TJ, a down to earth American eCommerce consultant (and Agency owner), took the live feed from the main event and put his own event around it, with commentators and a chat feed (delivered simultaneously on Twitter and LinkedIn) As all chat was immediately discussed as part of the dialogue, everyone participating felt like they were part of the event, and some of the leaders of world ecommerce were in attendance – bearing witness to the success of this low tech, but highly effective solution. Of course you need someone like TJ to hold it all together, but given that, this can encourage participants to engage for hours on end, and gives them the opportunity to strike up relationships within the group.
Here are some other ideas that can liberate the tedium of webinar events:
- Have introductions from all attendees at the beginning of webinars – fine for groups of up to about 20, and needs to be carefully moderated (to stop the wafflers!)
- Arrange multiple breakout rooms manned by someone appropriate who can drive the conversation
- Offer soap boxes for your audience to exhibit themselves and their product – if you are running an event give your major partners a spot – you don’t necessarily have to charge them – remember this is making you look good – look collaborative – like a partner should
- Speed networking – pretty horrible in the offline world – pretty essential online – You ‘gotta kiss a few frogs in life as well as in business!
It is not that complicated really – we just need to think about what our customers need, not what we want to sell them. Great salesmen don’t sell – they help people buy, and this way of thinking is key to creating a great webinar event.
Of course you can put on some pretty intricate and intimate online events if you want to – I went to a wonderful event by Avalara (the Tax Guys) the other day – they sent wine to my house ahead of time, and 20 of us listened to a great wine expert take us on a journey with wine. Magical evening – but this only works when you have a small audience, who you already know reasonably well and you want to reinforce relationships. It is not really the “Funnel Filler” that you would run regularly.
So now for what I think is the ultimate example of great engagement, and the true replication of all the best parts of attending live events. I went to a Singaporean Shopify event the other day and they used a tool called Remo. There was a short presentation to start – then we were let loose in the tool and I wandered around the interface, stopping at a number of desks (Manned by appropriate experts) and talked about the things that I wanted to, to the people that I wanted to talk to.