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A recent survey of business marketers revealed that most companies tend to use only one kind of webinar: the marketing webinar.

Though the marketing webinar is the most common use of one-to-many web collaboration services, but it is not the only one. Webinars, which offer a lower cost-structure than live seminars, can be used in diverse ways to cut marketing, sales and product development costs and drive top-line growth. A great Web collaboration and webinar strategy can even create competitive or strategic advantage.

But first a definition: a webinar is a one-to-many seminar delivered over the Web using today's collaboration services (such as WebEx or MS Live Meeting). Most marketing webinars are designed to attract prospects to a Web seminar with the goal of setting the table for sales appointments.

Here are seven less common but potentially effective ways of using webinars.

  1. Positioning webinars—A positioning webinar seeks to position or reposition a company within a new market, vertical market or a specific group. These events would typically be heavy on education rather than sales pitch.

    A B2C example could be a home store which wants to position itself as the one-stop shop for projects rather than just a purveyor of "nuts and bolts." The company could run webinars to its lists in partnership with key vendors, based on the common home projects for that time of year. It could then direct attendees to its local store and perhaps send coupons and "how to" information from the sponsoring vendor.

    B2B companies may want to reach a CXO if they have been well known at a lower level in the company. They might hire an analyst or consultant to talk about key problems that face a CXO, and tie the webinar into the solution that the sponsoring company offers.

  2. Web focus groups—Take your in-person focus groups and adapt them to leverage the features of the leading Web collaboration platforms. You can gather much of the same data at a fraction of the cost and time of a live focus group. While you won't be able to read body language, you can, for example, help prioritize one feature among three for the next product release.
    One company I worked with did a collaborative focus group quarterly with all of its resellers to review the product road map and get feedback on how the product was faring. This helped its channel relationships and the company made better decisions about the direction of the product.

  3. Webinars as infomercials—Some marketers will tell you to never do a pure sales-pitch event or webinar. I strongly disagree (see the infomercial industry for success with sales pitches). In some situations these webinars make perfect sense. But recognize that the best sales pitches often involve educating prospects so they receive value even if they do not buy at the end of the event.

    These events typically go for 30 minutes and include an overview of the problem solved, case studies of success with the service or a short product demo, and the unique approach the company takes to solve the problem. End with a special offer and call to action.

  4. Database-building webinars—These are events geared toward building the list of target individuals at the "top of the marketing funnel"; they are my favorite because prospects love them, but so few companies do them. Think of topics that are current and newsworthy, and leverage partners and media for the most bang for your buck.

    For example, right before the recent spam laws were enacted, a company in the anti-spam business hired a spammer to be interviewed by one of the well-known editors of a technology publication. The webinar was attended by about 850 people who heard how the spammers worked and why the problem was not going to be solved soon. This was a very human glimpse into an everyday problem and helped add many hundreds of target prospects to the company's opt-in list.

  5. Training webinars—Offering free or paid training over the Web is done by many companies today, but it can be used by most. Training webinars can be a great way of moving new customers up the adoption curve and avoiding support calls and common customer issues.

    Consider archiving basic trainings and encourage new customers to take the trainings immediately after buying. Typical trainings can be either introductory for new users or can cover the top questions people have about your product or service.

  6. Webinars to test seminars—Before investing many tens of thousands of dollars on a live seminar or road show, consider testing and perfecting the idea through a webinar. If successful, go out on the road. Note that webinars can also be used to test other major efforts, such as new marketing strategies or product ideas.

    To test out a seminar idea, you would pilot your proposed marketing campaign and webinar presentation to see if it achieved your attendance and overall event objectives. If the webinar hit pre-defined hurdle metrics, you would give the green light to the roadshow.

  7. Partner/strategic alliance recruitment webinars—This is really just a marketing webinar targeted at prospective partners and can be successfully used in the marketing mix for recruiting partners.

    For example, one security technology company used a webinar to support its roadshow seminar in its channel recruitment efforts. It got 217 registrants to the live webinar, reaching potential partners more cost effectively than its live seminars. And it generated leads with potential resellers who do not generally attend shows. Finally, the company marketing a recorded version of the webinar for ongoing recruitment efforts.

There are other ways of using webinars, and you may have your favorites for your business and target market. My experience indicates that understanding and employing the different options can help you gain access to new sales opportunities and markets, get closer to customers, create better offerings and fuel sales growth.

Continue reading "Webinars Aren't Just for Selling" ... Read the full article

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Bob Hanson is the founder of