How does bulk purchasing play out online?

If you work in a business that sells in bulk, how do customers responsible for purchases go about finding you and ordering online? What is the best way to reach them with your bulk offerings?

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This Week's Dilemma

Advertising large helpings on the Internet

We've been in business since the 1980s and we sell products to businesses. Recently, we have decided to expand our presence on the Internet to enable customers to order online through a shopping cart and increase our sales. Our current Web site has basic company information, so we haven't done much with it in terms of search engine positioning.

However, I'm reluctant about focusing on search engine placement because those who work in purchasing departments won't use search engines for finding products because our order volume is high, and they're not going to pick a random business just for appearing at the top of the search results. Furthermore, these folks have to answer to many people while making these bulk purchases. Maybe I'm off base here, and people do search the Web and place orders. How do you reach businesses ordering bulk merchandize online?

—John, product manager

Previous Dilemma

Adding webinars to the marketing pool

I am attempting to use webinars as a marketing tool in my computer networking company. I have more questions than answers about using this technique for marketing. In your experience, how beneficial are webinars in increasing sales? How much time and effort do you put into the presentations? What are the advantages and disadvantages of webinars? How do you determine whether or not a webinar makes a good addition to the marketing pool?

—Jamie, marketing manager

Summary of Advice Received

Jamie, based on your colleague's replies, webinars do work—when done right. Brian Carroll, CEO of InTouch, says webinars take place early in the lead-generation process. Armed with this information, work to create a webinar to move the lead to the next phase: "Consider where webinars/webcasts fit in the lead generation continuum. To help you, I've put together a graphic showing approximately where they fit in. They also fit very nicely into a lead nurturing program."

Rather than trying to sell to the customer and possibly ruining the lead, avoid treating them as leads. Carroll says only about 5-10% of attendees are sales-ready opportunities. Given that, here are three ways to make webinars work for you:

1. Measure your cost per lead.

2. Create a customer-focused webinar.

3. Offer a recorded option.

1. Measure your cost per lead

Like evaluating any other program, determine whether webinars would be cost-effective by measuring the cost per lead. However, don't expect sales to happen immediately after the webinar, since it's early in the lead-generation process.

A reader who has used webinars in two companies with different objectives reports that webinars offer an excellent cost per lead in his target market and give exposure from an awareness point of view:

Webinars provide merely a channel or vehicle to reach marketing goals. As with any marketing program, you still need to define your objective and audience and provide relevant, useful content. I've found that webinars are most useful in B2B marketing to educate people doing research—accelerating them along the marketing/sales cycle. An extremely high percentage of the people we've sold to have attended at least one webinar midway through the sales cycle.

Measure the cost per lead you care about against other programs that have the same objective. However, if your objective is different, like increasing your reach/awareness, then use another applicable metric and compare to similar programs.

2. Create a customer-focused webinar

A reader summed up the problem with some webinars: they're company-driven, not customer-focused. Attendees should walk away having learned something they can use rather than just being more informed about the company's products and services.

David Liptrot, marketing manager with Labtronics Inc., considers webinars a useful marketing tool:

My advice is to design an educational webinar as opposed to a sales webinar. Most companies do not have enough drawing power to get large audiences to come see the latest release of their products. Find a topic that your target market is interested in and create a webinar around that (keeping in mind that the topic you pick has to be an issue that your solutions can solve).

What I typically do is spend about 20 minutes discussing the topic in detail and providing good, unbiased information. Then I provide a practical application using the "latest technology," which is a demonstration of my software solution. I close the seminar using concluding points that are a perfect match to my value proposition. In the end, the users get some valuable information on a topic they are interested in, and I am able to articulate my company's value proposition to the group. Anyone who is interested in solving the issue will likely come to my company as a potential partner.

Brian Carroll encourages keeping in mind that webinars compete for an audience's most precious commodity—time:

Remember, your audience wants relevant and meaningful. Don't waste their time with a sales pitch. Webinars present a great opportunity for companies that want to position themselves as thought leaders and keep their audience coming back. Relevant content provides a catalyst for big attendance as high-quality content dramatically builds webinar attendance. Why? Relevant content builds credibility, generates positive word of mouth (WOM) and creates a buzz for future events.

The results: InTouch increased webinar registrations by 255 percent without changing any webinar promotion tactics. Industry average webinar attendance is around 30 percent, but by focusing on "thought leadership," our attendance was at 41 percent of registrants and the total number of attendees grew by 583 percent.

3. Offer a recorded option

We don't see archived webinars in many situations. Maybe it's time for more businesses to consider creating and promoting archives. One reader provides the advantages of webinars: They can be recorded and watched at a more convenient time for the viewer; if you make them interactive by using polling questions, you can post the findings in an email newsletter or a press release. And you can expand your business, since they're location-independent: "This content can often be reused in other programs, e.g., as an outline for a white paper, a case study or a topic for a speaking opportunity."

If you work with managers who love metrics, Brian Carroll provides numbers that show the benefit of having webinar archives:

Archive your webinars and make sure they are visible to your Web site visitors. By promoting our archives, we've generated an average of 1,664 percent more archive attendees compared to our live events! Make sure you collect feedback both during and after the event through online survey tools like surveymonkey. The real-world feedback we've collected helped us improve each event. Let your audience self-qualify themselves with a "Request a sales person contact me" box on your post-event survey. Those who don't qualify yet need to be added to your lead nurturing program.

As a bonus, to gain extra points, provide a summary and key points of the webinar in a text or Word file or HTML page. This helps attendees remember the important points, and also lets you reach those who struggle with conference calls.

Companies that produce successful webinars know that they're best held early in the sales process. To increase the chances of getting a lead, validate that the cost per lead is worth the investment, ensure that the attendees get something out of each webinar, and record them to build an archive.

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Hank Stroll ( is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.