MarketingProfs has gotten pretty good at producing a steady digital stream of marketing know-how for our members. But darn it, sometimes it's lonely doing everything through IP packets. Once in a while we've got to see another face, share a plate of nachos, and swap a few stories from the business trenches.

So we picked a sunny spot in wine country. Brought three dozen MarketingProfs readers, six MarketingProfs authors, and seven MarketingProfs people there, and serious fun and learning happened.

That was last month at the two-day MarketingProfs executive retreat, "Finders, Keepers: Finding Prospects and Keeping Customers." We brought all the attendees together in Santa Barbara, the seaside town north of Los Angeles, at a historic hotel that was mere blocks away from great restaurants and hip shopping. With practical shoes, you could even walk to the beach. (I'm a trolley rider, myself. I'd rather wear stylish shoes.)

The presenters were also participants for the entire event, which lead to some fascinating and sometimes lively dialog between the experts. "This is like the Bill Maher of marketing seminars," I overheard someone say.

The topic for Day One was "Customer Acquisition"; Day Two was "Customer Retention."

MarketingProfs founder Allen Weiss kicked things off with a presentation on lasting customer relationships. Folks appreciated his interesting twist on the subject: Do your customers really want a relationship with you, or are they more "transactional" by nature?

The other presenters were also some of the most popular authors at MarketingProfs. William Arruda delivered a discussion of how branding has the power to attract customers (in the post-event evaluation, it was voted the weekend's favorite). Jonathan Kranz offered some terrific techniques on writing compelling stories about your business. George Michie revealed some surprising tips for making your Web site "findable" by search engines.

And that was just the first day.

Between each session, we scheduled half-hour breaks. We allotted two hours for shopping—I mean, lunching—in the middle of the day.

"I thought the long breaks and long lunches were perfect for the event. So many times, the meeting planners set up a 10 minute break and you have no time to interact with the other participants," Chris Gleason told us. Chris came from Atlanta to get ideas for her online search marketing business, KnowledgeStorm.

On day two, Jim Lenskold opened our eyes to all things metrics—measuring the ROI of marketing. Leigh Duncan described the good, bad, and ugly sides of customer experience management. Jill Griffin made everyone aware of the six stages of customer loyalty and what should happen along the way. MarketingProfs own Roy Young wrapped things up by sharing new insights into how marketing can earn respect within your organization.

"The whole thing was great—the small scale, the topics, the interaction, and especially the speakers. Lots of real, usable stuff for marketing professionals," said Greg Brand when it was all over. Greg had dragged himself away from Bluehouse Group, his Vermont Web development company, to participate.

Michigan entrepreneur Sandra Eggers agreed that connecting with other marketers there was a boon. "Both hearing the speakers and interacting with my fellow marketers energized me, better directed me and inspired me to improve my business," Eggers said.

"These results could never have been achieved virtually. So what does this do to my perception of MarketingProfs? I now have proof that there are intelligent, fascinating, and warm human beings behind it all."

Sandra and the other participants got to visit with some of my MarketingProfs colleagues: Ann Handley, Jim Kelly, Valerie Frazee, and Sharon Hudson. And of course, Allen, Roy, and me.

Fact is, we got as much juice from the retreat as everyone else. The creative kind of juice, not the grape-flavored variety. (Although a wine-tasting exercise at the end of Day One didn't hurt. Take a look at everyone sipping pinot noir in the Upham Hotel gardens.)

"This event reminded me of why I started MarketingProfs in the first place," said Allen. "Marketers are interesting, exciting people who are fun, real, and a complete joy to get to know."

We enjoyed this so much, we're already planning our next couple of unique retreats. But when? Where? What should the featured topic be? And should we switch from pinot noir to sauvignon blanc?

Input from MarketingProfs readers will help us decide. (That means you, so please tell us what you think.) I'm partial to Hawaii in October, but this isn't about me. It's another know-how retreat for marketers like you. Hope to see you and your colleagues at the next one!

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image of Shelley Ryan

Shelley Ryan is a recovering entrepreneur who wears many robes at MarketingProfs. She is Customer Service Samurai, Marketing Communications Diva, and Associate Deputy Director of Events Mission Control.