Previous issues can be found in the BtoB archive
B2B DIRECT MARKETING
Webinars and virtual events play an important role in the buyer's journey that increasingly is focused online. Almost half of 7,369 business decision-makers responding to an online Forrester Research survey in the last quarter of 2012 said virtual channels helped them evaluate technologies and services before a purchase.
“Marketers have done well with the uptake of webinar technology in general,” said Scott Benedetti, VP-sales and revenue marketing at agency the Pedowitz Group.
The power of webinars and virtual events lies in their ability to accelerate the sales cycle. Registrants can, for example, view a presentation, download a white paper or ask questions in a live forum. “If you look at the buying process, it takes nine to 15 touches to have a live conversation to qualify a prospect,” he said. “A webinar can be a leapfrogging point for multiple touches.”
But many marketers could improve their webinar programs by addressing the buyer's needs rather than focusing on the value of the solution, Benedetti said.
Pedowitz client Pinstripe and Ochre House, for example, relies on webinars to help it get information to time-strapped human resources directors and VPs around the globe. The staffing consultancy adds at least one webinar a month to its Pinstripe Presents series, focusing not on the company's services but on the challenges that would drive prospects to its solutions.
“We always have a thought leadership angle,” said Bethany Perkins, marketing manager at Pinstripe. “Our industry is not well known, so we're educating. You can consider any provider when using the steps [featured in a webinar].”
The series serves two audiences. The company promotes a live, online event, reaching out via email and advertisements to pull in new prospects. It also archives the webinars, building a reference library to which it can point existing customers as they express specific pain points.
Pinstripe tracks webinar registrations and engagements using its lead management system. The company first looks at the content that a prospect views, then layers on behavioral data such as questions asked, links forwarded to colleagues or white papers downloaded. The data can provide insight into where a prospect stands in the buying process, Perkins said. “We follow all of the engagements,” she said. “The pairing of activities tells me more than a single behavior.”
Webcasts and virtual environments have become top tools for driving not only lead-generation programs but also for driving the entire funnel, said Mark Bornstein, senior director-content marketing at virtual platform provider ON24.
“B2b buyers are self-educating all of the way through the funnel,” he said. “You can use virtual events and webinars for every stage of the buying cycle.” (See sidebar.)
ON24 customer CA ARCserv, for example, built a webinar program that each month features a series of live events. The program is designed to engage prospects and move them toward a decision to use the company's data protection and recovery solutions.
“The progression is set up throughout the course of the month,” said Stefanie Scott, program manager-marketing communications for the company. “We start with thought leadership and best practices. Later in the month, we offer product-focused demonstrations. We get in front of them about the issues first and then work them through to take a look at how we can help solve their problems.”
Marketers who want to maximize the impact of webinar programs also need to use data to better target their audiences, said Zachary Reiss-Davis, a Forrester Research analyst.
“It's really about knowing how to target your content to only one part of the buying process at a time,” he said. A group of prospects will likely be interested in different content than a group of existing customers, for example. “I need to not try to recruit both customers to the same webinar,” Reiss-Davis said.
Marketers are increasingly leveraging social data to better match content to individuals, he said. “The biggest distinction is knowing your audience and what types of information they're looking for from your brand,” he said.
Marketers that want to build buyer intelligence also should consider developing “perpetual environments” in which they deliver multiple marketing touches, said Michael Doyle, principal at consulting firm Michael Doyle Partners. Doyle launched the Virtual Edge Institute and led the educational organization until August, when he opened his consultancy.
Rather than hosting webinars on an external site, for example, marketers should build one environment in which they can house a variety of marketing assets, including webinars and interactive forums. Visitors can register once to access the site, then log on for subsequent visits. The format simplifies registration and aligns customer data in one dashboard, providing uniform measurement, Doyle said. Moreover, it facilitates communication.
“We're creating webinars and YouTube videos, but we don't put them all in the same place,” Doyle said. “Why do we want to drive people to YouTube? The goal should be to drive [the audience] back to me and have someone look at more of my content. It's better to have [the audience] in my environment where they're going to find more of my things.”