Many companies balk at the expense and logistical demands of organising product seminars, and it’s true that a badly-organised event is even worse than simply doing nothing. But get it right, and the event will pay for itself many times over. And get it right often, and the logistics begin to take care of themselves.
As a marketer in charge of organising 2-3 events every month, here are my 10 tips for ensuring that your product seminars are a roaring success…
1. Get the Content Right
Before you even think about logistics, you need a concept. Think about what questions you are going to ask, and how you are going to answer them. Think about what customer pain points your product can address.
Then you can come up with a good topic for your seminar. Let’s say I’m selling a product called Wonderfresh, a new air freshener aimed at the food & beverage sector. If I simply entitle my seminar Introducing Wonderfresh, do you think many people will come? Probably not. However, if I entitle it Fresh Ideas for Restaurateurs, I’m sure to get a better response – not because I’m being dishonest (people aren’t stupid – they know you want to sell them something), but because I’m adding value, giving attendees information and advice they can use after the seminar, regardless of whether they buy the product or not. Let’s face it, we’ve all been hoodwinked into attending an hour’s hard sell when we thought we were attending a workshop or an info session; had the organisers added an informative 30-minute presentation about related business issues, we’d have gone away happier!
2. Develop Effective Logistics Processes
The first time we ran an event, we worked very, very hard. The second time, it was a bit easier. The twentieth time, it practically organised itself. That’s because we learned from our mistakes, established what worked (and what didn’t), identified the best suppliers for gifts, standing banners etc., identified our own staff’s competencies, and used our CRM system to set up an iterative process from initial concept to post-seminar follow-ups. The topics, target customers and speakers may change, but the organisational process remains the same for every event we run, with the occasional optimisational tweak here and there.
3. Invite the Right People
OK, you’ve got 50 bums on seats for your seminar. Great! But how many of them are decision makers? It’s better to have 10 influential attendees than 50 junior staff who can’t make decisions and who then go back to their office and give a garbled, subjective account of your event to their superiors.
Make sure you target the right sectors (sector-focused seminars are MUCH more effective than catch-all events), and that you identify and invite the decision-makers from your target companies. If you don’t have a CRM solution to help you do this, get one NOW.
4. Choose the Right Venue
Organising seminars isn’t cheap, but try and cut corners and your event may suffer. That 3-star hotel round the corner may offer you a great deal on room hire, but do they have the right technology and quality of service? Using the local Hilton or Sheraton might be pricey, but it confers prestige on your brand and you will get excellent service and facilities.
Use the same venue each time and you’ll doubtless get better rates, preferred availability, and service from people who understand you and know what you want. We use the same two venues for all our events and everything runs like clockwork!
The right venue should provide you with a big enough function room and the relevant equipment (screen, microphones etc), an area outside the room for your reception table, space for standing banners, and, most importantly, a tea/coffee area where you can mingle with your guests during that crucial coffee break – this is when contacts are made and deals are done.
5. Invite Guest Speakers
Guest speakers add value to your events, especially if you’re charging people to attend. For example, we often run Microsoft product seminars and always get someone along from Microsoft to speak. More credibility for us, more value for the attendees.
However, be careful not to be too reliant on guest speakers. An event consisting entirely of guest speakers will leave attendees wondering if anyone in YOUR company really knows the product!
6. Develop an Internal Network of Speakers
Following on from point 5, you need to provide your own speakers to show that you know what you’re talking about. This may prove difficult as many people are terrified of speaking in public, but once one person volunteers, you’ll find others will soon follow. For one thing it’s a great career move!
Your own speakers are also valuable to use as MCs, handle Q&As, or as standbys in case another speaker pulls out at short notice.
7. Control your Technology
These days we are highly (some would say excessively!) reliant on technology to deliver presentations. A faulty projector, buggy laptop or malfunctioning microphone can ruin a carefully-planned event, as can new or borrowed equipment that your speakers aren’t familiar with.
So always try and use your own kit. Test it in your office the day before. On the day of the event, get to the venue early, set it up, and test it again. Computers are capricious beasts and just because your laptop worked fine in your office last night, doesn’t mean it’ll perform in the hotel today!
8. Demo the Product
It sounds obvious, but we’ve all attended (or even organised) product seminars from which the product itself was absent. A product-less product seminar says one of 2 things: you have no confidence in your product; or your product isn’t actually ready yet. Both messages are disastrous for your business.
So show your product to the attendees, and focus on its WOW factors – those things that set it apart from the competition, do something completely unprecedented, or just look really good. You probably won’t have time to show people every single function, so just focus on your audience’s needs, and begin and end with a WOW.
Product seminars are a great PR opportunity, not just for the product itself but also for your brand in general. Send out press releases, advertise in the media and on your website, invite journalists and photographers, record the event and turn it into a podcast, video it and put it on YouTube (www.youtube.com) or turn it into a webcast. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
10. Follow Up
Your seminar doesn’t end when the last attendee leaves. You should call each attendee within 48 hours of the seminar, and also send a follow-up email or thank-you letter to every attendee, including a feedback form both to gauge their interest and to control the quality of your seminars.