How To Use Webinars To Drive Engagement and Increase Pipeline

This Questions and Answers interview was originally published on b2bmarketing.net.

What are the common mistakes businesses make with webinars?

Mark: Companies tend to think of webinars simply as a top of funnel, lead generation tool. Their goal is to get as many names as possible. Many marketers don’t even care what happens during the live webinar, once they’ve acquired the leads they simply send them to sales and claim victory. That’s just outdated thinking.

The modern webinar is all about engagement. They’re multi-media, interactive experiences, where the goal is to get your audience members to take as many actions as possible which then provides you with actionable information about your prospects.

And this engagement model works across the entire buying cycle. Today, we see companies replacing static content like white papers, case studies and demo videos with interactive webinars. Just imagine letting your prospects hear directly from your best customers on a webinar? Now that’s an effective case study. Or replacing that canned demo with an interactive tour of your product? There are so many ways that webinar engagement can supercharge your marketing.

Do you think people underestimate the power of webinars?

Oh absolutely! In a time when we measure engagement by the click or mere seconds spent on a landing page or in an email, we have very few opportunities to have real human moments with our prospects. That used to be the role of sales but the modern buyer doesn’t want to engage with a salesperson. So what replaces that experience? That’s where webinars come in. What other chance do you get to be in front of your prospects for up to an hour at a time? An hour where you can not only present content to them but where you can also interact with them in meaningful ways. And this interaction is going to give you the insights you need to find and convert your best leads.

What do webinars mean for sales teams’ engagement with prospects?

Well, I feel for salespeople these days, their job isn’t getting any easier. Buyers are inundated with sales and marketing emails and prospecting calls which has resulted in them being numb to most sales methodologies.

Further, and I’m going to say something bold here, most salespeople are used to getting weak leads from their marketing teams. And I say that as a marketer. Let’s be honest, it’s true. Webinars however are the one marketing technology that can change that reality. Now you can capture every action that a prospect took in a webinar (questions asked, poll responses, survey data, content downloaded, etc.) and put that data into Salesforce, or other CRMs, for the salesperson to view before making contact. This enables them to continue a conversation as opposed to starting one. And that is a game changer.

How can you optimise interactivity in a webinar?

Well, I believe that webinar interactivity should be scripted right into your presentation. Just like you script your story and your slides, you should plan how you are going to interact with your audience. When I build a webinar, I always plan out a few polls to help fuel a good conversation with my audience. I will often script a few different spots in the webinar to take questions, not just wait till the end. Sometimes I build in gamification too. I also encourage the audience to live tweet, download content and click on CTAs. The point is, you should optimise your webinar to ensure your audience is involved and interacting with you and each other as much as possible. Increased engagement will lead to higher content retention and more importantly, it will provide you with more data for effective follow-up later.

Where is the ROI in webinars? What’s the business case?

Webinars have such a high ROI for such a small investment. The business case for webinars is that they enable you to quickly and cost-effectively engage with large numbers of your prospects in a real human way. Webinars are now where the selling happens. It’s where we find our best leads and how we convince them to become customers.

It kills me every time I talk to a company that is using a meeting or conferencing tool for their webinars because their IT department already had a contract in place. Don’t get me wrong, meeting tools are great… for meetings, but that are not optimised for webinars. The investment in true webinar marketing platform will likely have the highest return of anything in your marketing tech stack.

Webinars have clearly developed over the years. What do you think is the future of webinars?

There are two ways that I think webinars are evolving. The first is that the live experience is no longer the only goal. We’re now living in the on-demand economy, meaning people want to consume content on their own time, in their own way. Content needs to be always available and easily binge-able – and this goes for webinars too. We’re seeing many companies moving to the Netflix model, where they’re building on demand gateways or hubs where valuable webinars are made available for immediate viewing. These gateways are where you can archive webinars after the live event is over, to extend the life of that content. We also see companies building webinar content that’s produced straight for on demand without a live component. Webinar gateways are an effective way to get more people to the right content.

The other area I see the role of webinars changing is in personalisation. Account-based marketing programmes have become an incredibly important part of modern marketing strategies. We all want to be more targeted and we do that by offering a more personalised experience. But most ABM strategies focus on the targeting and not what happens once you make contact. We’re now seeing companies creating customised webinars that are created for specific accounts, industries or use cases, to add a higher level of engagement to their ABM programmes. That includes custom landing pages with targeted webinars as the primary content.

What do you think webinars do for brand image?

So much. In many cases, webinars are where your prospects first experience your brand – and not for a few seconds but for a long period of time. You have to think about your webinar console as if it’s a virtual lobby to your company. As I mentioned above, you should always customise your webinar consoles so when your prospects attend your events they feel enveloped by your brand. You can create a lot of stickiness to your brand imagery with such a long exposure if you do it right.

Can webinars allow you to understand your customers better?

Well, here lies the true magic of webinar engagement. The more you interact with your audience, the more you can learn about them. Webinars are where your prospects actually tell you what’s on their mind: their challenges, needs and interests. Their interactions with you (through polls, surveys, Q&A, chat, social, downloads etc) provide a much better picture of your prospects and customers than you can get with any other marketing technology. Marketers all want to be data driven and engagement is the only way to get the data that really matters. It’s simple maths: webinar engagement gives you the insights you need to convert prospects into customers.

Mark’s tips to achieving best practice in webinars

  1. When promoting your webinars, don’t keep sending the same email repeatedly. Mix up the message and mix up the email type. The same goes with social media, don’t tweet the same thing over and over again. If it didn’t work the first time, it probably won’t the second or third.
  2. Make sure your webinar console looks and feels like your brand. You have people staring at a fixed location for up to an hour, give them something to look at. Integrate your logo, top-line messaging, corporate imagery and colours. Make sure your webinars are a great reflection of your company.
  3. Dial up the engagement. As I said earlier, the more interactive your webinars are, the more actionable data you’ll get to qualify your leads and convert them into pipeline. Literally script engagement into your presentations by integrated polls, Q&A, gamification, etc. Your audience will appreciate it too.
  4. Play with the formats. Don’t treat all webinars as talking powerpoint presentations. Some of the best webinars I’ve seen lately didn’t even have slides, they were simply great discussions with interesting people. Try panels, interviews, chat shows, and other formats to change the tone of your events. It will also take the pressure of your presenters. Instead of giving a ‘formal’ presentation, they can have conversations with each other and the audience, which is a better experience for everybody.
  5. Have an on-demand strategy. According to our recent Webinar Benchmarks Report, 35% of people who view webinars will watch on demand – not live. If your webinars only exist as a moment in time, then you’re losing up to a third or more of your potential audience.