The Value of Online Events in Marketing Programs (part 1 of a two-part series)
Editor's note: Part 2 appears in Viewpoint in August. CLICK HERE
to view part 2.
The recession is over. Businesses are growing again, adding jobs, merging, acquiring, and even going public. Even so, there are areas within companies where nothing has changed since 2001. One of those areas is the CRM department. CRM teams are expected to expand existing business and reach key audiences more frequently with limited resources. Marketing budgets remain slim while expectations are rising with the end of the "bad times."
One thing that has changed over the last few years, partly due to the recession and partly due to the effects of 9/11, is the one-size-fits-all approach to CRM. In order to increase the productivity of their businesses, many are focusing on personalizing their services. Business-to-business marketers are more geared towards providing customers with an experience designed uniquely for them.
The most-personalized customer experience is delivered in person. The immediacy of the questions and answers, the nuances, body language, and the chemistry between individuals are all important to building productive long-term relationships. But face-to-face time is expensive and often inconvenient, especially if the customers are in distant and diverse locations. With this in mind, many marketing and sales departments are turning to technology in the form of online events or Web conferences to make the personalized connections while still remaining within their budgets.
One of the key benefits of these online events is reach. The Web makes it possible for a much greater number of people to have access to the same information than is possible in the offline world. Using this power to connect and communicate with key audiences, whether they are customers, partners, or prospects, has added immediate value to the process of creating and maintaining important relationships and increasing penetration in relevant markets.
Most users feel that Web events are a close approximation to actually being there. Web events offer virtual auditoriums that have the look and feel of an in-person event. There are Q/A sessions, in which questions are answered in real time, chat rooms for interaction between attendees and organizers, and polls and surveys that track and measure success and efficiency of the event for future reference. Moreover, unlike face-to-face meetings, Web events can be recorded and made accessible online for interested customers to peruse at their leisure. This adds a degree of convenience and flexibility that is greatly appreciated by customers.
But why would customers want to be contacted in the first place? From their point of view, why are these events important? Primarily because customers everywhere now want to be more educated. We are in the age of research and comparison shopping. Businesses want to know exactly what they are buying and why. Low-pressure educational sessions via the Internet are a good way for customers and prospects to ask their questions, get more educated, and make decisions at their own pace, all without leaving their offices. Giving customers easy access to more information increases sales across the enterprise and has a definite impact on increasing loyalty, thus increasing retention rates and cross-selling.
Yet the question arises, are Web events a solution for everyone? Before we answer in the affirmative, let's look at a couple of facts:
There are times that only a face-to-face meeting will do.
Some people just don't like technology.
Sometimes having all this flexibility is a way to get out of attending the event at all.
As with other CRM tools, Web events are not a one-size-fits-all solution. But in this day of shrunken budgets and rising expectations, online events are another asset for marketing departments to reach key audiences, identify leads, and educate prospects in a low-cost, low-pressure environment.
As the pressure on businesses to increase productivity while reducing costs becomes part and parcel of everyday life, we should expect to see an increase in the use of Web events to improve productivity and increase market penetration and competitive advantage. Hand in hand with this, there will also be a rise in the availability of Web event services, which will continue to evolve with additions and enhancements to service offerings. Conducting a multimedia Web event will become as easy as making a telephone call and as productive as a face-to-face meeting, while delivering the personalized experience that is demanded today, thus enabling Web meetings to fill the large communications gap between simple telephone calls and in-person meetings.
About the Author
Felix Litman is the senior director of product management and marketing for WebEx. He oversees WebEx Event Center and Sales Center products; he joined WebEx in the fall of 2004. Felix holds an MBA from the Wharton School, and a BS in engineering from Columbia University. He can be reached at www.webex.com