Webinars, Luncheons, and Open Houses

Attracting the right audience to Webinars and offline events is critical to reaching business objectives ranging from promoting and cross-selling your products to driving revenues, but it is easier said than done. Traditional one-off strategies, such as buying mailing lists or mail-merging spreadsheets, are labor-intensive, one-size-fits-all campaigns that lack the ability to tailor messages to different audiences, as well as the reporting and analysis features needed to measure results. Yet many small and midsized organizations ignore the potential of their CRM systems to solve the problem.

If configured correctly, CRM platforms contain a gold mine of customer profile data that can be filtered to zero in on desired audience segments, leveraged to tailor messages to each segment, and married to marketing automation tools to deliver those messages in a visually appealing manner. Automated notifications built into CRM systems, as well as add-on dialers that automate the calling process, can be used to assist sales teams in turning event registration and participation into sales opportunities. Reporting tools in best-of-breed CRM systems can help track campaign successes and costs.

All of these capabilities extend the value of your CRM investment by optimizing the effectiveness of your recruiting campaigns. Our company has used the following six steps to put CRM to work to drive both online and offline events attendance at the more than 100 events we hold annually.

1. Collect the right attributes.

When you set up your CRM system, definining the customer/contact attributes you are going to collect is a core building block for event marketing as well as for your entire CRM initiative. The sky is the limit, with the option to choose from dozens of out-of-the-box attributes, as well as add custom fields. Many organizations attempt to capture highly granular data that has nominal value and does little more than take up storage space. (If you're a B2B organization, do you really need to know each customer's marital status?) Determine the most relevant customer/contact characteristics for your purposes, and stick to them to build your database.

2. Segment your target audience.

What job titles, departments, or industries are most likely to be receptive to your event content? Are you looking for prospects, existing customers, or both? Retailers or restaurateurs? In specific locations or any geography? Across your entire product portfolio or in a particular area?

If you have intelligently defined the attributes you are collecting for each account or contact, identifying the individuals who fit your target audience profile for a specific campaign is a simple matter of running a customer segmentation report. This will instantly narrow your net to the types of attendees you're looking for, and avoid the extra time and expense of soliciting the wrong people.

3. Combine CRM and marketing automation.

Most CRM solutions have rudimentary marketing functionality, but are unable to pack the extra punch that comes with abilities such as sending different messages for different audiences and creating visually engaging HTML emails that make those messages pop. Plugging marketing automation tools like SalesFusion or Marketo into your CRM platform delivers both capabilities, potentially boosting response rates by making messages more relevant as well as more readable.

To drive attendance to an event promoting fleet tracking technology for the construction industry, for example, different messages can be crafted to address the respective concerns of CIOs, COOs, equipment managers, maintenance technicians, and so on. The goal is the same—to drive each group to sign up for the event—but each group's needs are different, so the message needs to be shaped to pique their respective interests. Create the content with your marketing automation program, do a mail merge with the target list you generated from your CRM system, and you're on your way.

4. Document all event marketing touchpoints.

Whether calling a customer to personally invite him to an event or communicating after he attends a Webinar, luncheon, or open house, it is useful to have an audit trail of all event recruitment activities and results within the customer record. CRM solutions automatically capture email blast activity associated with CRM-created lists, but other interactions, such as direct mail solicitations, voice mails, and phone conversations, as well as event attendance, typically must be entered manually.

This information provides context for sales staff who call prospects to encourage event participation, pursue sales leads, or communicate with current or prospective customers for any other reason. Knowing that the contact received and/or responded to an event invitation, sales personnel can reference the email or another previous touchpoint instead of simply making a cold call. In addition, recording the information gives the event marketing team data that can help analyze campaign success with different customer segments for use in future event recruitment efforts.

5. Use CRM tools for follow-up.

Other CRM features and add-ons can be leveraged to follow through with customers who receive event invitations, attend, and/or request more information. Workflows can be created within the CRM system to notify sales representatives if one of their contacts receives an event solicitation, registers for an event, or expresses interest in the widget you're promoting at the event itself—all triggered by updates in the contact's activity record. Likewise, third-party dialers integrated into the CRM platform can be customized for outbound lead generation teams to enable automatic calling in the same kind of event-related scenarios and documentation of the call in each contact center's activity history with just one click.

6. Measure results with CRM and BI.

At the most basic level, CRM reporting tools usually allow marketers to manually enter event registrations as well as actual attendance into the customer record. Since as many as half of all registrants do not actually attend events, you should be able to capture cancellations, so that these individuals can be retargeted the next time around. These tools can also be used to track campaign size and spend, email open rates and clickthroughs, revenue opportunities, actual sales created by events, event attendees who do not create downstream revenue, and so on.

For deeper analysis, CRM data can be combined with accounting data by using a business intelligence solution that can correlate campaign spend, event attendance, related revenues, and other variables to determine the actual return on your event marketing investment.

In either case, standard sets of reports and dashboards should be created for apples-to-apples measurement of campaign success, with different views for different stakeholders, such as marketing, sales, or executive teams.

With this data, marketers can determine which campaign and recruitment strategies generate the highest attendance and revenue opportunities, reinvest in the ones that are most successful, and abandon those that fail to deliver results. It may not be a core CRM application, but it's a big value-add that can provide concrete proof of how Webinars, luncheons, and other events contribute to the bottom line—or not.

Todd Wickens is a CRM engagement manager with SWC Technology Partners, a provider of IT solutions to midsized businesses.

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