In a weak economy, customer retention becomes more important than ever. This group, already sold on your product or service, is what could keep you afloat while waiting for the upturn. If your customer base is widespread, one way to boost the value of your service and create stronger relationships is to use the Internet to host seminars, commonly referred to as “webinars.”
Because webinars are interactive, they are cost-effective tools for informing your customers about your product, introducing new products, highlighting upgrades, holding focus groups, and introducing your clients to each other, which could result in some valuable business networking for them. Webinar platforms such as Microsoft’s LiveMeetings, Cisco’s WebEx, and Citrix’s GoToWebinar make hosting meetings relatively easy even for the novice (Citrix also offers GoToMeeting for online business meetings).
Webinars combine conference calls with visual presentations via a computer. If need be, applications allow presenters to access attendees’ desktops (and vice versa) through a “sharing mode” to open applications or files to illustrate a point. Attendees can see the names and profiles, if included, of all participants. Webinar attendance can top 1,000 but, obviously, the more attendees there are the less true interaction can take place.
Cynthia Hollen, president of business strategy consulting firm Hollen Inc., often uses webinars on behalf of her clients. A leading software company has her use webinars to introduce clients to its software or upgrades. The goal is to expand adoption. The more familiar the users are with the software, the more likely they will use it and the more likely the firm will renew its contract.
“The reason I use a webinar instead of going onsite is that the user teams are geographically dispersed,” she said. “Another key benefit is that the users are all at their laptops during the presentation with the software running. They can try things on their own while doing the training.”
Hollen keeps groups small so the presentation stays interactive. “I don’t simply speak for an hour,” she said. “I talk to everybody as if they are sitting in front of me and insist they ask questions.” Because the software allows her to see screen names of those logged on, Hollen is able to identify the audience members and ask each person specific questions to keep them engaged.
Hosting a webinar does have its drawbacks. People can log on, minimize their screens, check their e-mail, and do other things and you don’t really know if you have their attention. To avoid this, try the following tips:
- Send out an outline in advance.
- Encourage people to jot things down and take screenshots.
- Ask questions.
- Avoid background noise by asking everyone to keep phones on mute until they have a specific question.
- Don’t enable instant messaging (you don’t want the participants chatting among themselves).
Some of the newer webinar software allows voice to go over the Internet. If you use this software you can do a recording of the session and hear everyone’s comments, while a regular conference call service only records your own comments. This way you can upload the entire conversation to a training site.
Despite the general ease of the software and the ability to do webinars from the comfort of your own office, it is important to take your role as a presenter as seriously as if you are doing the presentation in person. These tips can help you avoid problems:
- Know your software: Each service has different applications; make sure you’re familiar with the one you are using.
- Don’t use wireless for your connection: You don’t want to suddenly lose your connection and then lose your audience.
- Use a landline for conference calls: Cell phones could cause you to lose your connection.
- In “sharing mode,” use a different profile: You don’t want participants to see everything on your desktop.
- Turn off instant messaging and e-mail pop-ups: Avoid programs that can interrupt your presentation.
- Be ready in advance: Audience members might log on early, so make sure your presentation is done and you don’t have to do last-minutes edits they might see in real time.