The Candid Voice in Retail Technology: Objective Insights, Pragmatic Advice

How to Give The Best Webinars Ever

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When times get tough one of the first things that vendors and retailers alike do is ramp up on the webinars.  If you’re a vendor, you’re looking to reach all those people who no longer could leave to go anywhere, particularly to junket-type locations like Las Vegas or Orlando.  If you’re a retailer, you’re looking for any way to keep your skills fresh, your eyes open, and stay on top of retail trends even if you have no budget to invest.

Unfortunately, everybody and their brother came to that conclusion at the same time, and if you had wanted to, you could conceivably attend a webinar multiple hours a day, every day of the week.  While there is currently more opportunity for travel than there was in 2020, and more people will be traveling to conferences, webinars are also still a permanent fixture of the landscape.  Unfortunately, the plethora of webinars during the darkest hours of the pandeimc have created a challenge: how do you make your webinar stand out from the crowd?

We at RSR have participated in a lot of webinars.  Sometimes we’ve been the headline speaker.  Sometimes we’ve been the counterpoint to the vendor or the vendor’s customer.  Sometimes we’ve been a panelist and sometimes we’ve been the host.  So here’s our take on what you need in order to create a highly successful webinar.

  1. It’s a path, not a destination. The first, and most important thing to remember about a webinar is that it is not an event, it is a process. The webinar may be one summit of the trip, but there’s a lot of mountain before you get there, and a lot of mountain to get back down.  And, the webinar is only the first peak on a peak-to-peak trip that hopefully ultimately leads to a sale. 

If you treat your webinar as a one-time event, then you are missing a lot of opportunities to get your company in front of prospects.  Awareness of the event – just getting your name out there as a company doing innovative things – helps with the awareness of the company.  Every communication leading up to the webinar, and every communication after the webinar is a touchpoint with your prospects.  And their actions tell you things about their interest in you – who opened which emails, who registered, who attended, who asked questions, who saw the archive, who filled out the survey, and who downloaded whatever leave-behinds you offered (yes, you should be offering leave-behinds – and they should reference back to the archive of the webinar). 

These actions all tell you something about how and when you should follow up.  And you should have a plan in place for what that follow-up should be – what should be the next dollop of information you should provide about your company to solidify a prospect’s interest and get them onto the sales cycle?

  1. Execution. Webinar execution consists of two parts: the technology for delivering a webinar, and the audience acquisition. We’ve seen almost every single webinar technology known to humanity, and they all have their pros and cons, their trade-offs, and their quirks.  We’re sure we’ll get calls and emails for saying so, but there is a lot of mediocrity out there in webinar services, and you don’t always get what you pay for.   That can’t be helped.  It also means you can’t skip or skimp on the practice session or the 30 minute dial-in before the call, because you never know when someone’s browser gets updated or their computer gets taken over for some “critical” security patch.

On the audience acquisition side, you should know that it is a tough business.  Trade organizations and publications charge what they charge for exactly that reason.   They are taking on all of the technology risk, and they are taking on the audience acquisition risk as well – and here, you do get exactly what you pay for.  Unless you have a proven list of prospects that has a history of eagerly signing up for everything you do, you should not count on your own list to generate a strong audience, either during the event or as a post-event archive viewer.  Think about it for second – you have this list because these people already know you, theoretically.  Isn’t part of the webinar objective to reach people who may not know you well?  Is your list going to get you there, or do you need someone else’s?

  1. Creative content. This is where webinars are most challenged today. It’s all been done.  We’ve seen the serial presentations.  We’ve seen presentation followed by panel, pure panel, pure sales pitch, even demos.  Here are some tips on content.  Keep the slides moving.  People need both visual and auditory participation in order to stay interested, so if you rest on a slide for too long, their eyes will wander.  They’ll check their email.  You can’t see them, they can’t see you, and they know it.  So if you’re going to do a panel, use slides to move things along.  Give people something to look at, something engaging.  Don’t let anyone get away with reading words on a slide. 

If you, the vendor, are going to speak as an expert on a topic, talk about business challenges, process pain points, challenges with existing solutions, and the value locked up by all of the above.  Don’t talk about how great your solution is.  Don’t trash the competition.  Don’t demo, either.  A screenshot or two, if you must, but demos are better served when tailored to a specific prospect. 

It’s okay to be creative in both presentation and discussion.  Top ten lists work well, or Meet the Press-style interactions where a topic is introduced and controversy is discussed or opposing viewpoints are brought together.  Violent agreement is boring, disagreements are engaging.  Experimentation is okay, as long as you rehearse it beforehand.  And the tried-and-true works too – as long as there is a single story and it flows from speaker to speaker, each offering a new take or angle, or one person presenting the big picture and others diving deeper.

  1. No pitches. Did we say that already? It’s worth mentioning again.  Nothing is more agonizing than sitting through a blatant sales pitch just to hear a customer.  If you really can’t restrain yourself, then limit it to one slide and 30 seconds or less.  Like the ads they put in front of online streams of TV programs.

Remember, no matter what, you have to come up with an angle on what is going to be valuable to your prospects.  In part that depends on the space you’re in – do you need to evangelize, create awareness of the problem?  Do you need to get people to understand how your approach is different?  That’s fine, but you need to flip those objectives on their heads in order to attract the right audience.  What is going to get a retail executive to give up an hour in their busy day?  If you can come up with a compelling answer to that question, then you’re on the right track for a successful webinar.

Vendor Newsletters February 17, 2020