In a newly assigned territory, or in the case of a new announcement, a seminar can be an effective way to jump-start pipelines. Seminars take time and effort to coordinate, but they provide an opportunity to sell one-to-many, and therefore should not be overlooked. So the goal should be to structure them in a way that provides maximum benefit. Again, the ultimate goal here—as with the tools and techniques suggested above—is to get buyers who were not looking to change to realize the potential benefits of change, and initiate an evaluation. Your prospect pool gets bigger, and you’re in Column A.
An important first step is to bring together a group of attendees who have something significant in common; for example, they work in the same industry, or do more or less the same job. A good way to do this is to feature one of your customers—preferably from a familiar company—who holds the same position and is willing to share a problem that your offering has helped them solve. When it works, this is a win-win-win: Your customer is flattered, the attendees can readily relate to material presented by someone with credibility who speaks their language, and you get access to a pool of prospects.
Little things count for a lot. Schedule your seminar for first thing in the morning—before people go into the office—and limit it to between 1 and 2 hours. Prepare your invitation carefully: It is very important in laying out the agenda and setting expectations. If you hope to attract an executive audience, spend enough money on invitations so that it looks like an executive event.
Consider preparing a menu of goals or problems that are likely to be relevant to this target audience, and include that menu—and a preaddressed envelope—along with the invitation. Encourage them to highlight topics that they would like to have covered during the session. (You may want to post this menu on your Web site as well, so that invitees can do their highlighting electronically.) You can tabulate the results in advance of the seminar, and thereby maximize your alignment with the audience.
Follow-up is just as important as the invitation—and maybe even more so. Call the people you’ve invited, and ask if they plan to attend, if they have looked at the menu, and if they have any questions that you can address. Above all, see if you can get them to commit. Then be sure to call the day before—under the pretense of getting head counts for refreshments—and confirm that they still plan to attend. You don’t want a half-empty room, and sometimes it’s worth making a full room (of high-potential people) the responsibility of one of your more reliable and creative people.
Start the session with a brief overview of your company—no more than 5 minutes, tops. If you were able to collect and pretabulate the menu of business issues before the meeting, present them now. Otherwise, build a menu on a flip chart by asking for suggestions, and then use that menu to settle on two or three goals that are of general interest. (Assure your guests that concerns that are not dealt with at this session can be revisited one-on-one at a later date.) In some cases, you may want to use a Success Story to prime the pump. Or, you may want to survey the entire room to pin down common reasons why attendees can’t achieve the results they are looking for. After the session, you may have demos set up (if appropriate) that are focused on the specific capabilities that were discussed and presented.
Your objective, again, is to get them looking to change. We don’t believe that one-on-one selling is appropriate at seminars. On the other hand, if you can get a business card and an associated goal or objective, this sets the stage for a follow-up phone call or meeting that can quickly determine if there is an opportunity to pursue.