As a marketing communications channel and form of content, webinars have undergone a lot of maturing. Just a few years ago, webinars had a pretty narrow focus as an online sales or demonstration tool. They’re still very good for this, but their utility today is much, much broader.
While there’s been an interesting evolution of how webinars are used, not everyone has kept up. There is still a herd of one-trick webinar ponies out there, roaming the sales plains. To them, webinars have one primary use: to conduct a virtual sales call. As stated above, this is certainly a valuable use of the technology, but it also underutilizes it.
Webinars have value across the entire sales cycle, not just in one or two stages. Equally important, the type and content of a webinar should differ depending on where you are with a prospect in the sales cycle. To understand how this works, begin by analyzing your sales cycle, or buying process. Most sales cycles have very predictable stages and progressions from one to another, although the length of each stage and what must happen within varies greatly from company to company. Here’s what a typical sales cycle looks like:
Needs – the buyer becomes aware of a need.
Discovery – the buyer actively begins searching for a solution.
Consideration – the buyer considers the options and develops decision criteria.
Decision – the buyer makes a purchase decision.
Review – the buyer assesses if the purchase decision was the right one.
Most webinars are deployed in the “Consideration” stage of this process. One reason is because this stage is the birthplace of the sales-oriented webinar, and it remains a great stage for a live, web-based interaction with a prospect. Another reason is simply because buyers are choosing to remain concealed deeper into the sales process than they used to. So much information is available online, buyers can remain in stealth mode while they self-educate. You may not know of an opportunity until the buyer has entered this stage. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t use a webinar to reach them during the “Needs” and “Discovery” stages of the process – it simply means you have to take a different approach.
Successfully using webinars across all stages of the sales cycle requires you first to understand how customers move through your sales process. At a minimum, you need to know these things: Who are your customers? Creating a buyer persona is very helpful here. What are their informational needs in each stage?
How long do they spend in each stage?
What are the catalysts for moving them to the next stage?
Which stage(s) is most problematic for you?
Use the ReadyTalk Topic Mapping Tool to help you gather this information and give it thorough consideration.
In general, you learn that in the “Needs” and “Discovery” stages, you must have webinar content already deployed. This means a recorded or archived webinar that has been optimized for search. Furthermore, the content you deliver in these early sales cycle stage webinars is rarely sales-oriented. Remember, you probably aren’t aware of the buyer yet – if they wanted a sales interaction, they would have already revealed themselves. Instead, they’re looking for useful content that educates and informs them about how they can address their need. So in these early stages, you’re giving advice, not pushing for the sale. But your advice is built around your understanding of what customers must know to advance to the next stage of the sales cycle, ideally with a favorable impression of your brand.
As prospects move into the “Consideration” and “Decision” stages, webinars will tend to change character. More often, they’re delivered live, perhaps to smaller audiences or even one-on-one, and they are definitely sales-oriented. We’re using webinars in these stages to position our solutions, overcome objections and create confidence around a purchase decision. While there’s always room for improvement, most companies have these stages figured out pretty well.
The last stage, “Review” is often overlooked. The prevailing view is that once the sale is locked up, the work is done; time to move on to the next prospect. Companies that take this view forfeit an opportunity to accelerate new customers down the brand loyalty path. Webinars are excellent onboarding resources, and even though the sale is complete, marketers should have involvement in developing and delivering content to new customers who sometimes are second-guessing their purchase decision. Use webinars to do some virtual handholding and make sure new customers are using solutions productively, and as importantly, feeling good about choosing you.
Webinars are effective vehicles for carrying buyers through the entire sales cycle at an accelerated pace. It’s great if you’re using webinars in the “Consideration” and “Decision” stages of the cycle, but if that’s your situation, you’re limiting the value you can get from a webinar strategy. Essentially you’re a one-trick webinar pony. Consider how webinars can extend your reach earlier – and later – into the sales cycle. Doing this well requires understanding your sales cycle and developing content to meet the buyers’ needs in each stage.