If I had suggested a decade ago that you sit in front of your computer and attend a conference, most of you would have thought I was crazy. But today, it’s commonplace.

Forrester Research published a report that talked about webinars as a portal to the buyer’s journey.

One of my favorite sections from the research said, “the top performers also realize that they now differentiate themselves by demonstrating thought leadership not product features. It is a way to stand out from the competition, create interest, and earn the trust of potential buyers early in their problem-solving process. This makes them more likely to seek that firm when they enter the actual buying cycle.“

Here’s an important distinction that the report illuminated. Webinars can be very helpful, but they’re not always influential, meaning that most attendees are looking for information in the early stages of a considered purchase but not necessarily for actually providing rationale for making a decision.

In other words, give your attendees the facts in a webinar and let them get to know you a little but don’t push for the sale. They’re probably not at that stage yet.

Is a webinar or a series of webinars the right marketing tool for your organization? Consider these factors:

Your company’s goals: All too often, marketing tactics are deployed without any regard to the big picture. Whether it’s adding more leads into the early stages of the sales funnel or part of your customer on-boarding, be sure a webinar can move you closer to the goal line.

Before/during/after support: Like any sort of conference, it doesn’t start the day of the event. You need to have a pre-event, event and post-event strategy. How are you going to attract the right attendees? Webinars are not a “build it and they will come” proposition. What happens within 30 minutes of the webinar’s end?  

Resources: Do you have enough time, money and manpower to pull this off? Are you going to have to settle for a mediocre webinar interface? Are you going to need your information technology (IT) department’s help to provide support to your attendees? Everyone from customer service to IT and the C-level should play a role. Don’t create a webinar in a vacuum and expect significant results.

Once you have decided that your organization is ready to use a webinar to your full advantage, you need to think about your audience. Here are some questions to ask yourself about the people you’d like to attract to your online event.
• Who are they? What do you know about them?
• What do they need to know? What would be enticing enough to get them to register for the webinar?
• How/where do they typically get their information?
• Once the webinar is over, what do you want the audience members to do with the information you provided?
After the webinar, your work really begins. How do you capitalize on the goodwill you created? Well, you don’t start bombarding them with sales pitches and coupons. But you can’t ignore them either. Be sure you create a follow-up program that allows you to leverage the  webinar’s content and give prospects even more valuable information. Do some lead nurturing and overdeliver before you ease into the sales pitch.

In next week’s column, I’ll talk about metrics and measurement.