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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  August 01, 2012

Seminars: Lead Generators or Wastes of Time?

Originally published for RainToday.com

In the spirit of generating more leads, many professional service firms conduct seminars. And with good reason: not only are these stand-alone events a great branding tool, but they can also be a handy way to connect with a prospect you’ve lost touch with or haven’t yet closed.

Does that mean everybody can produce seminars and boot camps? Not necessarily.

A public seminar is an event that is easier planned than executed. It takes more time (and money) than many folks plan on investing. Is the effort worth it? Below are four questions to ask before committing precious resources to this endeavor.

Question 1: What is Your Format?

There are two kinds of face-to-face events: seminars and boot camps. Both sound similar, yet both have very different agendas. They use the same strategies to promote the event. However, they each do different things and create different results. The biggest mistake here is to assume all formats are alike and to expect results that the venue cannot provide.

Seminars are very short, usually no longer than one day. The agenda is educational, and current clients as well as prospects are invited. They are designed to “show and sell” and are perfect for prospects who are sitting on the fence or who are not familiar with your work. These events are not designed to make money from registration fees, but to create larger sales after the event. The focus is on having the right folks attend the event.

Boot camps are the opposite of seminars. They are designed to generate revenue on site. These are multi-day, higher-priced events. They have multiple speakers, all of whom are promoting a program or package. The focus is on numbers: the more buyers in the room, the more money will be made by the speakers. Databases and affiliates are key promotional tools here.

Bottom line: Each type of event has its pros and cons. Make sure your format matches your strategy. Have clear benchmarks for success, then decide which one will help you meet them.

Question 2: Are You a Draw Outside Your Database?

Many firms overestimate how many people will attend their event. They assume their database is large enough to make the event worthwhile. In the middle of promoting the event, however, reality sets in and many find they need to go outside their network to promote the event.

Then the scramble begins. Marketing costs go through the roof because they are now buying lists from industry sources (see next question below). They are designing post card campaigns on the fly. And after all that work, registrations are still way down. The real problem is they are well liked by their clients, but not well known enough to draw a mix of strangers and friends.

Keep in mind: if you are conducting a seminar, you don’t just want warm bodies or “cheeks in the seats”, as the insiders say. You want prospects who are willing and able to buy, either on site or afterwards. Be prepared to cast your net wide if you want more than 25 people at your event.

Bottom line: Public seminars don’t jumpstart thought leaders. The events augment thought leaders who are already established.

Question 3: Do You Have a Marketing Budget?

Another misconception of the beginner seminar producer is marketing costs. You have to be prepared to invest in this revenue stream like you would invest in writing a book, redesigning your website, or launching a professional speaking business. Remember, professional event producers typically spend major bucks on social media advertising, industry lists, etc. This environment is too sophisticated for bootstrapping.

According to industry insiders, it can take anywhere from $80 to $100 per attendee to promote an event to outsiders. That means if you want 100 people to show up, promotion can cost around $10,000. Can you make that up in sales?

Without a marketing budget, experts set themselves up to lose their hard costs in hotel fees, materials, and most important, their momentum. Creating events that don’t work out can devastate your brand. Think about it: If the results are dismal, everyone knows about it, and word travels fast in industry communities. A failure in the beginning has the potential to impact the attendance of your next event.

Bottom line: Failure can hurt. Get serious or get out.

Question 4: Do You Have Infrastructure to Support Your Event?

You’ve done everything right, and your event is a success. Now what? If you don’t have a systematic approach for following up — including having real conversations — all that work was wasted.

Prepare for this by having at least three ways attendees can hear from you after the event. Provide options based on where they are in the sales cycle: material to pass along, interactive tools to show more value and, yes, real conversations to seal the deal.

Also, everyone can stay connected via conference calls or webinars to focus on implementing what they learned.

Bottom line: Current attendees can be a future community that creates great sales conversations, but these connections must be nurtured from the beginning. Have a follow-up plan in place before you promote the event.

You Get What You Set Up

Like everything else we do to market our expertise, public seminars can be a high-risk venture or a slam-dunk sure thing. It’s all in your strategic approach and execution. Answer these questions honestly, and you’ll set yourself up for a successful event.


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.