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The ABC’s Of Lead Follow-Up For Virtual Events

July 4, 2009

Image Source: flickr (user: k1rsty)

Image Source: flickr (user: k1rsty)

Suggestion to Virtual Event Exhibitors: Don’t treat your lead list like a telemarketing list!

With the wealth of attendee engagement data generated (and stored) at virtual events, exhibitors have unique insights regarding the worthiness of their lead pool, giving them the ability to intelligently segment their leads and generate unique follow-up paths.  All too often, however, exhibitors treat their virtual event leads as a single pool, applying the same follow-up activities to the entire pool.  In a Virtual Edge posting titled “Don’t Overwhelm Your Attendees“, Michael Doyle writes about aggressive email follow-up by virtual event exhibitors.  I’ve observed the same behavior as Michael describes – in addition, I’ve attended a number of virtual events that resulted in follow-up via phone call.

A colleague of mine once received a follow-up phone call from a virtual event exhibitor – the call was placed by a telemarketing staffer, who had no knowledge of the virtual event (that my colleague attended).  The staffer simply had a name and phone number, with a goal of generating interest in the company’s products and services.  In my opinion, virtual event exhibitors will not be effective in handling lead follow-up in this manner.  Virtual event leads should not be treated like a generic lead list!

I recommend that exhibitors segment their leads into A, B and C categories.  Be forewarned – this is going to take some effort, but it will pay off in the long run with stronger ROI.  Here goes:

  1. The “A” leads – typically, your top 10% of leads.  They registered and attended the live virtual event.  They generated numerous touch points with your booth, your booth reps and your content (e.g. 8 booth visits, 20 document downloads, 5 chat sessions with your booth reps).  They generated at least one meaningful chat session with you – whether it was private, 1:1 chat with one of your booth reps – or, a meaningful chat/dialog via group chat in your booth or a lounge.  The “A leads” are requesting a follow-up engagement with your sales team – either implicitly with their level of engagement with you, or explicitly by requesting a sales follow-up via chat or email.
  2. The “B” leads – the bulk of your leads – they registered and attended the live virtual event and had at least one booth visit or one view/download of your content.  So yes, they interacted with you, but didn’t do enough to gain “A lead” status.
  3. The “C” leads – folks who registered but didn’t attend; attended but didn’t visit your booth; or, folks from other exhibitors or from the virtual event show host or vendor.  Note: based on the structure of the virtual event sponsorship tiers, you may or may not gain access to these leads.  Intelligent follow-up is based on intelligent segmentation – exhibitors should certainly review their lead list to identify leads they should not be following up with – and those leads should be removed from the “C lead” pool.  There’s no use in following up with attendees from other exhibitors, attendees from the virtual event host or the platform vendor company.  In fact, doing so only makes your company look disorganized.

Now that the important task of segmentation is complete, follow-up paths can be identified for each pool.  Here are my suggestions:

  1. A leads – schedule immediate sales engagements, via phone, virtual meeting or in-person.  If the “A lead” had extended engagement with a sales rep in the virtual event, have that sales rep present during the engagement, to continue the conversation and carry over the context from the virtual event.  If the “A lead” had great discussions with a product marketer or product manager, invite that person to join your sales rep(s) on that initial call.  For any explicit requests (pricing proposal, additional documents, etc.) – make sure to send the information over in advance of the engagement.  Think of the “A leads” as ROI waiting to happen – so treat them like royalty.
  2. B leads – it’s important to be strategic with the “B leads” – don’t hand them over to telemarketing for a vanilla phone call and don’t start sending them generic email blasts about your products.  Instead, study their behavior at the virtual event – what content interests them?  Then, create communications that deliver value and personalize the content based on their activities – for instance, send them a White Paper that provides additional information to the Case Study that they downloaded from your booth.  Again – this is going to take work on your part, but it’s work that’s well worth it.
  3. C leads – this may sound counterintuitive, but – don’t follow up with the “C leads”.  Instead, build a new profile in your CRM system (or, update the existing profile) and associate the information you learned [e.g. they’re interested in the topic of the virtual event, but did not attend].  Your job as a marketer, then, is to match subsequent interest (from the “C leads”) back to their user record.  What you’re trying to do is assemble an engagement profile over time – perhaps the “C lead” does attend the next virtual event and visits your booth – or, the “C lead” registers for a podcast you’ve syndicated with a tech publisher.  Now, you have so much more data for your sales team.  Don’t feel like the acquisition of a “first time C lead” gives you the right to start bombarding her with phone calls and emails.  Consider the “C leads” as potential – where the value is to be delivered (with subsequent engagements).

In summary, your sales team should receive only the “A leads”.  The “B and C” lead pool remains under the auspices of Marketing, until a point where any of them reaches an A list eligibility.  This approach should make everyone happy – Marketing, Sales and even the atttendees/leads!


Home Depot’s EXPO Design Centers Should Go Virtual

January 29, 2009

In a press release issued this week, Home Depot announced that it’s shuttering its doors on all 34 EXPO Design Center stores:

The EXPO business has not performed well financially and is not expected to anytime soon. Even during the recent housing boom, it was not a strong business. It has weakened significantly as the demand for big ticket design and decor projects has declined in the current economic environment. Continuing this business would divert focus and resources from the Company’s core “orange box” stores. Therefore, over the next two months, the Company will be closing 34 EXPO Design Center stores, five YardBIRDS stores, two Design Center stores and a bath remodeling business known as HD Bath, with seven locations.

But wait!  Let’s not be too quick to liquidate all the inventory and tear down the walls.  Images and footage can be captured from the existing design centers — and placed online.  With a Virtual EXPO Design Center, Home Depot can:

  1. Generate leads/business to their core orange box stores
  2. Facilitate e-commerce transactions directly within the virtual design center
  3. Bring the design center to the entire world (and not just those in the vicinity of the 34 physical stores)
  4. Differentiate from the competition

And, they can do all of this for fairly low cost – much lower than their costs for maintaining the original 34 physical design centers.  The concept here is a mashup between Realtor.com and Amazon.  With Realtor.com, prospective home buyers search for homes, view photos and take 360 degree tours.

With Amazon, shoppers of goods peruse, search and eventually purchase (online).  With a virtual design center, you facilitate both activities – prospects search for particular appliances and take 360 degree tours of model kitchens and baths.  By clicking on a particular item, the user can be provided with its full specifications (dimensions, weight, etc.) and  be taken to homedepot.com to purchase it immediately.

So visit the showrooms that are still standing and capture photos, videos and 360 tours.  There are many affordable solutions for capturing and rendering 360 views, such as IPIX and 360iSight.  Next, go interview some of the 5,000 employees you were planning to lay off and find the ones who are most personable and most “online savvy”.

Offer selected employees positions to remain with the company – as virtual showroom staff.  In their new role, their job is to be an embassador (online), answer questions in online chat and discussion forums (within the virtual design center) and help facilitate e-commerce or real-world sales.  To mix in some fun, outfit their avatars with the Home Depot orange apron (and yes, I know, that’s from the orange box stores – but, we’re having fun – and, it might help reinforce the brand).

To provide value to your ecosystem of partners and vendors, allow selected vendors (e.g. GE, Maytag, Kohler) to have booths within the virtual design center, which would provide a centralized collection of the vendor’s products.  Feel free to charge these vendors for their booth, so that you recoup some of your costs for building this environment.

Vendors could provide their own employees to staff the booth.  And once a week, allow a selected vendor to provide a live presentation (webinar or videocast) in the design center’s Auditorium.  Instead of driving clicks to the vendor’s web sites, allow users to click into homedepot.com to purchase the vendor’s products there.

Now, if you have leftover budget or time, mix in more fun into the environment – provide interactive areas where users can interact with kitchen or bath appliances.  Allow a user to turn on/off a stove; set an oven timer; open/close cabinets; fill up a jacuzzi tub with water.  Features like this increase the stickiness of the site and may keep users coming back.  I’m sure there’s much more than can be done – so whether it’s Home Depot or another retailer, I’m expecting to see this concept (virtual design center) become a reality in 2009.

Viking range?  $1,099.99.  LG refrigerator?  $799.99.  Online leads, interactivity and e-commerce?  Priceless.


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