Webinars are gaining momentum and generating more leads.
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by Carly Lombardo
Imagine this scenario: More than 300 people gather to learn about the newest upgrade to their accounting software and they haven’t had to spend hundreds of dollars traveling to attend the class. In fact, they’re still at their desks in front of their computers.
As Internet usage continues to thrive and many still worry about the economy, accounting vendors and resellers’ clients and prospects are taking advantage of online classes. Webinars—seminars conducted via the Web—are everywhere, it seems.
No wonder. Seminars, one of the staples of the sales business, aren’t drawing attendees as they used to. In the last 10 months, getting clients and prospects to live events has been a challenge for Tectura, a Phoenix-based Microsoft and Exact Software reseller with an increasingly national presence.
Irving, Texas-based H.D. Vest offers two types of online activities to its financial planning advisors.
Tectura is leveraging Webinars in the following ways:
● Hosting Webinars to get the company’s message out. These are usually focused on Microsoft’s product information and vision. “This allows us to take our message and span it across the U.S., and it gets information in front of prospects faster,” says Petrzelka.
● One-on-one prospect-facing Webinars. Tectura has project teams spread throughout the U.S., and these sessions enable them to come together with clients.
● Internal-training Webinars. Tectura has 15 widely dispersed offices. Webinars help in the conduct of sales and product training. For example, when the firm rolled out Microsoft CRM internally, it used a Webinar to train the staff.
The firm holds one major national prospecting Webinar, several one-on-ones, and approximately four smaller internal sessions per quarter. Attendance has ranged from 60 to 300 people each. “People used to believe that participants in Webinars weren’t serious buyers or strong leads, but we’ve found we’re closing more leads through Webinars than in our live events,” says Petrzelka.
Tectura’s experience illustrates what many accounting resellers and vendors such as Best, Intuit, Accpac, and AccountantsWorld are finding to be true—interactive Webinars are engaging, and provide hands-on tips that help their clients and staff reach and maintain goals for business.
“We started conducting Webinars because our accountants wanted information before their clients got it, and Webinars are a perfect fit for this,” says Trae Harris, Intuit training specialist.
Taylor Macdonald, Best’s senior vice president for business partners, agrees. “Webinars are becoming the norm because you can’t get to every city with live seminars. And our partners are finding Webinars invaluable because they reach a geographical client base they wouldn’t have been able to reach.”
The Wainhouse Research Group expects the overall conferencing market to grow by 22 percent to $9.8 billion in 2006, but underneath this umbrella figure, some services will grow much faster.
Web conferencing services are forecast to have the highest growth rate at 42 percent. The ability to reach from one to more than 100 people anywhere, anytime, can be achieved from the desktop with these meetings, which combine audio, file transfer, streaming video, and application sharing.
Although most Webinar technologies are similar, there are several that accounting vendors and resellers are utilizing.
First and foremost, Microsoft purchased Mountain View, Calif.-based Placeware in 2003 and revamped the company’s Conference Center to offer Live Meeting, an online collaboration and Web conferencing tool within the Microsoft Office System.
Live Meeting allows customers to attend a meeting on the Internet, and actively participate. A big draw is the application-sharing feature, which allows customers to share their Windows-based applications with other people in the meeting. There is no need to install servers in order to share content and applications.
Also popular is the San Jose, Calif.-based WebEx Communications, which holds nearly 64 percent of the market share in online meetings and Web conferencing services. WebEx offers a suite of online meetings, including the WebEx Meeting Center for online meeting services, and the WebEx Training Center, a virtual classroom that delivers interactive online training.
Tucson, Ariz.-based Linktivity offers WebDemo, in-house server software that provides tools to conduct Web-based interactive meetings. WebDemo allows users to hold a meeting; conduct a training session; perform a sales presentation; demonstrate software live: view, annotate, or edit documents; share applications; and conduct a Web tour. Using WebDemo, Columbus, Ohio-based Delphia Consulting, a Best reseller, presents a series of Webinars on topics related to human resources management, accounting, and system and network administration. In fact, Delphia is a WebDemo reseller. “WebDemo allows us to make the Web conferencing look like our company. It doesn’t look like an off-the-shelf product,” says Dave Curry, Delphia’s marketing manager.
The New Ringy Dingy
Benefits are abundant when it comes to online classes and training. Vendors and resellers would agree that Webinars provide partners and clients with these advantages.
● Live communications through two-way audio conferencing;
● Shorter “bursts” of learning on subjects that can be immediately applied to business;
● No travel expenses or travel time away from business;
● Subjects covered in one or two-hour sessions; and
● Visual video streaming right on the PC.
“Webinars save money and travel time, but the bottom line is they enrich what in the past would have been covered in a phone call,” says Best’s Macdonald.
Susan Sheridan, senior vice president of marketing for Accpac International, agrees: “Webinars are replacing the phone. They’re the new ringy dingy, and at some point in the sales cycle, customers are expecting a Webinar.”
Pleasanton, Calif.-based Accpac offers many different types of Webinars for its resellers and ISVs. Accpac product managers and strategic sales experts hold daily Webinars. These sessions are sales-focused, and help resellers demonstrate Accpac products. Products featured include Accpac eCRM, the HR Series, Pro Series, and Business Analysis Suite. In addition, resellers can enroll prospects, and some choose to attend with their prospects. Sheridan provides this example: “There are many accounting resellers who are not comfortable with CRM, but they have clients who are interested. If they sign clients up for a Webinar, which allows the prospect to see the product, the reseller may just get client’s business, where before they would have put off doing a demo.”
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