Event Marketing: Bringing Knowledge to Your Customers

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Imagine this scenario: You could close an additional $275,000 in revenue in just one day. And on that same day, you could identify over $500,000 worth of additional revenue opportunities. It might take a little planning and some hard work, but it's possible. In fact, Clark Haley, president of San Antonio-based Business Computer Systems, did just that by holding the company's annual user conference. Although Haley feels that all marketing efforts have some value, "the event that is the most measurably effective is the user conference."

BCS, which sells only Sage Software, also developed several products that it markets through other Sage resellers, including Automated Rental Management, a front-counter system for equipment rental companies. Thirty percent of the firm's new revenue can be directly related to event marketing.

Haley also regularly offers his customers and prospects seminars and Webinars. "The call-to-action events are much more compelling than 'can we send a sales consultant to meet with you?'" We average about 25 new qualified leads per month. When it comes to existing customers, we build strong customer loyalty by providing multiple opportunities for our customers to become more familiar with the products and services we offer," says Haley.

Partner Insights

For example, BCS released a new version of its ARM software that required a change in workflow. These changes made it difficult for end users to upgrade without the firm's assistance. So, it began offering Webinars to explain the changes. To date, more than 125 people have attended and additional sessions have been added to handle the demand.

BCS is not the only accounting reseller reaping rewards from customer-focused marketing events. Reselling and accounting firms alike are aggressively using events to market their services, finding that they build loyalty, educate prospects, display the talents of the firm's team, and provide networking opportunities for the firm's clients, while showcasing the firm to prospects and generating revenue.

"The value for the firm's existing clients is huge. Service opportunities, add-on sales, and upgrades are the by-product of these events. Not to mention, goodwill, firm value, and perception are key take-aways for clients and prospects," says Greg Boyd, president of Dallas-based ERG, a Sage and SAP Business One reseller. One ERG conference last year helped bring in $100,000 in additional revenue and "we've identified opportunities from our client conference that exceeded $250,000, and we're still working on these opportunities," Boyd adds.

Tips For Hosting a Successful Customer Conference

Enhancing a firm's credibility and differentiating the firm are just two benefits of hosting a client conference.

So, why doesn't everyone have one? According to Christine Churchill Kless, "It's a lot of work and a lot of expense."

Kless, president of Tipping Point Advisors, has worked with accounting resellers for years, the last three as a consultant helping resellers with their client loyalty and marketing tactics and strategies. In fact, she has helped VARS conduct 15 client conferences, and developed and delivered a session the last two years at Sage Software's Insights conference. The session "How to Host a Customer Conference" has drawn more than 75 attendees each year.

"I always start a planning session with defining what success looks like. This can be in terms of number of attendees, ratings on evaluations, or teamwork created. Once the partner starts thinking in terms of success, we can build a plan to achieve that success," says Kless.

She provides these tips to help make an event memorable:

* Start planning early, at least four to six months prior to the event.

* Appoint a conference manager.

* Plan on using many forms of marketing including email, fax, mailings, telemarketing, and the Web.

* Have sessions your clients want to attend. This is the No. 1 reason why clients will attend.

* Consider inviting third-party developers. You can charge a fee for their attendance.

* Charge for the conference. Fees can range from $79 to $300 dollars per attendee.

* Hire a photographer to capture the memories.

* Read the contract with your venue carefully. You don't want to be surprised the day of the event with things you thought were covered or not.

* Collect quotes that day to use to promote future events.

* Have a recognition ceremony where you present a gift to long-time clients.

"If you are not receiving leads on a regular basis from your clients, go back and seriously evaluate what your client's experience is with your firm. Then, do something about it," adds Kless.

Sage breaks down event marketing into three categories: seminars and Webinars, focused more on prospects, last for approximately an hour. User group meetings usually are held for two to four hours, while customer conferences are typically scheduled for at least a full day.

"More partners and their clients are seeing better value propositions come from customer events. The intangible benefit is customer loyalty while tangible benefits are conference materials, tips and techniques, and giveaways," says Sally Craig, vice president of partner management for Sage Software.

The company supplies its resellers with a customer conference checklist, co-op marketing dollars, a customer conference guide to help plan the event, and Sage executives as keynote speakers.

Offer All Options

Tulsa, Okla.-based Crouch, Slavin & Co. has found an annual client conference combined with seminars and Webinars reaches both current clients and prospects.

The firm provides technology consulting services for accounting, payroll, and HR systems, and works with Sage Software's Platinum for Windows, MAS 500, and Abra HRMS. In fact, 60 percent of last year's business was from Abra.

The firm has held an annual client conference since 2000. "We started with seven attendees at the first conference and had over 70 last year. We have stressed the educational aspects of the presentations, which the clients appreciate. They feel like we're supporting and investing in them," says president Gary Crouch.

The reseller offers seminars and Webinars, and although these events received a good response initially, interest slowed over time. So, the firm rotates them, offering seminars for 6 to 12 months, following those with a series of Webinars.

"We will continue to rotate the events so we can gain exposure to as many people as possible," says Crouch.

The client conference, Solutions, draws representatives from the software vendors, and provides demonstrations of new products and features.

Each client conference costs about $10,000 and demands more than 200 plus man-hours for developing content and planning. However, the firm closes $150,000 in new business from each one.

"Client conferences allow us to expand the client's exposure to other services which they may not realize we can provide," says Crouch.

For example, at last year's conference, three manufacturing clients that attended had utilized the firm's services for human resource systems, but not for accounting software. "Each of the three expressed an interest in replacing their accounting systems, and the conference exposed them to our ability to assist in other areas," adds Crouch.

Birmingham, Ala.-based L. Kianoff & Associates, a Microsoft Great Plains reseller, also offers clients a combination of events throughout the year. Most recently, Kianoff is in the process of teaming up with Fargo, N.D.-based Microsoft Business Solutions for a Webinar that will include presentation information from both Microsoft and Kianoff. The Webinar will focus on how small businesses can benefit from implementing enterprise systems. Kianoff is sending out postcards followed by emails to the firm's entire database. "I'm hoping to have 100 people attend, but that might be unrealistic for our geography," adds Kianoff.

Old stand-bys in event marketing for Kianoff include customer-meeting groups and CPA lunch-and learns. The customer meeting groups are held twice a year for a half-day.

Kianoff started charging $40 for the first attendee and $15 for each additional attendee this year to reduce the rate of no-shows. Approximately 100 people attend the meeting groups. "We don't look at the meeting in terms of additional revenue, but as a nice time to have client facing activity as well as a time to reinforce our team," adds Kianoff.

The quarterly two-hour CPA lunch-and-learns are traditionally focused on CPAs in public practice and Kianoff provides them with better ways to serve their customers. However, each year Kianoff comes up with a theme for the seminars, and this year's theme is "drilling into industries."

"The most recent lunch-and-learn focused on CPAs who serve the medical and quick service restaurant industries. Down the road we see a lot of the CPAs who attended becoming prospects for our services not just only as the normal recommenders," adds Kianoff. The lunch-and-learns usually attract about twenty people and are free.

Meanwhile, JMT Consulting, which sells Sage's MIP nonprofit line, held its first user conference this year. "It surpassed expectations and over 100 people attended, including both prospects and clients," says Jacki Tiso, president of the Brewster, N.Y.-based company.

JMT Consulting focuses exclusively on assisting non-profits and currently has 300 customers that include museums, libraries, schools, religious organizations, and research institutes ranging in size from $500,000 to $100 million.

Tiso expects that 80 percent of the attendees will become clients. Next year's goal is to have 250 attendees. JMT, which spends 8 percent of its revenue on marketing, found a combination of marketing techniques boosted attendance at the conference.

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