No, I'm not coming to your webinar

Here’s the scenario: I sign up to trial some software that costs $50 or so per month. Cool.

Not long after that, I get an email. That email is asking me to come to a webinar. The webinar’s next week, it’s going to take an hour, and I’ll learn everything I need to know about the company, their product or some adjacent issue.

If the software was $500, or $5,000 per month, this would make perfect sense. If I’m making a major purchasing decision, then of course I’m going to want to consume detailed information in order to make that decision. But when an organisation’s product doesn’t cost that much in the first place, a webinar invite is using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. Here’s why:

From low investment to high investment

When I sign up for a trial or give my email in exchange for updates, I’m making an investment. I’m saying that I’d like to hear from the company. But I’m not ready to pay just yet - I need more information. So I’m willing to invest a little bit of time, and my email address, towards potentially doing business with this company.

By just signing up for a trial, I’ve indicated that I’m not willing to invest much time in this organisation. If I wanted to spend time going deep on the ins and outs of their software or service, I’d get in touch with some questions. I’m sure a salesperson would be happy to take that call. By not making that call, I’m sending a strong signal to the organisation - I want information, but I’m not ready to spend much time or money.

Now let’s go back to that webinar. Signing up for a webinar is a high investment. I need to fill out some kind of form. I need to faff around with some software. Most importantly, I need to give up an hour of my time. And it’s not just any hour - it’s a specific hour. That’s an even higher investment than (for example) an equivalent-length video, because I can at least consume a video during an hour of my choosing.

This is why webinars for relatively low-investment decisions drive me crazy. If a prospective customer gives up his or her email address in exchange for more information, they have made one of the smallest possible investments in their ongoing relationship with your company. When you immediately invite them to a webinar, you are asking them to make another investment that is orders of magnitude larger than the investment they already made. In fact, that time investment may well be more expensive than the product you’re selling in the first place!

Real costs

On the other hand, I get it. If you’re under the pump to turn leads into customers, quickly, a webinar can be a way to do so. Yes, the email promoting the webinar will likely have woeful conversion rates, and of the people who click through, even fewer will sign up, and of those, even fewer will show up. This is all true.

On the other hand, if you can get people in a room - even a virtual one - it is easier to convert them into paying customers (although I bet their churn rates will be higher than you’d like). And if you’ve got investors, managers, CEOs, sales managers and other stakeholders breathing down your neck asking for help hitting their numbers, you’re not going to be thinking much beyond those conversions.

But you should, because those webinar emails have real costs:

The unsubscribes. Every bulk email you send is going to have around 1% of its recipients unsubscribe. This is pretty much a fixed cost. You will not reduce it. And once someone unsubscribes, that’s it, forever. You can never contact them again. They’re gone, and so is the money you spent getting those leads in the first place.

The opportunity cost of your time. Webinars run the risk of turning into busy work for your team. They take up a ton of time, and when you’re preparing for them, and running them, it can feel like you’re really getting stuff done. But are you really? Think about the kind of person who goes to a webinar, immediately after signing up for a trial of a product. I would expect that a significant proportion of these people were going to convert anyway. So the marginal value of your effort is probably lower than it looks.

You’re vulnerable to competition. If your leads are giving their email addresses to you, it’s safe to expect that they’re shopping around and giving their email addresses to other organisations as well. If your first move is to invite people to a webinar, while your competitors are sending more-relevant, lower-investment content (more on that down below), then you’re giving your competitors the opportunity to build a deeper relationship with those leads.

When webinars are useful

None of this is to say that webinars are pointless. Indeed, they can be a really powerful tool, when used correctly and promoted to the right people.

The first place you can use webinars is fairly intuitive one: when people are more committed to your product. Existing customers are great contenders for webinars. For example, you may be adding a bunch of new features to your product. You can host a webinar where you run through these features, which will give interested people the information they need to get value out of them immediately.

Or you can use webinars to cross-sell . For example, you could invite people who use one product to a webinar showing them how that product works really well with another product you offer. Since these people are already deeply invested in your first product (as they use it and pay for it), they’ll be more interested in seeing how they can get more value out of that product.

The other use case is a bit less intuitive. You can use webinars to get leads in the first place. I see this all the time in my Facebook ads. For some reason, the Facebook algorithm has tagged me as someone who is super-interested in leveraging my home equity and buying investment properties (I am not). So I get lots of promoted posts inviting me to webinars and in-person seminars on how to do exactly this.

This make a lot of sense. Since these invites are coming through ads, and not emails, they don’t burn contacts in the same way that email does. And if you can get someone to come to your webinar from cold, you’re miles ahead of where you would have been otherwise, because even if they don’t show up, or don’t convert, you now have a lead that you didn’t have before. So there’s a lot more upside.

How to kick your webinar habit

Okay, now that we’ve identified how nasty your webinar habit is, let’s start kicking it. While sending webinar invites to new leads is poor practice, you have to nurture them with some kind of content.

Here’s the good news: you’ve essentially built this content already. A one-hour webinar needs a lot of content. So if you’ve been giving webinars to the three or four new leads who are interested in them, you’ll have a solid script for other content that requires less investment. All you need to do is repurpose this script from a webinar into something more digestible.

You could use the existing webinar scripts to create:

  • A series of educational emails

  • A long video (high investment, but at least people can choose when they watch it)

  • A series of short videos

  • A written guide, or series of guides that people can download from their email

  • An e-book

  • A white paper

  • Or basically anything else

The world really is your oyster now, because in most cases, anything you do is going to be a better option than sending webinar invites to fresh leads.

Then, you just need to get this content in front of people, using the same channel you were using for your webinar: email. Again, all your infrastructure is already in place from your previous efforts to get bums on e-seats for your webinars. It’s just a matter of swapping out the webinar invites for content that requires a lower investment of time and effort from your potential customers.

And if that all seems harder than I’m giving it credit for, well, you know what to do - just get in touch and have me take care of it for you.

Photo by Catherine Heath on Unsplash