The single-most effective off-line strategy I’ve used to generate qualified sales leads is conducting live events. The energy and enthusiasm that a packed room of people creates is infectious. Achieving that, however, is not as simple as putting a date on the calendar, renting a room, and buying some food (even really good food). There are seven specific steps you must master to have an effective off-line marketing event. Clients of mine, from building contractors to financial planners, have used them to host their own successful events.
Step 1: Determine Your Target Audience.
It all starts with your target. While gathering a bunch of your friends together would be much easier, it’s not going to build the business. So you’ve got to ask yourself this question: Who’s your core customer? Who’s the person most likely to buy your products and services in sufficient numbers to allow your business to thrive? Start making a list. Not that you don’t invite people you already know to a marketing event. In fact, you must. Here’s an important metric: have one past or existing client in the room for every six new prospects. Let a past or existing client even help you put on the event by greeting people at the door or being interviewed as part of the presentation. This takes some of the pressure off you, warms up the room, and creates relational synergy.
MORE: Who is Your Who and What Do They Want?
Step 2: Offer Amazing Value.
People are crazy-busy today and won’t attend anything that doesn’t offer them value. When you’ve identified your target audience, ask yourself, “What’s the most important thing I could help these people learn and/or do right now?” Build your entire event around answering that question. In additional to being busy, your target audience is also cynical. They’ve been burned one too many times by a promise of value that ended up being an hour-long sales pitch. So here’s another metric to follow: Invite 4-5 times more people to this event than the number of attendees you want to come. For 20 people in attendance–a perfect number for an off-line marketing event–it means sending out 80-100 invitations. That’s just the reality of doing anything today.
Step 3: Invite. Remind, Remind, Remind.
I use good quality, printed, mailed invitations to contact people regarding my marketing events. I think it makes a great first impression and gives the event a sense of importance. Printed invitations, however, are just the first step in getting people there. You’ll have to call people after sending an invitation to get them there, and remind them of their commitment one week and one day before the event. This is also a great place to use your online community to invite and remind people to come to your off-line event. Here’s the language to use, by the way, in your invitations and all follow-up communication. Don’t ask people to RSVP but ask them to “Register because seating is limited”. Registration is a more serious term than a simple RSVP and works well in securing commitment. Registration also guards your event from squatters. That is, people who are not in your target audience–surrogates, vendors, and competitors–showing up and taking up space (or worse, undermining your authority). I’ve had this happen and it’s extremely frustrating. A clear registration process will keep it from happening to you.
Step 4: Feed the Masses.
Providing good food gives a professional touch to a marketing event and doesn’t cost very much. A light breakfast or nice lunch runs anywhere from $6 to $12 a person. Again, with 20 people in attendance, you’re spending less that $300. I’m pretty sure you’ve spent way more than that on a useless newspaper ad or a meaningless cable commercial. Am I right? Food, however, has a more important role than just feeding people. When I receive a response to an invitation and register attendees, I tell them in all ensuing correspondence that their registration reserves their meal at the event. In other words, buying everyone a meal is an attendance strategy that ensures that your invitees show up. BTW, although I am not a teetotaler (I love a good beer), I never use after hours meetings for marketing events. I only conduct these kinds of events at breakfast or lunch. Why? What are you thinking about over a pint of beer? Not work. Enough said!
Step 5: Provide Amazing Value.
Make sure that you deliver on the promise of amazing value by packing your presentation with incredible content. Giving generously in this way has a profound effect on people. Inevitably they conclude, “If that’s what I get for free, imagine what I’ll get when I pay this person.” Point made, yes? Consider, also, providing unexpected value: a free audio CD for everyone in attendance, a free book or special report. Surprise gifts make a tremendous emotional impact.
MORE: Value, Added Value, and (Surprise!) Unexpected Value
Step 6: Give Away Prizes to Generate Leads.
This is my favorite part of hosting a marketing event: prizes. I reserve the last 10-15 minutes to pass out drawing entry forms, collect them, and give away free stuff. But here’s the point: like providing food, giving away prizes has a more important purpose than just the prizes. It sets the table for lead generation. On a prize drawing entry form ask for a person’s name, contact information, and offer multiple options: subscribing to your email newsletter, getting an executive summary of the event, and/or having a follow-up conversation with you. Always have an opt-out option, however, that says, “Nothing at this time. I just want to win those prizes!” Only a few people will select this option, but having it there assures that they don’t feel railroaded into signing up for something. Now follow this process exactly as it’s written below. Any deviation will diminish your marketing event’s ability to generate quality leads:
- Show the group the prizes you are offering. Explain each.
- BEFORE handing out your prize drawing forms, explain each option on it and how you will honor people’s privacy.
- Hand out the prize drawing forms with pens to fill them out.
- Give people time to fill it out the form. Don’t rush the process.
- Collect the forms and draw for winners.
You can even take pictures of the winners and post them on Facebook and other social sites. I once gave away a Kindle at one of my marketing events and got the greatest picture of a prospect I had been pursuing excitedly winning it. The picture alone was worth many times the price of the Kindle, not to mention a great sales lead.
Step 7: Follow Up Faithfully.
Now the pay-off, the reason you hosted this event in the first place: follow-up. Your event’s not over until you’ve done it completely. Here are three must-do’s:
- Within 24 hours: Sign everyone up to your email newsletter who asked to be signed up for it.
- Within 72 hours: Mail an executive summary of the event to everyone who requested it. I usually write my executive summary before the event as a way of preparing for my presentation, and simply touch it up immediately afterward.
- Within one week: Schedule appointments with people who asked for them.
Finally, use personal delivery of the executive summary of the event and your explanation of it to set appointments with people who weren’t able to attend. Yes, that’s right, use the event as a way of meeting with people who didn’t come. Because you provided such amazing value, these people missed out. Now you, in your incredible generosity, are willing to share that value with them anyway. In this way your event becomes a powerful marketing tool for the people who came and the people didn’t come. So here’s one final metric, one that I learned from Alan Weiss in his Million Dollar Consultants mentoring community:
- Set 3 appointments with people in attendance who indicated they wanted to meet with you.
- Set 3 appointments with people who were not in attendance at the event to share with them the executive summary.
- And, the most tricky to accomplish but still profitable, set 3 appointments with people who were in attendance at the event, were very engaged, but didn’t check the box to meet with you.
That’s 9 first appointments from one event. Not a bad return on investment! This marketing methodology, again, is the single-most effective off-line strategy I’ve used to generate qualified sales leads, both for myself and my clients. Now pull out your calendar, pick a date a 2-3 months from today, and schedule a marketing event for your business. Follow these seven steps and it’ll be great!