Here’s a statistic that might surprise you: in a 2014 study from the Content Marketing Institute, more than 60% of B2B marketers said they use webinars as part of their marketing strategy.
That suggests two things:
1. Webinars are an effective marketing tool.
2. And, depending on your industry, your webinars may face a lot of competition.
Personally, I think the benefits of the first factor outweigh the potential drawbacks of the second. In our experience at LeadPages®, webinars are an excellent tool for not only generating leads, but also for converting those leads into sales.
They’re even good for purposes that have nothing to do with sales, such as new-customer education. But today, I want to talk specifically about designing webinars with conversion in mind. I sat down with our own Tim Paige—also known as the “Santa Claus of Webinars” for his twinkly-eyed, bearded visage and seemingly unlimited supply of good stuff to deliver—to get some of his favorite webinar best practices.
Tim not only hosts the vast majority of our webinars, he’s also the host of our podcast, the ConversionCast. That means he has hundreds of hours of experience creating and running webinars that feel like a great conversation—and also inspire people to take action. Working together, we identified some of the keys to our webinars’ success, then boiled them down to 6 important webinar best practices.
If you’re interested in doing even more with webinars after you read this post, I’d recommend you grab our complete (and totally free) Webinar Marketing Funnel System Course. Click below to see all 10 video modules and much more:
Now, let’s peer into the mind of Tim Paige.
1. More Audience Interaction = More Sales
There’s a habit many new webinar presenters fall into, and while it’s understandable, it can really hinder their success. They treat a webinar as a chance to get up on their soapbox and make a pitch—and not much more.
Tim’s speaking from firsthand experience when he points out this habit. When LeadPages first started holding webinars, we used to approach them in much the same way. We’d present, then leave a little time at the end for Q&A.
Now, a webinar like this has some distinct advantages:
- It can be tightly focused and organized.
- Assuming you dial in on time, you’ll always end on time.
- You are in full control of the dialogue.
The problem was, we knew the results could be better. So we started tweaking things until we found a better formula—which, as it happened, turned out to be a lot less formulaic.
The secret was encouraging audience interaction and participation all throughout the webinar. Instead of pushing any interaction to the end, Tim began asking the audience questions at various points along the way and truly engaging with their answers.
The results? Well, the webinars did get a little longer. And we did lose a few attendees.
But the ones who stayed on seemed to really appreciate the new, more interactive format. The proof: once we made this change, our conversion rate doubled.
Tim offers a couple of tips for keeping this more effective (but more challenging) form of webinar on track:
- It’s a best practice to ask the audience if they have any questions at several points along the way, especially when you’re about to transition to a new topic. To stay on track, simply request that they keep their questions relevant to the content you’re covering at that time—and remind them that there will be a Q&A at the end where they can ask anything at all.
- While it’s great to be flexible, running too long can actually kill your conversion rate. Once you’ve figured out how much time you need to account for audience interaction, set a time and stick close to it to avoid people dropping off.
2. Live Converts Better Than Recorded
There’s been a lot of buzz lately in the marketing world about the potential of “stealth” webinars—that is, webinars that have the feel of a live webinar and are scheduled at a set time, but which are actually pre-recorded. With this technology available, it can be tempting to ditch your live webinars. But after extensive testing, we’ve found that pre-recorded webinars don’t convert nearly as well as live events.
This fits right in with our finding that highly interactive webinars are more effective. Your potential customers want to be helped, not sold to. They want to be noticed, not ignored. And while a recorded webinar might convey most of the same information you’d be presenting live, it loses the human element. You lose the chance to address questions as they arise and cater to the needs of whoever turns up in the audience that day.
Our decision to sideline stealth webinars wasn’t for lack of trying. We tested several variations, including:
- Fully pre-recorded replays
- Stealth replays with live Q&A at the end
- Stealth replays with a live chat attendant
And all options failed when tested against a live webinar. “People are simply smart enough to find out if your webinar is live,” says Tim.
That said, a stealth webinar can be better than no webinar at all. For instance, if your audience is divided across many different time zones (hello, Australia!), offering a pre-recorded version may be the only way to serve them all.
3. Your Audience Will Not Tell You What Topics You Should Cover
Sure, some of your audience members probably have strong (and valuable) opinions about what you should discuss in your webinar. But we’ve found that these folks tend to be the vocal minority—the squeaky wheels, if you will. While you should certainly take their feedback into account, you also have to step back and assess your audience as a whole.
For one thing, many people don’t know exactly what they’re looking for until you say it or demonstrate it for them. For another, the people you’re hearing from might or might not be representative of your most valuable customers. So you don’t want to inadvertently spend most of your time on tangents that are only interesting to a couple of people.
Instead, when planning your webinars, you need to pair direct feedback with other kinds of input. What trends are unfolding in your industry? What issues are being debated? What are the top bloggers and leaders in your space talking about?
And don’t forget to look for indirect input from your audience as well. You probably get some responses to your blog articles, Facebook posts, or tweets. These commenters may not be in your current webinar audience, but they might well join your next session if you cover the topics they’re responding to most.
4. Your Webinar Is Not a One-Act Play
The organization of your content makes a huge difference to your webinar’s performance. I mentioned above that the “soapbox” approach doesn’t seem to work. That’s partly due to its limited opportunities for interaction, but I suspect it’s also partly because producing a webinar as one long spiel can be exhausting for your audience.
Think of it like any other form of media: TV shows have commercial breaks, most films have scene changes, and full-length plays typically have an intermission. Any presentation without breathing room built in gets overwhelming, and reduces the chances that they’ll stick around to give a standing ovation.
Instead, it’s best to break your content up into several main points. Take time to explain why each tactic works and how it relates to your product or service, with breaks for questions and comments. This structure keeps attendees engaged and prepares them to respond to your primary sales pitch at the end.
We’ve found that our most effective format is as follows:
1. Put the heaviest content at the front. While it might feel natural to ease into your main topic, you need to seize the opportunity to demonstrate the best of what your webinar will offer right away. Make sure each of your main points has real value for the audience, both in substance and in the way you present it.
2. Add “mini-pitches” throughout. Pitch too early and you lose visitors. Pitch too late, and some of them will have already left. To get around this dilemma, find several spots in the middle of your webinar where you can lightly touch on the extra benefits leads will get when they become customers.
3. Make a big offer at the end. Once you’ve primed the audience with great content and hints of what’s to come when they purchase, it’s time to offer them something so valuable, they’ll have a hard time turning it down. Don’t be afraid to be very direct in your call to action—at this point, you have nothing to lose.
5. Be Fully Transparent and Upfront
For most of us, selling can be uncomfortable. It’s only natural to feel this way. But if you let this discomfort influence the structure of your webinar, you’re likely to undermine your credibility in a major way.
If you’re tempted to try to hide the fact that you have something to sell—stop right there! Audiences can smell this a mile away, and in fact they prefer it when you’re up front about the end goal of a sales-oriented webinar.
This doesn’t mean you need to go for the hard sell right away. Tim suggests starting out with something like, “I don’t have a book or a guide to sell you today, but I will be offering ____ with a few bonuses if you are interested.”
You may face a few other, less predictable awkward moments during the course of your webinar, such as:
- Tech issues with your webinar host, computer, or team
- Losing your place or misspeaking
- People asking tough questions about your competitors
Tim recommends addressing all of these sticky situations head on. Explain any tech problems that are causing delays. Feel free to start a sentence again if it didn’t come out quite right. If you don’t have an answer to a question immediately, offer a way for the person who asked it to follow up with you later.
Tim himself has been pleasantly surprised by the audience’s forgiveness. Most notably, he says, “I’ve had an audience wait 30 minutes while we sorted out an issue with our webinar platform and actually offer me encouragement and stay for the entire webinar.”
People realize that you’re just a person on the other side of the screen. If you resist the urge to play it cool, they’ll cut you more slack than you think.
6. Don’t Let Your Webinars Get into a Rut
Our final webinar best practice is to run multiple types of webinars. If you complete our free Webinar Funnel System Course, you’ll find that we’re big fans of starting with a Q&A webinar. That’s because audiences are big fans of the format, too: according to a survey from GoToWebinar, 92% of participants found Q&A content useful.
But you shouldn’t stop there.
As you discover what content strikes a chord and what content falls flat, you are going to want to put together webinars discussing different angles on your content. You can build specialized webinars especially for different promotions you create. This can help you reach different parts of your audience or give an extra incentive to people who, for any reason, weren’t convinced by a Q&A or your standard webinar.
As for your main webinar—the one that best represents your overall product or services and is geared toward a majority of your user base—this could run weekly, monthly, or quarterly depending on your traffic and audience. Periodically, you should take all of the information you have gathered from your Q&A webinars, plus any material that was a hit during your promo webinars, and use it to make your main webinar even better.
Once you’ve nailed this, you have a remarkably consistent source of revenue. Your conversion rate and revenue-per-attendee may rise and fall during the first few cycles, but you should eventually see it become quite predictable.
Now, It’s Your Turn
These webinar best practices have served us well over the years—but now it’s time for you to get out there on the web and hone your craft. To get started, you can download these 5 free webinar page templates. (If you’re a LeadPages member, you’ll find these in your account already.)
For a full roadmap to webinar success, don’t forget to check out our free 10-part training, the Webinar Marketing Funnel System Course, below. We’ve gotten amazing feedback on this so far, and if you’re at all interested in creating great webinars, I think you’ll find a lot of value in it. Find out more and view the course here: