Webinars Killed the Trade Show Star

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Food and Restaurant Industry Tradeshows are like big weddings. They’re festive, beautifully decorated, expertly catered, everyone shows up for free snacks and prizes, and while it’s an important event, you spend the next few months convincing yourself it was a better decision than a weekend in Vegas.

I don’t know if we’ve exhibited at a show for less than $5k, and a few of them have been in the $7 and $8k range when it’s all said and done. In 2010, we invested well over $25k in a tradeshow circuit that would make the Sham Wow infomercial guy jealous. We traveled to Chicago, Toronto, Nevada, Montana, and Portland, and Washington to man our booth, which looked pretty darn good with our high end signage, digital screens, handouts, fanned stacks of crisp business cards, and carefully arranged candy bowls. We lived on continental breakfasts, coffee, and free samples by day, and some fine establishments for dinner and cocktails by night. We spent two to three days in each location making personal connections, quick-draw shooting visitors with our handheld badge scanners, counting our new lead printouts at the end of the day, and doing our best to forecast which ones might close over a few local brews. We learned a lot about trade shows that year. The biggest takeaway for us was this: Tradeshows are important for brand awareness, and sales can happen as a result. However, the idea of generating qualified sales leads via trade show in the 2 minutes you spend with each prospect is a little farfetched. Having said that, we were able to convert enough leads to cover our expenses for the shows. Even the $30 mini- extension cord we had to buy because we forgot ours. It’s been two years, and I’m still a little sore about it. I digress.

Our average trade show totaled around $6,000.00 in expenses. We averaged 100 to 150 warm leads per show, with a 6% close rate within 2 months after the show. That’s nothing to sneeze at for first-timers, and we’ll gladly take it. We’re taking our experiences to the Bar and Nightclub Show in Vegas this March, not to mention our own extension cord. Don’t get me started.

In early 2011, we began receiving reminders and invitations from trade show organizers letting us know that it is time again for them to bleed out our marketing account. Our hesitation centered on the development of the new release of our software, and our resources were streaming in that direction. There simply wasn’t enough in the budget to do the Waitrainer World Tour again. Coincidentally, we were making big strides in our social media campaigns, SEO, click ads, and email campaigns around the same time. We thought it was high time that a web-based company like us should walk the walk with a little webinar action. We had always used GoToMeeting for our live demos and software tutorials, but we hadn’t done anything with the GoToWebinar product. Fortunately, I’d known Kimberli Allen with Everything Webinar for some time, and recommended her to our CEO to come in and help us out.
The following week, we gathered and held hands around our speakerphone and laptop to summon Kimberli, and she magically appeared with great instruction, pointers, and practice. She made us aware of things like an eye-catching presentation, polling, moderator scripts, and the fact that my “um” count was running a little too high for prime time. We practiced together, honed our presentation, and launched our very first webinar. Here’s the breakdown.

  • 700 Invitations sent (warm leads)
  • 240 registered
  • 78 attended
  • 14 sales closed

We closed more sales from our very first webinar than we did at any one tradeshow the previous year. We knew we were on to something, even though Kimberli pointed out my “um” count still had room for improvement, and the slide count was still a little low.

We decided to host a webinar every 3 months. Here’s a shapshot of how that turned out:

  • March 2011

1100 invitations sent (warm leads)
350 registered
140 attended
16 sales closed

  • June 2011

1400 invitations sent (warm leads)
475 registered
185 attended
22 sales closed

In September, we released our new product, Waitrainer+™
That webinar was geared toward our existing customers, to roll out the new product and let them know what they were in store for. It was quite successful, and from a customer care perspective, a home run.

Today, we are aiming at a new and larger target. Still restaurants, but now it’s all about the restaurant groups, chains, and franchises. For now, our email list is smaller, but I think we are ready to perform at a higher level. Restaurant-Tech and Waitrainer+ are lifetime fans of the webinar, and we’re looking forward to setting new sales records in 2013, without the extension cord.

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