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6 tips for energizing sales seminars

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(MoneyWatch) Don't waste your time and your prospects' time with weak sales seminars. Poor topics. Sloppy marketing. Weak execution. If you are going to do it, do it right. By following these best practices, you can dramatically boost attendance at seminars and related events.

1. First, scrutinize your proposed topic by asking yourself some hard questions. If prospective customers attend this seminar, what useful information will they get? Is this information that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer? Is this material a strong enough pull to justify my prospects spending their precious time with us?

2. Next, examine how you spread the word. Do you have the right mailing list? If so, maybe direct mail alone is not enough to deliver enough prospects to your next seminar. A key to attracting high-level executives is to reinforce direct-mail messages with phone calls. These calls also can provide valuable feedback on how prospects view the seminar topic and subject matter.

3. Perhaps time and distance are keeping you apart. If you serve clients that are located throughout the country (or the world), there is an online alternative to face-to-face seminars. An online seminar (or webinar) is an interactive, real-time way to hold online meetings and conferences. By eliminating the barriers of time and space, webinars enable you to share information with thousands of customers or partners anywhere in the world -- all you need is an Internet connection and a standard web browser.

4. It's one thing to have a great idea for an event to attract potential clients, but it's quite another to pull it off successfully. The myriad small details involved can make or break an event. Here are some recommendations to maximize the success of your next lead-generation seminar:

- Develop a check-list and time-line for activities before and after the seminar

- Decide if this will be a free or paid event (there is a time and place for both)

- Use informal research to pre-test topics to make sure the one you chooses appeals to the target audience

- Make sure the invitations or other communications for the event reflect a first-class image for your firm

- Confirm registrations by e-mail at least 48 hours before the event

- Deliver seminar content that is of real value to clients, not a thinly disguised sales pitch for your services

- After the seminar, make it easy for potential clients to contact you by sending them a "thank you" e-mail or letter with your company's phone number and Web address

- To start a dialogue with potential clients, systematically follow up with them five to 10 days after the seminar or event

- Measure how much the seminars cost and how much revenue was ultimately generated to calculate your return on investment

5. Send invitations or related promotional information by e-mail or snail mail roughly four weeks prior to the event. Allow people to register for the event or contact the hosting organization by 800 number, fax, e-mail, and Internet. It is helpful to provide detailed information regarding the location of your event and an overview of what will be covered.

6. Telemarketing can increase registrations five percent beyond the response you'd get using only direct mail. Calling should be conducted one to three weeks prior to the event. Many seminar experts recommend three call attempts per contact, with voice messages on the first and third attempts.

Still, sales seminars are a crapshoot. Typically, only 50 percent of those who say they will attend a free seminar actually do so. To minimize no-shows, confirmation e-mails are another option to consider. Send an e-mail confirmation 48 hours prior to the event. That will remind people of the event and provide date, time, location, and directions.