By Cary McGovern
This article focuses on the fast-start educational client symposium, which has proven to be a significant generator of new records-management business. Since the records-management sales cycle is long--six months or longer--a catalyst is recommended to get new business to move through it quickly. The client symposium has consistently worked well as a "pump-primer." When well-planned and diligently managed, it can be the most valuable start-up tool for a newly formed commercial records business. It can also act as a renewed marketing push for an established business. If you are already in the business of records management and want to spur new growth quickly, the symposium is something you should consider.
What Is It?
For many years, companies such as Xerox, IBM and other market leaders in the administrative outsourcing and management field have offered educational events valuable to their clients or prospects. These can be a very valuable to you, the vendor, as well. These events are well-planned, strategic marketing tools and generally have two principal goals: to educate the client or prospect, and move new prospects quickly through a lengthy sales cycle.
The event is usually a three-hour format presented either in the morning or afternoon. Some of my clients request both morning and afternoon sessions during the same day or next day in order to provide an attendance option for the participants. These symposiums are usually at a hotel, conference center, chamber of commerce meeting facility, or any place conducive to training and education. The topic typically focused on the current state of records management and the movement toward technology in the future.
The event must be of value to your clients and prospects or they won't attend. It must be carefully planned and the timing has to be just right for it to work. If you are not diligent with your plan, it may be a waste of time and money. I have conducted nearly 100 of these events and have had mixed success. Those that have been the most successful have followed a strict discipline and time line.
It takes about eight weeks to plan and implement a symposium event to get the results you want. The first two weeks are related to site selection, gathering your resources and planning the implementation process, which generally takes six weeks to accomplish. Each day during the six weeks, there are duties to perform. Each step leads to the next step and all are connected in a workflow process that should yield up to 50 percent of the invited guests in actual attendance at the event.
Plan the Work and Work the Plan
The Location. Pick a place convenient to most of your prospects. I know people who have tried beautiful locations that, though appealing, were just not convenient. The room should be suitable for adult education. It should be set up with tables for writing in classroom style--do not use an auditorium-style setup. The tables should be set with note pads and pens and should not be crowded.
The Materials. You should provide a printed copy of the presentation in Microsoft PowerPoint "notes" format. The printed presentation should be formal and inserted into a folder with your sales and marketing materials, and business cards. It is advantageous to include an electronic copy of the presentation and materials on disk or CD. Everything should be in place before the symposium begins.
The Time. Timing is crucial. Depending on your prospect base, the timing could be different from industry to industry. Always avoid the beginning or end of any month since these are always busy times for administrative personnel. The seminar industry has determined that Tuesdays are the best day of the week for out-of-office educational events. Always avoid Mondays and Fridays.
The Schedule. As I mentioned earlier, it takes about two weeks to find a site and determine the time line. The next six weeks includes many activities and must be managed carefully and diligently. The most important ingredient is getting the prospects to come to the event.
Determining the Value. Value is difficult to quantify. It is important you put yourself in your prospect's shoes. You are attempting to determine what value this event has to him. If you are to get prospects to attend the event, you must provide one or more valuable skills, tools or resources. They must know they will walk out with something more valuable than the time they spend with you.
Educational Content. It is my experience that prospects want to know how to solve their records-management problems, what the future holds for them and how they can prepare for it. You may focus on problem solving, skill development, tool selection and resource identification. Remember that you are essentially presenting yourself as the "expert" and principal resource for them to look to for solutions to their problems. Your course content should be professional and current. Your clients and prospects should consider the presenter an expert.
Follow-Up. As important as it is to get your clients and prospects to the symposium, it is equally important to follow up with them. The "hook" of the symposium is the survey. Your primary goal is to get your client or prospect to commit to a survey or needs assessment. This requires quick-response follow-up after the symposium.
Once done, you will have accomplished several goals in the process of planning and hosting a client symposium:
- Your prospects will have given you their valuable time, and they are now invested in you.
- You will have presented your company as expert in the field.
- Records management will be fresh in your prospects' minds.
- You will have given your prospects something of value--information.
- Prospects will be familiar with you and your company.
- You have provided prospects with the next necessary step, the survey or needs assessment.
Regular columnist Cary McGovern, CRM, is the principal of FileMan and FIRMS (FileMan Internet Records Management Services), which provides all of the materials, resources and content expertise necessary to hold a client symposium. If you have questions about these or other resources, including information on marketing, starting up or operating a records- management facility, call 877.FILEMAN or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.