Filling Seats

Spring is here and it is the perfect time to be working on demand generation events to fill your summer pipeline.  I’m working with several companies right now on the invite process, with hopes of filling our room with quality people who have needs – whether the know it or not.

The hardest part of any educational marketing program is filling the seats.  You can say, “We are focusing on decision makers”, but getting them there is a challenge no matter how you look at it.  In my previous examples I have talked about technical people being in the seats and not responding to the message.  That’s normal because they have no liability.  It’s not that these companies didn’t do anything to get the right audience; it’s more likely they didn’t know how.  They assumed an email blast would do it.

Why would an executive attend one of these events?  Only if the education is directed towards them, and they believe the messenger will be great and worth the effort of leaving the office.  An equal motivator is the networking opportunity.  Many of these higher-level managers don’t have frequent interaction with peers from other companies, so creating this type of gathering has many benefits.

With this in mind, start your invite process with a letter directed to business leaders in your community.  Keep it short and to the point, but make it clear that there are issues to consider together as community leaders.  This can be fortune 1000 or small business, but include yourself in this group.  I recently used trends in cybercrime to create such a letter, noting that we are all under attack and we all need to do something about it.  With this in mind I am bringing in a certain industry expert to give us direction on this.  My follow-up value proposition will show that I have been formulating a team of experts within my company to address this growing emergency, which creates some urgency around the problem.

Assume that your prospects will not see the letter if you mail it first class and make it look like an advertisement.  Hand written letters are more likely to be read, or there is actually a service now that will digitize your handwriting and print it so that it looks handwritten.  You can learn more about this at

Talk up your speaker, promote your venue, and name drop people who have already committed.  Invite your key clients first so that you have some names to drop.  Finally, work out a call script and make the calls.  The letter simply gives you something to refer to.  Be prepared to sell the administrative assistant.  Most decision makers have one, and if it’s a prospect, chances are you will have to work through this person.  It’s okay, they have been trained to take important messages to their manager, so make it important, and build a relationship with this person.  If your event sounds meaningful, the message will get through.

I like to think of this process as if it were a wedding.  The wedding invites look nice, they demand an RSVP, and they promise a good meal alongside friends and family.  As a follow up, ask your attendees to pick a meal.  Preordering requires them to commit one more step.  By selecting steak or fish, they realize you are spending money on their seat.  I find this to be a higher level of commitment than signing up online for a massive event where no one is really counting.

© 2011, David Stelzl


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