To Blog or Not to Blog?

February 1, 2012
Filed under: Marketing,Registrations,Training — Tags: , — @ 12:16 pm
That is the question – well, for many of us, anyway.

Blogging isn’t an easy task to take on, nor is it simple to gauge whether the effort put forth will pay dividends.

Common objections to blogging include not having the time; not having a platform to blog upon; not having an audience to write to; not having content to regularly fill a blog; and not having the skill set to create interesting, useful copy.

All are sensible reasons – but definitely on the wrong side of the trend. That handful of blogs on the Internet in the late 1990s has mushroomed into hundreds of millions of blogs today. As many as one out of six people now blog for a variety reasons, and the number of bloggers will continue to rise as the barriers to entry disappear. Considering that you can go to a site like WordPress and set up a free blog in less than an hour, the only remaining barrier today is Internet access.

But, just as every 16-year-old boy doesn’t need a car, everyone doesn’t need to blog. It just makes a lot of sense for some of our online registration software customers, especially those of you in the training, professional development and events fields.

A blog can help market your upcoming events. It can reinforce subject matter with follow-up content after a workshop or class. It can generate dialogue (or collaboration) about the subject matter and even create a community of sorts around your programs.

Blogs can also build relationships between providers and customers, aiding your brand, loyalty and sales in the process. And, each blog entry creates a new page to be searched (and found) via the Internet and further establishes your site as an authority, two drivers to improving your SEO or search engine optimization (which makes your site more likely to show up in Internet searches).

If you can find time, business rationale and motivation, add a blog to your organization’s marketing/communications arsenal. There are hundreds of blogs that will guide you through starting a blog, great success stories to inspire you, neat case studies to keep you on track and expert tips to help you increase your traffic.

As always, we welcome your feedback. And, if you already blog and have tips to share with others, by all means comment below.

Five Ways to Guard Against Blah Presentations

January 16, 2012
Filed under: Event Planning,Sales,Training — Tags: , , — @ 11:07 am

Most of us think our lives would make a pretty boring memoir. We can’t all be Kim Kardashian after all. The fact is, even the most vacuous life can be made interesting to its audience if presented well. Again, Kim Kardashian comes to mind. What some might consider a boring topic can be quite engaging with strong presentation skills, or an interesting subject may fall flat if the presentation isn’t likewise.

Five basic tips to avoiding the blahs:

Too much PowerPoint is poopy
Don’t overdo the slides, both in length and content. A PowerPoint slide shouldn’t look like a page torn from a Tom Wolfe novel. If you can’t read the slide’s contents in the blink of an eye, you’ve got too much on there. Use graphics, video and audio when appropriate, but don’t fancy you’re Quentin Tarantino. Too much color, movement and sound can detract from the core message. You are much more interesting than anything on the slides.

Talk, don’t read
Reading what’s on your slides is a big no-no. Unless your audience is a group of kindergartners, they can read what on the PowerPoint as easily as you can. Don’t read too much from your notes or use index cards either.  Your everyday conversational voice is much more interesting than your reading voice. You don’t want your group to get the one-hour-after-lunch catatonic feeling at 9:00 in the morning.

Heavy on the Q&A
Blogger and public speaker Seth Godin suggests you go heavy on the Q&A part. Think about: It’s the most casual and unrehearsed part of the presentation – and it’s often the most interesting. The Question and Answer time also best demonstrates your expertise, but it’s usually relegated to the last few minutes of the presentation/training.

Be a snoop
If you want to give a good presentation, you’re talking about practice.  It also helps to gather intelligence on your audience ahead of the presentation so you can tailor accordingly. Shameless plug for online registration here: Ask qualifying questions on the signup form for your event to gauge the knowledge and interests of your audience. And then…

…give ‘em what they want
Nothing keeps an audience interested more than giving them the information they came to get. So go easy on the biography, the off-topic stories and the jokes, and get to down to business. You’re the expert. Give the audience your expertise.

Arguably, there’s no such as a boring topic, but there are plenty of boring presentations and trainings. Keep the needs of your audience in mind, and they’ll remember both you and your topic and being engaging.

Sales and a Sense of Urgency

January 12, 2012
Filed under: Marketing,Registrations,Sales — Tags: , — @ 10:31 am

Marketers love to create a sense of urgency to help close a sale. They wield tools such as “limited supply” offers or time-sensitive incentives like end-of-year discounts, monthly specials, daily deals, or holiday-only promotions (to the point that at least one holiday, “Black Friday,” is now recognized for the promotion).

image of an hourglassThis urgency, whether real or manufactured, typically works. If you want it to continue to work – and you value your business’ credibility – the offer should be genuine, not manufactured.

The idea, as detailed by this consultant, is not to pressure the buyer into purchasing but to use pressure to prevent them from procrastinating. That’s not always the easiest thing to differentiate, no matter what side of the sale you are on.

Today’s consumers are savvy enough to begin to question a limited-time offer that keeps getting extended, so if that initial “deal” doesn’t close the deal, the seller better focus in on other avenues to end the procrastination – like the prospect’s immediate needs and what it might cost each month he/she delays, etc.

For those of you using ABC Signup to administer online registrations for programs and events that have price tags, you have simple tools to create a genuine sense of urgency for your prospective registrants.

As you first set up the event, you have an option (under the General tab) to create a maximum number of participants, which in effect creates a “limited supply” offer. It’s genuine and fair to tell your prospects in this instance that the program or event is limited to the first 75 registrants.

Other “urgency” tools are found in the Financial tab of your event setup module. Early registration (time-sensitive) options allow you to create discounts for registrants who “buy” before a certain deadline you establish. ABC Signup customers also have the ability to create discount policies that can be just about anything (e.g., register for this event and get the next event for half off).

All of us – as walking, breathing 24/7 prospects – recognize that urgency-done-right can often be the deal maker when it comes to purchasing decisions. Why not put it to work for your programs and events with the ABC Signup tools described above? If you need any help setting it up, or have ideas for improving this aspect of the software, please contact us.

2011: Tough Act to Follow

January 10, 2012
Filed under: Event Planning,Registrations,customer service — Tags: , — @ 11:52 am

In business, one always hopes that the transition to a new year raises the question, “What do we do to top that?”

For ABC Signup in 2012, that means trying to outperform a year (2011) in which the company achieved a number of milestones, from adding many new features and improving software functionality (detailed here) to exceeding the “100,000 events” and “one million registrations” marks earlier in the year. We delivered timely and effective customer support, we doubled the number of newsletter subscribers and we were one of five finalists (out of hundreds of applicants) for the 2011 Inc.credible small business award. Most important of all, we achieved a company-record 95% customer retention rate.

So, what do we plan to do for an encore in 2012?

For starters, we are going to redouble our efforts to meet or improve upon that record retention rate. We view you – our customers – as partners, shareholders, advocates and in many cases, trusted advisors. If we give you a great product and service for your investment, we know you are more likely to continue to partner with us and help us to continue improving ABC Signup. So, expect more from our software and our people in 2012.

Second, we will take a closer look at what’s behind some of the many doors our customers open for us. Your requests for additional functionality led us to create tools that lend themselves to complimentary software solutions applicable to niches such as conferences and learning management systems. While online registration software remains our core product, we think it is simply good business to see if our software expertise can bring additional value to you as well as other markets.

Third, we will continue to use tools such as our blog, our website, our Facebook page, instructional videos, white papers and more to provide information that makes your job easier. Our customers come in all shapes and sizes, but there are a number of universal truths to using ABC Signup’s software, managing registrations, and coordinating successful programs and events. We want to continue to share what we know on these topics, and encourage our customers to share their best practices.

Of course, there are several, more specific objectives we hope to accomplish in 2012. But we figure if we excel at listening to our customers, delivering what they want and keeping them informed, we can achieve a new set of milestones in the coming year.

As always, we welcome your ideas and comments.

Training: Game on

January 5, 2012
Filed under: Evaluations,Event Planning,Registrations,Training,Uncategorized — Tags: , — @ 1:32 pm

Five years ago, few organizations knew what “social network” was, let alone could use it as a verb. “We need to get our social network up and running this year so we can social network with all our customers.” Now, you can’t toss around an idea for Internet marketing without hitting someone waxing philosophically about the criticality of social networking. Because the start of the year is all about making predictions that no one will remember a year from now, we’ll go out on a limb as say the same will soon be true for gamification. judging scores to illustrate concept of gamification

Gartner, the IT research and advisory company, agrees with us (or maybe it’s the other way around).  They believe gamification will be big stuff in about three years.

Gamification uses the same principles of gaming (earning points, status, rewards) to excite an audience (customers, employees) to engage in something that might normally generate low participation either because of time restraints, or it’s (dare we say it?) a bit dull. Not to say that anything that requires online registration is dull, but maybe your audience isn’t always as eager to sign up for something as quickly you’d like.  Or, if the event isn’t required, maybe they don’t sign up at all.

Here’s how gamification works: Let’s say you want your employees to register online for series of elective classes. You could award points for each online registration, and then post a list of the top ten point earners throughout the year. Perhaps your employees are required to meet certain CE requirements, e.g. a minimum of 10 units a year. You could award virtual badges to the top five earners.

Like so many other things, the word “gamification” is newer than the idea, which is a proven concept. Take Amazon for example. Customer reviews are gold for any organization, and, according to one TV show, gold can be hard to find. For years, Amazon has given status to its reviewers, not just for the number of reviews, but for the quality of them. The result has been tons more reviews for products on Amazon.

Gamification might play for some aspect of your program. If you think so or already employ it, let us know. The first response earns 5 ABCpoints, the second 4 points and so on. See how we did that?

Data: Use It, Don’t Lose It

December 21, 2011
Filed under: Evaluations,Event Planning,Marketing,Registrations,Surveys — Tags: , , — @ 10:48 am

One of the wonders of the Internet is the amount of marketing data available and the extrapolations that can be made using such data. Search engine optimization (SEO) software, for instance, can tell you who visited your site, how long they stayed, what pages they visited, what search keywords might have brought them and what offers they clicked.  Marketers can take that data and create targeted tools such as Google adwords, special landing pages, e-mails and customer-specific offers.

Your organization may not deploy these tools for a number of sound reasons. However, if you use ABC Signup’s online registration software, you might be surprised about what tools you do have to collect and deploy data to embark on your own optimization journeys.

Start with your e-mail invitation to an event or program.

When did recipients respond? Immediately after receiving the e-mail, a few days after it was sent, after a reminder was sent, or just prior to the event? A quick look at this data might help you improve the timing of your communications.

Next, review the content of that initial e-mail over the course of several events. Is there one message or offer that generates a higher response rate than another? If so, double-down on that messaging.

Also, examine your responses and registrations for those new individuals signing up. Did they come from an expanded mailing list, did someone forward the original invitation e-mail to them, or did the new attendee find it on their own via your website? This intel will provide insights into ways you can grow your program or event’s attendance, if that is one of your goals.

Take a similar look at your financial reporting to determine who is paying when, and whether you can adjust the timing and content of payment reminder notices to attain payment more efficiently.

Finally, don’t forget ABC Signup’s survey/evaluation tools. This is your way to find out what worked and what didn’t with your program or event. We should always be seeking ways to improve the product, and there is no better guide for doing so than your customers.

As always, feel free to comment below with your ideas for leveraging data to improve your programs or events.

Any Rules for Dealing with Unruly Customers?

December 12, 2011
Filed under: customer service — Tags: — @ 10:01 am

Actor Alec Baldwin recently joined the not-so-exclusive club of celebrities kicked off an airplane (pre-flight, of course). His offense – refusing to turn off his cell phone while playing Words with Friends (exacerbated by an alleged tantrum) – falls in the Josh Duhamel category but well short of a Gerard Depardieu or Peter Buck transgression.

While celebrity status isn’t a prerequisite for bad customers, often bad customers achieve celebrity status – at least within your organization. Sometimes, the right approach with difficult customers can keep them on board and under the radar.

Typically, the goal with any customer conflict is to find a “win-win” solution or anything short of shoving them out the door. The rationale is that very few organizations can afford to dump their less-than-perfect customers in a manner that creates an often vocal antagonist.

picture of businessman pointing to money coming out of his earSo how do you effectively deal with your difficult customers, and when does the extra effort become counter-productive?

A Forbes article suggests ways to avoid them in the first place. But, as you began reading this, many of you already pictured some of your existing customers. You only wish you could avoid them.

The “customer is always right” school of thought advises you to never argue, be patient and professional, listen to the customer, ask what can make the situation right and explain what you can do. Empathize but don’t over apologize, and know your policy but don’t quote your policy. The goal in dealing with a difficult customer is to find an amenable resolution that, in the short term, makes them less difficult. And remember, sometimes just the labeling of customers as “difficult” can influence how you treat them and make matters worse.

Of course, from our experience as customers and in dealing with customers, we all understand that in reality, the customer isn’t always right. That fact alone makes all of the pointers in the paragraph above feel perhaps too “turn the other cheekish.” If you feel you’ve done everything you can to no avail – and you’ve reached the “boot them off the plane” moment – pull out your calculator.

It might be in your best interest to just fire your bad customers, as explained in this Inc. Magazine article. But, as BusinessWeek points out, be sure to do the math first. Determine how much time and money a bad client is costing you, and weigh that against the value they bring plus the high cost of customer acquisition versus retention.

At ABC Signup, we are fortunate to have entirely awesome customers of our online registration software, so everything we know on the subject is second-hand. That said, we welcome tips on dealing with difficult customers – your advice could prove helpful for fellow ABC Signup users. Just submit your thoughts or techniques in the comments section below.

That’s not just a pretty red bow on ABC Signup

December 8, 2011
Filed under: Event Planning,Registrations — Tags: , — @ 9:16 am

The ABC Signup you “unwrap” over the holidays, per company tradition, again outshines the model you opened a year ago. It’s not just bells and whistles, either. More than two dozen functionality improvements and an easier user interface for page theme creation now adorn the new and improved, 2011 ABC Signup.

Give credit to the company’s development elves, who toil year-around to make the software do everything you need and more.

image of online registration software with red bow“We developed our core product eight years ago based upon customer feedback, and it has evolved since to reflect the real-time registration management needs of their programs and events,” said Todd Chandler, president of ABC Signup. “We’ve stayed true to our mission of doing just about whatever it takes to provide value to our customers.”

The latest upgrade, available this month, presents customers a task-oriented menu making it easier to navigate pages being created with themes, as well as new tools that simplify aspects of theme setup, such as matching the user’s website color scheme and design. Customers will find these “look and feel” improvements where they always edited themes, at Setup (top bar) > Standard Tab > Page Themes.

These new features complement a flurry of improvements made over the course of the year, including the following:

  • A new text editor option
  • The ability to customize the registration list view
  • Caps on wait lists
  • Customizable CE (continuing education) start dates
  • QR (quick response) codes for events and calendars/listings
  • Enhanced attendance certificate re-send capabilities
  • Bar graphs and pie charts for registration and evaluation responses
  • Increased multi-date event functionality
  • Improved archiving
  • More discount code features
  • European date formatting
  • Registration blocking capabilities for overlapping events
  • New invitation list options
  • A variety of reporting features

You, our customers, get credit for most of these upgrades.

“First and foremost, we work our customers’ ‘wish list’ when it comes to software upgrades, targeting projects that provide the most benefit to our users,” said Chandler. “But, we also add our own unique features, and do our best to keep pace with industry trends.”

So, what’s in store for next year? You tell us. While we’ve got some exciting developments in the works, we know that many of our best ideas come from you. What do you want for 2012?

Black Friday and Your Registration Process

November 17, 2011
Filed under: Event Planning,Marketing,Registrations — Tags: — @ 9:47 am

photo of mad rush into a store on Black FridayNo other day of the year gives some of us greater appreciation for the Internet than the day after Thanksgiving (or now, Thanksgiving night) – Black Friday – the official first day of Christmas shopping for retailers across the country.

Many physically will NOT go out and shop on that day, and will also avoid driving on roads anywhere near shopping centers. If these folks want to participate in some of the deals of the day, they simply go to that retailer’s website – or Amazon, eBay, etc. – and order it online.

On a much smaller scale, an online registration system provides a similar convenience to registrants who want to avoid the hassle of filling out a form, writing a check, and faxing, mailing or hand delivering the info and payment to the program or event provider. With the right registration software, what once took customers several minutes can be reduced to a matter of seconds.

Such efficiencies are even more amplified for the providers of programs and events, especially for those whose non-ABC Signup registration process might entail:

  • creating event PDFs or fliers with registration forms, and mailing or posting on websites;
  • hand-processing all of the return faxes, mailings, phone calls, checks, cash and credit card numbers; and
  • hoping they can manage that data well enough to communicate confirmations and wait-lists, generate registrant lists and nametags, and track essentials such as attendance, CEUs and payment.

It is simply easier and less time consuming to deploy a system that automates most of those endeavors and provides registrants 24/7 access to events and programs. When it comes to managing registrations, every day doesn’t have to be Black Friday.

Shop at ABC Signup or have us give you a free assessment. Our website is open 24/7, and we’re here in the office Monday through Friday (well, not Black Friday).

11 Easy Ways to Market Your Program or Event

November 11, 2011
Filed under: Event Planning,Marketing,Registrations — Tags: — @ 2:32 pm

Fair disclosure: Yes, this blog entry was inspired by today’s unique date, 11.11.11. And yes, it would have been easier to write in May of 2005.

On to the list. Just about anybody can use a few good tips for marketing an event or program. Start with these 11 – if you need more, come back on December 12 of next year.

1.  Use the media

One of the media’s charges is to inform the public of what’s going on in the community, aside from car wrecks or Kardashians. A simple “who, what, when, why, how” media advisory should land your event in the outlet’s calendar section, and a press release (if appropriate) could result in an interview or article.

2.  Give it front page real estate on your website

Most websites are pretty static. Two things typically add a little dynamics to a home page – news and events. Getting your event information teased on the home page shouldn’t be a difficult sell. Just be sure to give plenty of advance notice (unless you hold the keys to the content management system). Also, if you feature online registrations, make the “register” button highly visible.

3.  E-mail it to your customer list

If you manage programs or events, you likely have compiled a database and use it to communicate with your customers. Use it again to promote your events. You might send out a special one-time announcement with links to event information/registration form on your website, or include the event information in an e-mail newsletter.

4.  Promote it on your social media

If you’ve set up social media accounts, this is how you can actually use it to your organization’s advantage. Here are some tips for marketing your event on Facebook and Linked In.

5.  Tease it at the end of any prior events you are holding

Captive audience – check. Existing customers – check. Opportunity to up-sell – check. Always, when appropriate, close your most recent events or programs with a reminder about your upcoming event.

6.  Include the event details/web info in your e-mail signature

In most e-mail programs, you can create a signature – typically your name, title, contact information and company logo. Edit it a few weeks out (or whatever time frame makes sense) from your event to include a line about the upcoming event linked to your website details/registration.

7.  Ask any partners/sponsors to co-promote

If you have a partner or sponsor, ask them to follow as many of these 11 steps themselves. If your event might benefit from a partner or sponsor, think about pursuing such a relationship as a means to double your promotional efforts.

8.  Talk it up via word of mouth.

Not that everyone wants to hear you talk about your work all of the time, but it doesn’t hurt to share information about the upcoming event in conversations, especially with audiences that might be interested in your offering.

9.  Blog about it.

Technically, this could fall within the social media above, but it’s big enough to deserve its own number. Not only does this platform give you a chance to promote the event, but it also invites feedback and improves search results. You can link to all sorts of topics related to your program/event, you can profile the presenter/speaker (if appropriate), and you can always link back to your event info/registration. Also, find relevant blogs, and where appropriate, post comments about your event in their comment sections.

10. Leverage speaking engagements.

This one isn’t quite as easy as the others because public speaking is usually near the top of the list of things that people fear. If it is any comfort, the speaking engagement doesn’t have to be the local morning show, it could be at a rotary club, chamber of commerce, etc. Pick what might be advantageous for your event, see if it would be of interest to the targeted group, and go from there.

11. Include a special offer or drawing.

If you have the resources to give away a 2012 Corvette to one lucky attendee, the other 10 items on this list probably won’t be that important. If not, a gift card, a free registration to your next event or something relevant to your subject matter (e.g., a book on the topic) might be that little extra that moves customers off the fence.

Time is about the only barrier to leveraging all of the above to market your event or program. So, get started as early as possible, and make sure the message is consistent throughout. As always, if you have some tips to share, post them below in the comments section.

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