ABC Signup Customers Expect Uptrend in Programs to Continue in 2012, Per Survey

July 7, 2011
Filed under: Evaluations,Event Planning,Registrations,Surveys — Tags: , , — webmaster@abcsignup.com @ 9:49 am

A cross-section of ABC Signup customers are seeing a slight uptick in activity in 2011 and expect to offer the same or more programs and events in 2012. Each said they save time managing registrations for these offerings through ABC Signup’s online registration software, according to the first customer survey conducted by the company.

“We felt a survey could complement the anecdotal information we get from ongoing conversations with our customers,” said Todd Chandler, president of ABC Signup. “We gained a clearer picture of market expectations as well as customer perceptions about our software.”

While 47% of survey participants said their number of programs or events were about the same thus far in 2011 versus 2010, 40% cited an increase compared to 13% who saw a decrease. Listen to your customersAttendance for these events tracked about the same year-over-year for 42% of survey respondents, but 34% experienced increases versus 24% who recorded declines. About one-third of those surveyed expect to offer additional programs in 2012, while 61% project their offerings to remain about the same as 2011.

Customers noted significant time savings achieved through ABC Signup, with 42% estimating they saved at least 50% of the time they had been committing to registration management prior to using ABC Signup. Another 29% placed their time savings at 20%, and 21% estimated their time savings at 30%.

“Time savings is one of our key selling points, so it is gratifying to be able to quantify those savings at such high percentages,” said Chandler. “Over the years, customers repeat the mantra about ABC Signup ‘freeing them up’ to do other aspects of their job or devote more time to improving program content, and this survey indicates they are gaining the time to do it.”

Customers were almost evenly split in choosing their top three features of ABC Signup’s software, with most selecting “registrants enter their own data,” “automated correspondence to registrants,” and “easy access to reports such as attendance or financials.” They cited 24/7 access to register online and e-mail confirmations/reminders as the two top features of ABC Signup from the registrant’s perspective.

When asked what they might improve about ABC Signup’s software, survey participants were less decisive. Of the choices, 30% selected “more report exporting options,” while another 30% selected “other” and wrote in answers ranging from “nothing” to “not such a short timeout period” to “more customization.” And in an unsolicited testament to ABC Signup’s devotion to customer feedback, one respondent wrote, “As we think of new features, they tend to appear, as others must have had the same ideas.”

“From the sales and renewal processes to our regularly scheduled customer reviews to our ongoing dialogue about software features, we are always talking to our customers and upgrading our product to better serve them,” said Chandler. “This survey mirrors a lot of what we hear in individual conversations, but gives us a little more consensus on the market trends and product characteristics so important to our business.”

April Showers Bring May Flowers

May 20, 2011
Filed under: Evaluations,Event Planning,Marketing,Registrations,Uncategorized — Tags: , — webmaster@abcsignup.com @ 10:58 am

In the Ohio Valley this year, April showers bring May showers. But we know (eventually) the sun is going to come out and everything will bloom thanks in part to all of that nurturing water from the month(s) prior.

Anyone who coordinates training programs or events knows this cycle well. The program or event itself is typically the culmination of a lot of hard work. And it is the labor done long before that determines whether the event grows into something special or shrinks on the vine.

So, what can you do before a new season rolls around to make sure you refresh your programs and events?

First, start off with the common sense steps we suggested in an earlier blog. Review everything about your event – its time, date, frequency, location, venue, content, speaker(s), capacity, menu, use of technology, vendors, budget, etc.

Second, assess how you market the event. For some of you, your initial reaction might be “this isn’t applicable to me.” Perhaps your program is mandatory for employees, so why promote? In that instance, the right marketing might dramatically improve attitudes toward the course, which in turn should improve its effectiveness.

If you are marketing to reach attendance goals or grow the event, look for ways to improve upon what you have done in the past. Leverage your free or inexpensive tools such as e-mail, social media, and your website; try simple promotions to encourage registrants; and if possible (and relevant), place your event information in appropriate publications or websites. Don’t forget to tout any improvements or changes you made since the prior event, especially if they are changes in response to customer feedback.

Finally, if you no longer are a rookie using ABC Signup, you’ve probably mastered the software well enough to become adept at the basics such as setting up your event and its automated correspondence, and building your event calendar, event pages and registration forms. Perhaps this year might be the year to take advantage of ABC Signup’s themes or theme wizard tools to dress up your event pages. A nice looking page makes for a great link in your promotional e-mails to prospects.

If you need any tips or advice in using these and other ABC Signup tools, e-mail or call us (866.791.8268 ext. 0) for assistance. That’s just one of the many things we do – rain or shine!

Marketing on a Mac & Cheese Budget

May 9, 2011
Filed under: Event Planning,Marketing — Tags: , — webmaster@abcsignup.com @ 10:56 am

Most subscribers to this newsletter or readers of our blog don’t work for a Fortune 500 company or consult with Madison Avenue about multi-million dollar campaigns. Marketing budgets around these parts are limited – some of you would tell us that’s putting it nicely.

Fortunately, there are ways to get more bang from the marketing buck, or lack thereof.

You are likely doing it already in the case of e-mail. For many, e-mail has replaced direct mail and its associated printing and costs.

Still, there are a number of things to consider when crafting and sending an e-mail. First, follow a few simple and essential tips related to content. Second, you can easily manage lists and create e-mails using ABC Signup or inexpensive e-mail marketing programs like MailChimp. Third, if you seek to grow your programs and events, try to continually expand your e-mail distribution list. Tactics for doing this include creating a website link to collect e-mail addresses for company offers/news/etc., or post resources, or contests or conduct webinars that require an e-mail address (and agreement to terms) to participate. Just be sure not to spam potential customers, and always give recipients of your e-mail campaigns a mechanism to opt-out.

If you can write an e-mail to market your program, you can write a press release, a topical article, a calendar of events notice or some other submission for the appropriate media outlets and websites read by your prospects. Or, you can write a speech (that includes a pitch for your event) to give at a forum that includes your prospects. Public relations can be the most cost-effective means to garner free advertising/exposure to boost your marketing efforts. One caveat: your media relations efforts need to be appropriately targeted. Event announcements, for instance, won’t get the time of day from Time Magazine, but they may be of interest to a reporter covering your industry or a publication’s events calendar – it doesn’t hurt to call and ask.

If you can’t leverage what you don’t have (a marketing budget), consider leveraging what you do have with a special offer or promotion. Give a company logo shirt to one of the first 20 who sign up for your program, make a buy one/get the next event free offer, or occasionally present a “bring a friend free” promotion that may create a new prospect if not a new customer.

Don’t ignore the potential of special events. Guerrilla marketers can turn an open house – or a car wash for a charity – into a lead generator or program promoter. A software training company can spin building a home with Habitat for Humanity into a promotion for classes to help others build home pages. The opportunities here are only limited by your creativity (or the speed of a Google search).

Oh, and hey, there is a whole new medium for free marketing out there called social media. You may have seen the movie about it. At no cost, you can “tweet” (Twitter) about your programs or events, post about them on Facebook, pen a blog or upload a video promo on Youtube. The trick with the latter is rising above the clutter, and the challenge of the former three is extending your reach beyond insiders/existing customers.

Finally, use your website. The event page you create becomes your electronic brochure that can be sent to anyone at any time via e-mail, or accessed at any time via the Internet. Plus, your page is searchable, so you just might have customers come to you.

This article only offers a few of the many free or low-cost tools that can better market your programs or events. Please feel free to share some of your tactics with us or post them below in the blog’s comments section.

The Top 5 Things Your Registrants Expect From Your System

April 13, 2011
Filed under: Event Planning,Marketing,Registrations — Tags: — webmaster@abcsignup.com @ 12:35 pm

After more than eight years in the online registration business working with hundreds of customers and tens of thousands of programs and events with more than one million registrations, we learned a thing or two. Like the value of customer feedback, which has led to the development of many new features in our software.

We’ve also gained insight into what registrants expect when they sign up for an event. It’s mostly about ease of use and convenience – those magical qualities the Internet is supposed to offer. What follows is our assessment of the top five attributes of a registration system from the perspective of the individual signing up for your class or event.

1. Single Screen Simplicity

Registrants want to see the entire registration form on a single screen. Multiple screens, or a lot of scrolling, begin to infringe upon the Internet expectations mentioned above. Going back and forth between pages – and losing any data already entered – can be a deal-breaker.

2. Remember Me?

Repeat registrants prefer a system that remembers them – one that retrieves their data and doesn’t force them to fill out the entire form again (credit card information excepted).

3. One-Stop Shopping

When customers come to your site to register for one of your programs, they expect to close the entire deal in a couple of minutes. They want to sign up, pay and know immediately if possible that a seat is reserved for them. Online payment capabilities are no longer an accessory, they are a standard feature.

4. Communications, Communications, Communications

Automated communications functionality is a time-saver for the event administrator and game-changer for registrants. Registrants truly appreciate a system’s registration confirmations, event reminders, invoices or receipts, wait-list notifications and other communications. From their viewpoint, it is another example of the Internet making life easier.

5. More Dependable Than the Mail

You know from your own experience the frustration that arises when a completed registration crashes as you hit the submit button, or appears to go through until you show up at the event and learn your submission never reached the system. Registrants expect a dependable system. They don’t want to return to the pitfalls of using mail, faxes and phone calls, and believe the errors that occurred with those antiquated tools are a thing of the past. Your system shouldn’t rekindle any not-so-fond memories.

One element essential to registrants but absent from our list (it typically falls outside of a registration system’s purview) is the visibility of your programs. All of the features above are useless if the registrant can’t find the events on your website. If your programs are intended for an external audience, make sure the event or calendar page is well-marked and easy to access in one or two clicks.

We are confident that ABC Signup gives you the tools to accomplish the list of items above. However, if we can do anything to make ABC Signup perform these and other functions better, please let us know. We’re here today because of the feedback and wisdom of customers much like you.

Bracketology 2011

March 22, 2011
Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — webmaster@abcsignup.com @ 3:12 pm

If you are anything like me, your 2011 NCAA basketball tournament brackets have more “Xs” than one of my high school calculus tests. Blame the crazy upsets in round one, the high seeds dropping in round two, or the Big East, well, under-performing.

Question: when you did fill out those brackets, how exactly did you do it? Did you go “old school” and print out a copy of the brackets, write each pick in through each round, then fax, mail or deliver the completed sheet? And if an entry fee was involved, well, we don’t want to know…

Or, did you complete the entire task online, entering your picks, your personal data – even your trash talk – through one of the many convenient sites out there?

Now, think about your training programs and events – and how you currently facilitate the registration process for your customers. Are you still making them “print out brackets” so to speak, fill out a form and fax or mail to participate?

If so, perhaps it’s time you eschew the short-shorts, the UCLA dynasties and Dean Smith’s four corners offense, and move into the 21st century with a robust, customer-friendly online registration system.

We will be glad to help you make the right pick.

Survey Says…

March 9, 2011
Filed under: Surveys — Tags: , — webmaster@abcsignup.com @ 10:17 am

ABC customers come from all corners of the country, vary from Fortune 500 firms to faith-based organizations, and use our system for everything from cooking classes to computer programming. Yet, they all share a common goal – providing a service of value to the registrants of their programs.

Obviously, the registrants’ experience is important enough to each of you that you’ve invested in a registration system to facilitate an easier process for participants. That same system, moreover, offers a simple tool that – when used properly – can help you further increase the value of the programs you deliver.

It’s labeled “Evaluation Form” within ABC Signup. This function allows you to create surveys that can garner feedback from your program participants. You can find specific instruction on how to set up an evaluation form in the Help section or here: Home > Event Set-up > Evaluation Form > Creating an Evaluation Form.

Before you build your evaluation or broader survey, however, consider eight key steps to make the most of the opportunity.

  1. Clearly define the objectives or purpose of your evaluation/survey
  2. Properly introduce the questionnaire and its instructions
  3. Keep it short and focused
  4. Make the questions simple, and closed-ended when possible
  5. Consider your audience
  6. Pre-test your survey
  7. Consider offering an incentive
  8. Don’t spam your constituents

To elaborate on step #1, a good evaluation or survey with good objectives and questions is more likely going to deliver good, actionable results. Ask why you are creating the survey, what you hope to accomplish and what decisions you hope to impact with its results. Per online survey provider Zoomerang, fuzzy goals lead to fuzzy (and often useless) results.

Survey Monkey, another online service, stresses the importance of a good introduction (step #2) that includes:

  • an introduction of the organization conducting the evaluation/survey;
  • confidentiality information and how the survey data will be used;
  • an estimate of how long the survey might take;
  • information on any incentive or prize for taking the survey; and
  • instructions on how to move through the survey.

The KISS principle (perhaps subbing “specific” for “stupid”) applies to surveys and steps #3 and #4 above. Survey service provider QuestionPro suggests limiting a survey’s length to a maximum of five minutes – which equates to roughly 15 questions – or risk greatly diminished participation. Those questions need to be specific, straightforward, relevant, and closed-ended whenever possible. If you use multiple choices or rating scales, keep them consistent throughout, says Zoomerang. Here is a quick run-down on types of survey questions.

Considering your audience (step #5) is mostly a reminder to keep it relevant. Create evaluation or survey questions that make sense to your constituents and elicit useful responses. Also, do note that the closeness of your relationship to the survey audience directly correlates to the response rate you can expect.

One of the most important steps of the survey process is the pre-test (step #6). Send the survey to a few clients or co-workers to evaluate the survey’s wording, ensure the questions mean the same thing to all, get a sense if the results are “actionable” and determine the actual time it takes to complete.

Unfortunately, you can follow steps #1-#6 to perfection and get so few responses that your survey is ineffective. Think about your own experience – how much more likely are you to respond to a survey if there is a prize or incentive offered? Zoomerang says 50% more likely. Consider creative ideas (step #7) to encourage participation. For many ABC Signup customers, it is as simple as including a check box that says participants will not get their certificates (of completion) unless they complete the evaluation.

Finally, don’t just spam your survey to an e-mail or mailing list (step #8), and don’t send surveys to the same audience repeatedly. Make sure your target audience has opted in to receive information from you. If you aren’t sure, ask. And don’t forget to thank participants for their time.

If you have any questions on setting up post-event evaluations or surveys, please contact us.

Making the Leap to Online Payments

February 8, 2011
Filed under: Online Payment — Tags: , — webmaster@abcsignup.com @ 10:53 am

It’s almost a no-brainer.

If you provide a service or product that requires payment and you use a website to promote it to numerous customers, why wouldn’t you take the next step and use that same website to accept online payment? Your customers (registrants) certainly expect it.

Yes, you will incur minor costs creating your Internet merchant account, tying it to a payment gateway (such as Authorize.net, TouchNet, Skipjack, Vanco, etc.) or having a third party turnkey solution (such as PayPal) act as both merchant account and gateway. Paypal, for instance, charges a 2.9% fee per transaction.

But, all things considered, the convenience factor typically holds sway. In the U.S., for instance, the use of checks has declined in almost an inverse proportion to the rising use of debit/credit cards, a trend accelerated by the Internet and online payments.

The customer can sign in, pay and be good-to-go in seconds. And instead of sending an invoice, waiting for a check, taking that check to the bank and waiting a few days for it to clear, you get quick payment and cash flow.

If you don’t already have a merchant account, it isn’t difficult to set one up with your bank or a reseller (ISO). Or, many of the payment gateways, along with PayPal, will set an account up for you. The most complicated aspect of setup might just be reviewing all of your options.

In the case of accepting payments for online registration services, we highly recommend to our customers that they set up a merchant account to accept online payments (it works like this), particularly if they host multiple events with a sizeable number of participants. Some of our competitors offer as a service their own merchant accounts, but they pass on a higher per transaction charge (closer to 5%) and hold all proceeds until they make monthly payments back to their customers.

Most of the convenience of accepting online payments – quickly receiving the moneys and cash flow – is lost in this “surrogate” merchant account process.

Feel free to contact us if you have questions about equipping your organization to accept online payments. We have guided dozens and dozens of customers through the process and would be more than happy to help you make your event or program as user friendly and efficient as possible. After all, that’s what we do at ABC Signup.

Social Media Encyclopedia

January 31, 2011
Filed under: Marketing — Tags: , — webmaster@abcsignup.com @ 5:00 pm

A “by the letter” look at social media.

Are you serious? Is tweeting my lunch plans, “liking” someone’s book recommendation, planting a goofy video on YouTube or blogging about the usual subjects really going to help my organization?

Believe it or not, you likely can leverage the various social media to add customers, exposure, “humanity,” and much more to your organization.

Check out some of the success stories, from large organizations such as Burger King, Dell and Ford to smaller businesses like Blendtec and Naked Pizza.

Data shows that seven out of 10 Inc. 500 companies have Facebook pages, five out of 10 write blogs to communicate, and almost six out of 10 use Twitter. And charitable organizations and higher education use social media even more than businesses.

Enough with the A-Z thing. There’s no way this blog entry is going through the whole alphabet just to make a headline work. It would have gotten stuck at “X” anyway, just like when you play the “alphabet game” on a road trip.

The gist is, while sometimes it seems like there is more “sizzle” about social media than “steak,” it does offer different, explosive new avenues to reach constituents, communicate, build relationships, develop leads, garner support, increase participation or improve whatever it is you are trying to accomplish.

Unfortunately, getting from A to Z – achieving something worthwhile with social media – is neither instant nor easy.

We find ourselves at ABC Signup, probably like many of you, in the early stages of developing a social media strategy. We are currently devising means to cross-pollinating those tools with our website and e-mail newsletter, sometimes linking the newsletter to the blog, or as we do below, linking this blog to our Facebook page.

One month into our blogging foray and we’ve garnered a number of comments, but most of them said something like “I can relate to your subject matter” with a 30-letter e-mail address pitching some product or another. Sure, we have visions of a more participatory forum and hope to get there one day. But, at the least, this blog is providing some useful information, expanding our web presence and in time, helping our search results.

Our Facebook endeavor is only a few months old and growing in friends and page views. We use it to welcome new clients, recognize loyal customers, promote training opportunities, unveil updates to our product and sometimes share silly videos. We would like to do something more promotional – like giveaway Whoppers if you befriend us – but our current giveaway inventory consists of some logo pens. And just like that, an idea is born.

Here are some social media resources you might find useful: a comprehensive guide and workbook; a playbook for social media; and the social media best practices page on Facebook.

If you have some ideas about leveraging social media that you want to share, please (no, really, please!) post them here – unless your name is youshouldgetoutmore@reallycheapvacations.com.

Trends in Training

January 13, 2011
Filed under: Training — Tags: , — webmaster@abcsignup.com @ 9:21 am

The confluence of a weak economy, “app for that” technological innovation and a multi-generational workforce has produced some noticeable trends in continuing education, training and professional development.

For starters, the current economic weakness siphoned away money budgeted for training-related travel as well as training staff. According to the American Society of Training and Development’s (ASTD) 2009 State of the Industry report, training expenditures per employee fell 4% from 2007 to 2008. A Bersin & Associates survey showed corporate learning and development budgets were cut by 11% in 2009 and by a total of 22% since 2008.

As a result, the trend toward e-Learning has accelerated as classrooms and training programs continue to move to a more efficient delivery system – the Internet. Online training webcasts or webinars developed internally by subject matter experts or bought as off-the-shelf multimedia have become the choice for lean organizations in today’s environment.

Another outcome is newer learning tools, derived from new technologies that have often become platforms of choice for the next generation of workers. Remember when podcasts were cutting edge? In the handful of years since, they have been overshadowed by the explosion of informational blogs, by “do-it-yourself” video instruction via YouTube, and by mobile applications that allow learning on the go through cell phones, iPads, Kindle and so on.

With more than 70 million baby boomers in the U.S. nearing retirement – and some 40 million GenXers and 30 million Millennials waiting in the wings – training providers must leverage newer tools used by the younger generations to effect a successful transition. Many in the workforce already use these tools to foster their own learning and development.

Which gets to a third trend – that of providing as many resources as possible to engender learning. You want to be more strategic than “see what sticks,” but training today should incorporate as many options as possible, including e-Learning, mentors, classroom instruction, blogs, intranet/wiki, virtual classrooms, on-the-job training and more. In many instances, you drive the content and the training; in others, individuals pursue the knowledge/skills via the resources available.

A common undercurrent among these training trends is achieving efficiency and ease of access (kind of like online registrations). The tools are out there to do more with less. Often the bigger challenge for providers is speeding their own learning curve to determine how to best use these tools.

Evaluating Your Event

December 21, 2010
Filed under: Evaluations,Event Planning,Surveys — Tags: , — webmaster@abcsignup.com @ 10:52 am

Events don’t end when the screen goes blank, the presenter unplugs the laptop and Elvis has left the building. The oft-neglected next step – post-event analysis – should demand the same amount of attention as the tedious, down-to-the-last-detail pre-event planning.

After all, it is this analysis that lets you know how you did in meeting your goals, how the event performed in meeting participants’ goals, and how partners such as ABC Signup, the venue, etc. held up to their end of the bargain.

Consider a two-pronged approach to ensure that “getting the event done” isn’t the only standard for success.

First, review your “internal” event goals. Did you meet targets for attendance, fundraising, etc.? Were expenses in line with your budget? Was the timing of communications effective? Did logistics work out as planned, and if not, what worked, what didn’t and what could be done differently? Ask the same question of your vendors, including, if applicable, ABC Signup.

Second, evaluate the event from the eyes of the customer.

If available, use custom-tailored evaluations – such as those offered by ABC Signup (hyperlink to a screen shot of an ABC-backed evaluation form) – or create your own tool with a priority on convenience. Ask what makes the most sense for your event, and do so soon after the event is completed. Typically, you will want feedback on the following:

  • The facilities
  • The relevance and value of the subject matter
  • The presenter
  • The overall event organization
  • What participants liked
  • What could be improved

Remember to prioritize what you want to know and try to keep your evaluation to a realistic scale, finding a balance between getting as much feedback as possible without asking for so much that participants don’t participate. A rule of thumb is to present it as a reasonable size such as “one page,” “10 questions” or “two minutes,” and keep to those limits.

If you aren’t getting enough participation in these evaluations, consider using an incentive such as a giveaway drawing awarded to one lucky participant who completes the survey.

Also, don’t forget in your post-event evaluation to thank the participant for their feedback. Acknowledging that you value their opinion – and want to improve your offering – is not only sound business but improves your chances of repeat business.

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