Top Ten Training Course Strategies For Marketing Training To Your Workforce

With the emergence of eLearning and our reduced training budgets, we need a well conceived company business strategy with training rollouts and marketing strategies that get our programs fully utilized. In this new age of training, you’ve probably found it necessary to hone your marketing skills. Marketing and training aren’t new to each other. The top training departments in the largest corporations in the world view marketing as an essential ingredient in the success of their training.

Knowing how important a company business strategy and marketing is, you might wonder what marketing activities you should focus on. In other words, what works for marketing training? Fortunately, there are some tried and true methods that I’ve seen working over and over again.

Here are the top ten:

10.Communicate “What’s In It For Me.”

It seems obvious enough, but this requires putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and continuing to think the way they do. To do this, you need ongoing communication with your workforce and lots of openness and empathy towards their comments and suggestions. Once you know what they want, focus your marketing message around it. For instance, if certification is a “hot button” for your IT folks, then your communications should focus on this and talk about how your courses will help them get certified.

9.Use Incentives, Training Awards, Promotions, And Recognition.

For this one, I’ve heard objections like, “We’re not going to pay our people to attend training.”

This is a mental hurdle, and getting past it will open up new worlds of opportunity for designing marketing programs that fill up your classes.

In the days when instructor-led training was king, we spent lots of money sending employees to training in faraway cities. We may not have looked at travel as an incentive to employees, but it’s a very big one. For instance, they could fly to San Francisco on the company’s dollar, miss work for a couple of days for a training course, and enjoy that time away from the office. What a company business strategy! Big incentive!

How do you replace those incentives with something comparable? You don’t have to give away seven-day cruises to get people excited. I’ve found that something as inexpensive as raffling off a $200 XBOX training award every month or giving away duffle bags go a long way.

And don’t forget about the importance of recognition. This is often-overlooked. If an entire department passes their compliance test, and they participated in your training course, then the department should see their name in lights. A training award doesn’t cost anything and shows everyone how important training is.

8.Don’t Pass Up Free Exposure.

There are lots of unique communications channels in your company that will help get your message out. Examples are bulletin boards, intranets, newsletters, company events, vendor fairs, etc. Sometimes, you just have to ask to be included to get some valuable free exposure.

7.Hold Lunch-And-Learns.

As a training person, using seminars as a marketing tool is a natural extension of your expertise. The added benefit of a seminar is that it’s an opportunity to showcase what you do, which gives your customer tangible proof that you know what you’re doing.

6.Broadcast Webinars.

Although webinars and seminars are similar in nature, they are very different in who they attract, how many people they attract, and how they’re put together. Webinars tend to get lots of registrations and appeal to people in remote offices and those who are extremely busy. These are people who might never attend a seminar but would sign up for a webinar. Webinars are usually less expensive and require less work on your part, but be prepared for the gotchas, which can easily be overcome, if you’re ready for them.

Make sure you’re using dependable webinar software. Nothing’s worse than a webinar where the sound goes in and out. I’m not affiliated in any way with Interwise, but have found their service to be the most reliable in the industry.

Make sure your presenter(s) have used the software, and that they’ve done a full dress rehearsal. It’s OK to have a presenter who has never done a webinar, but make sure you’ve helped them practice and have worked out the kinks.

Do multiple webinar reminders the week of the webinar and the day of the webinar. You can’t do too many reminders, since low “show rates” are very common with webinars. Expect anywhere from a 40% to 60% show rate.

5.Publish An eNewsletter.

It’s an email, but it’s not as easy to produce as an email. eNewsletters are usually very effective, and are generally perceived as valuable communications by most people. The problem is that they take a lot of time to produce and are hard to consistently publish over time. Here are some tricks to help guarantee your first eNewsletter won’t be your last.

Don’t be overly ambitious: The eNewsletter highway is paved with eNewsletters that were produced once and never heard from again. Start with a quarterly newsletter, which is pretty realistic. If it works well, you can always increase your frequency to bi-monthly.

Get help from your training suppliers: Training suppliers have a vested interest in making you successful. The good suppliers have the tools, articles, and expertise to help produce and distribute your eNewsletter.

Write it yourself: Newsletters are not difficult if you’re doing them yourself. Getting others to write articles and deliver them on time can be like pulling teeth. If you can’t manage the eNewsletter yourself, make sure that the person in charge has a vested interest in its success and is willing to commit the time it takes.

4.Send Regular Emails As A Company Business Strategy.

Nobody likes spam. But there’s no question that email can generate the biggest bang for the buck. However, it’s important to consider the following:

Every email needs to add value: You have to make it clear “What’s in it for them” and provide information that will be perceived as valuable. Otherwise, they’ll call it spam. eNewsletters work well for this.

Send the right message to the right person: Although it’s tempting to send mass emails to everyone in your company, it’s more important that you target the right message to the right person. If you’re offering IT training, send it only to the IT department.

Make it easy to opt out: In each email, give them a way to opt out. If you do this, it nearly always satisfies those people who might have otherwise complained about your email. • Plan at least six months in advance: Put together a simple schedule that contains the content of each email, who you’re sending them to and when they will be sent. This will increase the chance that your emails will actually get done, and that they’ll be sent on a consistent basis.

3. Make It Easy To Sign Up.

A widely known truth in marketing (and sales) is that when you make it easier for your customers to buy, your sales will increase. It’s that simple. It can be very frustrating for consumers to deal with organizations that make it more difficult than it should be. The problem is that the vendor is thinking from their perspective, not the perspective of their customers. Step out of your shoes for a moment and into your customers’ ways of thinking. This can sometimes be pretty challenging, but you’ll quickly see where you can make improvements that your customers will notice.

2.Create A Strong Presence On The Company Intranet.

Getting a training course catalog on the intranet is usually the first thing a training department does to market their courses. These days, if it’s not on the web, it’s not as real to customers. So, most people like to see it on the web before they actually talk to a live person or take any sort of action. Make sure that when you go live, you focus on the above, “Make it easy to sign up.” For instance, an employee should be able to register for a course just as easily as if they were buying a book on Amazon.com. If they have to go extra steps to get signed approval from their boss or fax something to you, then you’ll lose half your registrations.

1.Get The Endorsement Of Each Level Of Management.

This may not sound like marketing, but it’s the best possible way to “sell” your classes. Getting executive buy-in means that you convince your company’s leaders to endorse your program, actively promote it … and possibly even require it.

Let’s say you have a new compliance course that you want all of your employees to take. Rather than sending an email asking them to register, why don’t you have your CEO or another top-level executive email a meeting planner inviting everyone to attend the class and offering a training award to the department with the highest compliance. Most sane employees will jump to respond to it … and attend the training as well. We all know how important executive buy-in is, but it’s critical to place this at the very top of your list. This step might take lots of work and follow-up, but it’s worth it.

The good news is that a strong company business strategy that includes a comprehensive marketing program can pay off big-time for your training programs. The bad news is that it can be challenging. However, if you stick to proven techniques and plan things out well in advance, you can get a return that will elevate your training program to the next level.

What Training Providers Know About How To Market Training

Does this sound familiar?

“I don’t have time for sales and marketing, especially when I’m doing well and delivering training.”

“I have a hard time breaking through the e-mail clutter that my prospects receive on a daily basis.”

“I can’t stand incompetent customers who fall for sales pitches rather than doing their due diligence.”

Recently, we asked about the challenges you training providers deal with in marketing training and what works well for you. Here are the top five things we learned from what you had to say.

1. I can’t find the right decision makers

A large majority of you said that your biggest challenge was finding the right decision makers who could buy your training services. This seems to be a common challenge with most of the training providers I talk to. They have a hard time getting leads and finding the right decision maker who have the budget AND the need for what they’re selling. Most training providers say that the sales process gets really easy once they find the right prospect that has a need.

So, what’s the solution? 90% of the time, getting leads costs a lot of time and money. Simply put, you have to invest more into sales AND strategic marketing strategies. The most successful training providers that I know spend a very healthy portion of their revenues on sales and marketing. If you’re not spending 25%, then chances are you’re on a sales roller coaster ride.

2. I can’t get through the e-mail clutter

One thing I noticed from this survey is that you depend a lot on e-mail marketing. The biggest challenge here is coming up with e-mails that prospects open, read, and respond to. Most e-mails barely get a 10% open rate, and a much lower number of click-through’s and responses.

Getting prospects to respond truly is an art form. However, one way to immediately improve your e-mail marketing is to change your mindset a bit. When you write the email, focus hard on one thing: What is going to get your prospect to reply to your email. Not click-through’s. Not opens. Responses! Try it out. It’s like magic.

3. Stuck in a commodity

Lots of you said that your competitors are inching in on your business and customers don’t recognize the value of what you’re selling. They don’t see any difference between you and the training company down the street who’s offering the same classes at a 50% off. Fact is, customers tend to be penny smart and pound foolish. We all are. There’s no point in arguing. I’ve seen training companies argue with their customers until most of their market share has vanished.

This is a positioning problem. What can you do? Create a new playing field. If you don’t like apples to apples comparisons, then become an orange. The trick here is you have to identify your prospects real hot buttons and build your strategic marketing strategies around that. Finding out what’s REALLY important to them takes a lot of digging, but after you’ve done this, you can build your service around their desires. After that, the product almost sells itself and before you know it, you’ll occupy a market all your own.

4. Big thirst for marketing knowledge

I asked you what articles you’d like to see written about how to market your training company and I’ve posted many, now, on the website for your support. Let me know what else you would like to see, okay?

5.What you’re missing

There are two types of marketing implementation that I know for a fact work, but most of you said they don’t work for you: Webinars and Direct Mail.

Webinars: There’s almost no better lead generator and awareness builder than webinars. The problem is they’re relatively expensive and take a lot of work to do well. One organization I worked with ran an average of one webinar per week for several years and each webinar pulled in about two hundred leads. That’s around ten thousand leads per year. The result was lots of sales and a great return on their marketing implementation investment. The beauty of webinars is that most of the attendees walk away with a positive image of you and probably won’t forget you. Make sure you nclude webinars in your next marketing plan.

Direct Mail: When compared to e-mail marketing, direct mail is just plain expensive. As a result, almost every training company I know is doing a lot less direct mail and a lot more e-mail marketing implementation. However, there’s an opportunity here. Less and less training catalogs are being mailed and the e-mail waves are getting very cluttered. With less training catalogs being mailed, your prospects will pay more attention to your catalogs. All this being said though, you have to do direct mail right and it takes time and patience to show a real return. Consider it.

It’s refreshing to know that we’re all pretty much in the same boat and we all have the same marketing challenges.

How To Use Marketing Strategy For Training The Corporate Workforce

You probably wish you didn’t have to spend any of your training budget on marketing. Wouldn’t you rather focus your resources on developing top-quality learning? The reality is that if you don’t have marketing, you don’t get heard at all.

Kevin Costner thought that if you built it, they would come, but this is only true in the corn fields of Iowa. Building great training is usually only half the battle; the other half is getting your workforce to take advantage of it. Unfortunately, like most people, your workforce is so bombarded by marketing messages that unless those messages are carefully planned and executed, they won’t even hear them. Marketing must be an essential part of any successful training program.

Marketing Tactics That Always Work

In the twenty years that I’ve marketed training for a wide variety of suppliers and training departments, I’ve routinely been asked some variation of the following:

1. If I must integrate marketing into my training program, what’s the least amount of effort I can put into it and still get a payoff?
2. What marketing tactics really work for training workforce?
3. What’s going to give me the biggest bang for the buck—and even more importantly—for the work I’ll have to put in?

The truth is: there’s no free ride. Some of the most effective marketing activities are also some of the most expensive. Others cost almost nothing, but tend to require plenty of labor. The trick is to determine the combination of marketing activities that will make the best use of your time and your budget, so that you can eliminate what doesn’t work and focus on what does.

What’s The Right Marketing Mix For Training?

Marketers use the phrase “marketing mix” to mean a combination of activities that create synergy. “Mix” is the important part, because almost all successful marketing programs are combinations of two, three, or more activities. For example, you could spend your entire budget printing posters or sending out direct mail, but combining them with other activities like seminars and email marketing will increase your success rate exponentially.

Scott Hornstein, the author of “Integrated Direct Marketing: The Cutting Edge Strategy for Synchronizing Advertising, Direct Mail, Telemarketing and Field Sales” believes that when you integrate several marketing tactics, a sort of magic happens. It’s similar to the effect that blended learning can have on a student’s retention rate. When you hear the same message in different ways, you tend to remember it, and sometimes even act upon it. That’s what marketers want, and that’s what you want in your marketing programs. You want the learner to take action—to register for a class, take the class, and benefit from the wonderful services you have to offer.

The Ready-Made Marketing Plan

The bottom line is: you need cost- and time effective marketing that’s proven to work for training. You also need to create a marketing mix that gives you that extra bang. The activities below are those I have found to be the most effective for marketing training. Fit them into your marketing plan, and watch your classes fill up.

1. Get executive backing. This may not sound like marketing, but it’s the best possible way to “sell” your classes. Getting executive buy-in means that you convince your company’s leaders to endorse your program, actively promote it … and possibly even require it.

Let’s say you have a new compliance course that you want all of your employees to take. Rather than send an email asking them to register, why don’t you have your CEO or another top-level executive email a meeting planner inviting everyone to attend the class. Most sane employees will jump to respond to this … and attend the training as well. We all know how important executive buy-in is, but it’s critical to place this at the very top of your list. This step might take lots of work and follow-up, but it’s worth it.

2. Make it easy. A widely known truth in marketing (and sales) is that when you make it easier for your customers to buy, your sales will increase. It’s that simple. It can be very frustrating for consumers to deal with organizations that make it more difficult than it should be to take advantage of their products or services.

Have you ever tried to buy something over the web and just gave up because you were confused by the process or had to go through countless screens to complete the order? If the vendor took a moment to step into your shoes, they would see why they’re loosing sales. The problem is that the vendor is thinking from their perspective, not the perspective of their customers. Step out of your shoes for a moment and into your customers’ ways of thinking. This can sometimes be pretty challenging, but you’ll quickly see where you can make improvements that your customers will notice.

3. Use email as a marketing tactic. Nobody likes spam. There’s no question, however that email can generate the biggest bang for the buck. But, there are a few important things to consider:

a. Every email needs to add value: You have to make it clear “What’s in it for them” and provide information that will be perceived as valuable. Otherwise, they’ll call it spam. eNewsletters work well for this.

b. Send the right message to the right person: Although it’s tempting to send mass emails to everyone in your company, it’s more important that you target the right message to the right person. If you’re offering IT training, send it only to the IT department. However, don’t get too bogged down in breaking up your database into too many groups. This can make emailing so time consuming that you might never send out enough emails to make it worth the time you spent.

c. Make it easy to opt-out: In each email, give them an easy way to opt-out. If you do this, it nearly always satisfies those people who might have otherwise complained about your email.

d. Plan at least six months in advance: Put together a simple schedule that contains the content of each email, when they will be emailed, and to whom. This will increase the chance that your emails will actually be done and that they will be sent on a consistent basis.

4. Use an eNewsletter as part of your marketing strategy. It’s an email, but it’s not as easy to produce as an email. eNewsletters are usually very effective and are generally perceived as valuable communications by most people. The problem is that they take a lot of time to produce and are hard to sustain over time. Here are some tricks to help guarantee your first eNewsletter won’t be your last.

a. Don’t be overly ambitious: The eNewsletter highway is paved with eNewsletters that were produced once and never heard from again. Start with a quarterly newsletter, which is fairly realistic. If it works well, you can always increase your frequency to every other month.

b. Get help from your training suppliers: Training suppliers have a vested interest in making you successful. The good suppliers have the tools, articles, and expertise to help produce and distribute your eNewsletter.

c. Write it yourself: Newsletters are not difficult if you’re doing it yourself. Getting others to write articles and deliver them on time can be like pulling teeth. If you can’t manage the eNewsletter yourself, make sure that the person in charge has a vested interest in its success and is willing to commit the time it takes.

5. Conduct seminars … and webinars as part of your marketing strategy: As a training person, using seminars as a marketing tool is a natural extension of your expertise. The added benefit of an event like a seminar is that it’s an opportunity to showcase what you do, which gives your customer tangible proof that you offer a good service.

But remember, you must add value. The success of a seminar is determined mostly by how interesting the topic looks to your customer. Self-serving topics make for very small attendance.

6. Take advantage of all “free” opportunities. There are lots of unique communications channels in your training corporate workforce that will help get your message out. Each company is different, but most have bulletin boards, intranets, newsletters, company events, vendor fairs, etc. Sometimes, you just have to ask to be included to get some valuable free exposure.

The good news is that effective marketing can pay off big-time for your training programs. The bad news is that it can be challenging and time consuming. However, if you stick to proven techniques and plan things out well in advance, you can get a return that will elevate your training program to the next level.

How To Market Your Training Business With Webinars

A conversation with Sharyn Fitzpatrick of Marcom Gurus

Education webinars are a part of almost everyone’s marketing plan, but few do them as well as Sharyn Fitzpatrick of Marcom Gurus. Let’s see what she has to say about what makes a great seminar and what can turn it into an expensive learning experience.

Q: What are some of the important keys to a successful seminar?

Sharyn: First, set realistic expectations. Allow four to six weeks from conception to completion.

Second, think about the whole process

  • What happens both pre- and post-event?
  • How are you going to follow up on leads?
  • Think outside the box for marketing your event

Identify your target audience and understand what will appeal to them. – Transfer knowledge, not sales hype

  • Match the content to a pre-determined target audience
  • Don’t talk widgets when an audience wanted to hear about the latest trends in eLearning – Use a technology vendor that is easy to implement and will partner with you for success
  • Select speakers who have engaging content as well as an engaging speaking presence

Q: What should you budget for a seminar and how can you reduce costs without sacrificing on quality?

Sharyn: The technology and event management costs range in price from $3000 and up. You do get what you pay for. Since most web learning seminars are for lead generation, you want to make sure that you choose a quality platform that has a history of delivering problem-free events to audiences of your target size. If you use a conference call vendor, expect to pay additional for an outside service or additional service from your web conferencing provider.

Find an all-in-one vendor who will do conferencing, event management, and broadcasting both on the web and with IP telephony. It will cut your costs

Marketing also plays a big factor in the cost of an education webinar. The average cost for a list of 5,000 names is $2500. You can control your budget by getting creative with your audience development plans – do more with less. Trade for names. If you partner with someone, use their names for audience development. Build up your own lists so you only have to pay for email services, not names.

Q: What’s the best way to market learning webinars?

Sharyn: Use an internal list, if you have enough. Names of targets who have heard of your company or your speakers will respond the best. – Use a text email message, not HTML. Find a provider that will send out bulk emails, but it will look like it is coming from you. You will be amazed at the response rate you will get.

  • Banner ads and announcement in industry eNewsletters also draw attendance.

Q: Should you include partners to defray costs and handle some of the presentation?

Sharyn: Only if you are willing to give them a share of the spotlight and they agree to play by your rules.

Q: What are some of the gotchas in webinars that you should work hard to avoid?

Sharyn: Here are a few pitfalls to look out for:

  • Telephony overage charges
  • If you’re doing a tele-seminar where users login to the seminar AND have to call a toll free number, understand who pays for the phone calls and if there are steep overage charges
  • Tech Support responsibility
  • Who handles the attendee technical problems? You don’t want your speakers to be distracted by a question about a sound issue or a computer problem
  • Boring content
  • Too many PowerPoint slides with small type and hard to read graphics
  • Static presentations don’t keep the audience engaged
  • Share knowledge, not sales hype – this turns them off very fast and the attendees will leave in droves
  • Uninspiring and untrained speakers
  • Your speakers need to practice with the technology so they can be comfortable with both their content and the technology, so their presentation is delivered with confidence. The last thing you need is for the speaker to ask everyone in the audience how to advance the next slide (and yes, it does happen!)

Q: How far in advance should you send invitations for your webinar?

Sharyn: The rule of thumb used to be three to four weeks but that is often too far away. This really depends on your audience. An eLearning/training audience will be happy to plan far enough in advance whereas a high tech audience likes to make decisions in shorter timeframe. We have seen this over and over again reflected in attendance numbers. A good idea is to send out reminder emails so they don’t forget what they signed up for. If they signed up for a webinar, more than three weeks before, then send out a five or seven day reminder. If it is less than two weeks, then send out a 24 hour reminder. Usually, a one hour or 20 minute reminder also works.

Q: What webinar platforms would you recommend?

Sharyn: It is really more than just a webinar platform. It is also what event management capabilities they offer. Understand whether they handle registration, confirmation emails, reminder emails, post-event notifications, and reporting for lead generation.

I have had good experiences with WebEx and Interwise, but I feel that Interwise offers a better all-encompassing and better performing technology platform. Their IP telephony option is better than most conference calls and it is much less expensive. You can also record the voice and data presentations together for later playback. This is not an easy feat with some of their competitors.

Q: After the seminar is over, what’s the best way to follow up with the attendees AND non-attendees?

Sharyn: If you have a copy of the recording, send out “thank you” or “sorry we missed you” emails to those that registered. Offer them a direct link to the recording. If they have pre-registered, then using an event management system will help them avoid a re-registration process. They can just click on a custom link and it will play immediately.

Q: For a company who’s never done a training seminar, what’s the best way to get started?

Follow a successful process. There are lots of best-practice ideas out there. Here is one that has worked successfully for our efforts:

  • Send “thank you” and “sorry we missed you” e-mails
  • Define goal
  • Define target audience
  • Obtain invitee lists
  • Registration vs. attendance
  • Q&A transcript
  • Edit and publish recording
  • Follow up on leads
  • Event summary
  • Create event
  • Send invitations
  • Train speaker
  • Create materials
  • Deliver event
  • Send reminders
  • Monitor
  • Q&A
  • Recording

Five Ways To Increase Customer And Client Referrals

If you’ve been in training long, you know that referrals are without question the best leads you can get. Usually, when one of your clients refers you to a colleague, they are doing it in response to an expressed need. In other words, their colleague already needs the services your company provides. Plus, their colleague’s company is often similar to their own – the same size, same culture, and requiring the same types of training products, and your happy client is happy to provide the marketing referral. Talk about targeted marketing!

Additionally, your happy client is endorsing your services. Think about it. When you are planning a large purchase — a car for example — you may read car magazines and company brochures and talk to salespeople, but what really leads you to your ultimate choice? Often, it’s a trusted friend who owns the model you are considering and is willing to personally vouch for its value.

Unlike the voluminous leads that you get from email blasts and direct marketing programs, referrals can be hard to come by. As marketers, we wish we could simply re-position marketing funds into referral-generating campaigns, but it rarely works out that way. Referrals simply aren’t as scalable as other lead programs. Still, experience has taught me there are ways to increase referrals and that doing so can have significant impact on business.

Here are my top five ideas for increasing referrals:

1. Ask for referrals … all the time
Happy clients love to give referrals, but don’t always remember to do so when the time is right. That’s why you should let them know that you want and appreciate their referrals Look for marketing champions who are already talking about your quality services to others.

A national company I do business with has built their marketing program almost entirely around generating referrals. Every email that every employee sends to customers ends with, “Who is the one person you know that could benefit from my advice and expertise?” You can re-purpose this message for your customers and make it a part of your company’s standard email signature.

2. Incent your salespeople to ask for a client referral
Your salespeople almost certainly already know Idea #1: Ask for referrals all the time. But are they putting action behind the words? Many salespeople tell me they either forget or are too uncomfortable to ask. Help them develop the habit so it becomes second nature.

One company I worked with incented its sales teams to ask for referrals on every single call. Salespeople kept a log of referrals they obtained from their happy clients and were then compensated with bonus money added to their paychecks. Not only did the company triple their number of referrals with this program, but customers seemed to appreciate being asked. Some remarked, “I’m glad you asked that. I’ve been meaning to tell a co-worker to go take one of your courses.”

3. Buy one, get one free
Buy one get one at half price” is a common marketing promotion in many industries. Why? It works. In service industries, such as training, what you’re really asking for is a client referral.

When a customer registers for a class or buys some other training product from you, make it worth their while to encourage a colleague to do the same. Offer a discount on the current product or a future product as an incentive. If they can’t think of anyone else who could benefit from your services, remind them to consider other departments in their company or external vendors, partners, or clients they may want to reward. Everyone wins from this promotion. Your client gets a discount and you acquire a new customer.

4. Increase the purchasing power of your customer
One company I worked with met with each of their major customers annually to present a thorough report of what the customer had bought in the previous year and ascertain what their goals were for the upcoming year. In each of these meetings, we encouraged referrals by presenting the customer with a method for increasing their purchasing power.

We told the customer that if we could get one more department in their organization to spend the same amount they were spending, we would give their company a major price break. Often, this led to deep discussions about the company’s org chart and who the best contacts might be. Some clients even went so far as to provide us an org chart and a phone list!

5. Satisfy your customers
I once read a study that said that satisfied customers tell one person about their experiences with a company, while unsatisfied customers tell five. There’s a lot of power in referrals, for good and for bad. Obviously you want the marketing champions who are saying good things about your organization to outnumber those who are saying bad things. This seems to be a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how easily it can be forgotten, especially with those who are not in the trenches.

Early in my marketing career, I thought the number of customers who bought my companies’ products was directly related to the success of my carefully orchestrated marketing campaigns. Over the years, I have come to realize that many customers simply come out of the woodwork.

Where do they come from? Salespeople didn’t get them to call in. Marketing didn’t do anything to get them to call. So, what happened? After talking to hundreds of customers, I finally concluded that more came due to a referral than those who came in response to a specific marketing plan I had implemented.

If you don’t include referral-generation in your marketing plan, the time to include it is now. If you already have a plan for generating referrals, the ideas above should help you freshen your approach.

Top Ten Integrated Direct Marketing Strategies For Growing Your Training Business

There’s no industry quite like the training industry. The marketing strategies that work in other industries sometimes have little or no effect on training buyers. On the flip side, some strategies have proven to work exceptionally well in the training industry, and not as well others industries.

Let’s take a look at what works for training. Here are the top ten:

10. Giveaways

Giveaways work well for training companies who sell seats in public classes. The way they do it is they run a promotion that says something like, “Take any class in December and get a free Widget”. The free widget is something that has a significant value to their target customer, but costs them less than 20% of the price of the course. I’ve found that on average, a salesperson who sells training generally discounts 10% to 20% on a seat in a class, so if you do this, you’re not actually losing margin.

For example, if your gift costs $200, which is 10% of a $2000 class and you sell the course at retail price, then you didn’t lose any money and probably increased the size of your class. We all know that full classes are usually the most profitable classes.

Important Note: Most government employees and some employees of large corporations cannot accept gifts or are restricted to gift of under $25. In these cases, the employee will generally decline the gift and everything will be OK.

9. Sweepstakes or Raffles

Doing a raffle and giving away something like a free car won’t necessarily increase your sales, but it sure will grow your database. This strategy is great for companies who sell public seats, which is basically a numbers game. All things being equal, if your database is larger so that you can market more, your classes will be fuller. The key here is to create a large database of good prospects and sweepstakes are an economical way to do it.

Some disclaimers though. The quality of these leads tends to be lower than a typical lead. However, I have found them to be better than most lists that you purchase, like a magazine subscription list. So they’re somewhere in the middle, but the minimal cost of acquiring them makes them a great investment.

Important Note: Be careful to think through your fine print when promoting a sweepstakes. At the very minimum, you need to mention states like Florida that do not allow sweepstakes and you need to be clear about whether the winner can substitute a cash prize instead of the sweepstakes item. For help on this, I’ve used Marden-Kane (www.mardenkane.com), who specializes in sweepstakes laws.

8. Increasing Your Lead Conversion Rate

Can you answer this question? How many of your leads turn into sales? Is it 10% … 30%? It’s important to know and to keep a very close watch on how it changes over time. It’s even more important to go through the entire sales process and find the strengths and weaknesses in your process that lead to a high or low close ratio.

For instance, are the people who answer your phone passing leads to the right people in a timely manner? Are salespeople upselling or pushing hard for the close? I’ve found that there’s no other place in your company where you can make a bigger impact on sales than in increasing your close ratio. Think about this. Let’s say you learn that your average salesperson doesn’t follow up on a lead until around one week after the lead is received? This is almost never a good thing. Let’s say you make a change that reduces turnaround time to 48 hours (which should be your goal, by the way). This change increases your close rate by a conservative 10%. For most companies, this is an immediate 5% increase in sales, if half their leads are coming in over the phone or through the website. Where else can you make such a minor change that turns into a big impact on sales?

Important Note: An easy way to increase your lead conversion rate is to rank your leads. For instance, those leads that are referrals might be an A. Those from the house list, a B. Those from an outside list, a C, etc. Source is the best predictor of close ratio, so if your salespeople know to concentrate on the A leads, then the overall close ratio will increase without too many changes.

7. Case Studies

Case studies and customer testimonials are of ultra importance to almost every type of training supplier company and their marketing strategies, but especially for training supplier companies who sell services. The fact is that if you’re selling “solutions”, nothing says more about what you have to offer than case studies. Most training-services companies find that every new client engagement is unique and not “off the shelf.” In most cases, they sell combinations of many of the services that they offer through integrated direct marketing. Usually the only way to explain these complex groupings of services is through case studies. Important Notes: You need the customer’s permission to use their name or logo, so start working on getting permission very early in the engagement. It usually takes much longer than you think, especially with larger corporations. Also, the most effective studies tend to be the ones that show the details – what went right, what went wrong and what the numbers were. The more unbiased it sounds, the more believable it will be.

6. eNewsletters

eNewsletters work for any type of training company. For a training services company, the articles show how smart your consultants are. For a public training company, your instructors will show off their expertise.

In addition to continuously putting you in front of your customers, eNewsletters are also great for prospecting. On the front page of your web page, you should have a place for a prospect to quickly and easily sign up for your newsletter.

Important Note: Be conservative about how often you plan to publish. Quarterly or bimonthly is a realistic goal when you start out. After you’ve established the eNewsletter, you can move to monthly, especially when you see how well it works. Also, keep in mind that newsletters are inexpensive, but labor intensive. Make sure you have someone who will “own it” and who can make things happen.

5. Integrated Direct Marketing (IDM®)

This direct marketing philosophy was pioneered by Ernan Roman and Scott Hornstein in the eighties to help increase the response of stale direct marketing campaigns. To sum up the concept, Ernan says, “IDM synchronizes multiple media to achieve double-digit response.” In other words, it combines and synchronizes direct mail, email, telemarketing, and PR to increase the overall response rate.

A simple way to immediately enhance the effectiveness of your telemarketers is to send out personalized emails every week and have them follow up with phone calls. By simply combining these two mediums you will increase your response rate. The trick here is to get proficient at synchronizing your marketing tactics and thinking of them as part of a marketing machine, not just a bunch of independent parts.

For more details on the IDM concept, pick up the book, “Integrated Direct Marketing” by Ernan Roman.

4. Referral Generation

Referrals make the sales world go around and sell lots of training. As a young marketer, I always wanted to control the customer, to get them to buy my product. Over the years, I realized that many customers simply come out of the woodwork. Where did they come from? Salespeople didn’t get them to call in. Marketing didn’t do anything to get them to call. So, what happened? After talking to hundreds of customers over the years, I finally came to the conclusion that a much higher percentage of our customers were generated by referrals than by almost anything else. I’ve now witnessed this same phenomenon at seven different training companies. So, you’re saying “that’s great, but how do we benefit from knowing this?” The answer is to get creative and find ways to encourage referrals so that you’re getting twice as many as you would get naturally. In addition to “bring a friend” promotions, you can do raffles in your classrooms in exchange for referrals. How about incenting your salespeople to ask for referrals? If you tell your biggest customer that if they get another division of their company to start using your training services, then you’ll give them both a bigger discount. Who knows, you might be able to double the size of one customer with just one phone call.

3. Internal Marketing

Many of your customers are in very large enterprises. They usually have big training departments and offer lots of different types of training services to their workforce. They also have one problem in common. They don’t know how to effectively market to their workforce. A typical scenario: ABC Company just decided to reduce their training costs by switching from traditional instructor led training (ILT) to eLearning. That should save them a lot of money, right? Let’s say that the eLearning subscription costs them $100,000 for all the courses they could possibly need, so they’re saving several hundred thousand dollars in training costs and travel costs. The problem is that after a month of using eLearning, only a couple of people have taken a course. Alarm bells start going off and they determine that eLearning isn’t very desirable to their general workforce, especially when compared to live instructor-led training.

So, what can they do? This is a job for marketing! Most training directors don’t want to invest time and money in marketing, so your job as a training supplier is to help them market to their workforce. Connect your marketing person with their training director and let them figure out how they can work together. When you start seeing results from the marketing and your eLearning starts getting used, you can look forward to greater long term sales and a very loyal customer.

To learn more about “internal marketing” strategies, read my article titled “Top Ten Strategies for Marketing Training to Your Workforce” at www.howtomarkettraining.com.

2. Training Seminars

Training seminars and road shows are staple marketing strategies for almost any type of training supplier company. The reason is because seminars show off how good you are at training. After all, a seminar is training. There have been many articles written on how to do a successful seminar, so I won’t get too deep into that. However, one very important thing to focus on is making sure your seminar content is relevant and perceived as valuable by your prospects. Seminars that are pure sales pitches tend to have the opposite effect of what you desire.

1. Webinars

Seminars are really training, and so are webinars. The difference between the two is that webinars are much less expensive and can get you in front of a significantly larger audience for a fraction of the cost. Also, today’s customer is comfortable with webinar technology and see that they can get the same information in a webinar that they can in a seminar. So why would they want to get in a car and go to a seminar? Networking is why seminars are still important, so we shouldn’t dismiss them … but webinars have much more potential to give you a huge return on investment.

That’s my top ten, but it certainly doesn’t include every marketing strategy that works in training. My “honorable mentions” are website sponsorships, e-mail marketing, Google Adwords, website optimization, direct mail, banner advertising, and of course, customer feedback, which is absolutely essential.

How To Grow Your Training Business Without Spending A Dime On Marketing

A few short months ago, the president of a computer training company asked me if it was possible to grow your business without spending any money on marketing.

My gut reaction was simply, “Not possible.” However, knowing this probably wasn’t the right answer; I thought about it and realized that some of the best marketing activities I’ve seen and done haven’t cost a whole lot of money. Of course, there was the labor involved in having me, or a marketing staff, implement those activities. That certainly was a real cost. No doubt about it. So how could you possibly do it for free?

What if YOU were the President of that small training company and didn’t have a marketing staff, didn’t know a whole lot about marketing, and didn’t have a marketing budget? How would you do it?

First off, if you offer a great training service and know how to sell it, and know how to effectively run a business, there’s a good chance that business will grow. Maybe not as fast as you might want it to, but it would probably grow. Especially if you’re not in the middle of a recession. Oops, sorry about bringing up the “R” word!

Good marketing is somewhat like rocket fuel for an already solid product, effective sales approach, and organized business infrastructure. A good marketing plan can turn something good into something great, and can get you there a lot faster.

So, here’s how to do it.

Ten ways to grow your training business without spending a dime (or a rupee, or a pound) on marketing.

Read, read, read, about marketing

You must educate yourself if you can’t afford to invest in a marketing person. Also, you get what you pay for if you bring in a marketing person just out of college or with no training industry experience. If you can’t afford someone with lots of experience and with a training background, then you will spend a lot of money learning what works and what doesn’t work.

So, assuming you’re not ready for a marketing person, it’s time to make a resolution to really learn marketing. Start by educating yourself through books and newsletters. Develop your Marketing Plan — 101 curriculum based upon the next nine items on this list.

Spend time developing your business value proposition and positioning

I can’t say enough about the importance of spending quality time on crystallizing your business value proposition. When you finish this, you will be able to clearly and succinctly communicate the value of buying your product and why it’s clear that prospects should buy it from you.

There are hundreds of books written on this, so go to your library, get one, and follow the steps they recommend. It’s time consuming, but it’s your marketing foundation. Everything else will benefit if you do this part right.

Focus on getting referrals

I happen to believe that 80% of every training purchase is somehow influenced by a referral. Before people buy training, they talk to someone who has already had a good experience. This means that getting your happy customers to pass your name along may be the most effective way to spend your time. This can be a huge return on your time investment. You should look at every new customer as a foothold into the company they work for and their network of colleagues.

For more ideas about how to get referrals, read my article, “5 Ways to Increase Customer Referrals.”

Market the next class

It’s a common conclusion that the cost of marketing to a current customer is much less expensive than the cost of obtaining a new customer. Some marketing researchers say that this number may be as high as twenty times the cost. Take this to heart.

Focus on marketing to your customers first. Every time you communicate with a customer, tell them what to buy next. This could be in the classroom, after the class, in an e-mail, or on a sales call. After they take a class, they should have a very clear idea of what to take next. The timing may not be “right now”, but they need to know where they’re going next so that they’ll remember it when they’re ready.

Increase your lead conversion rate

Every phone call or email inquiry from a qualified prospect is golden. What’s the value of an incoming inquiry? If you’re selling instructor led training, the marketing cost of creating an incoming call can be as much as $500 US. The marketing cost for most calls is around $100.When that call comes in, do you treat it like it’s worth that much? What percentage of those calls do you convert to sales?

If you don’t know what that percentage is, then take some time to figure it out and I’ll bet you’ll be surprised. Generally, if you’re not closing one in five sales calls, then there’s some work to be done. If you were able to close 20% of your incoming calls, then how much would this increase your revenue? You might also be surprised at the answer to this. Long story short, increasing the conversion of incoming calls or emails can have an immediate and huge effect.

If you have a website, pay a LOT of attention to it.

These days, almost every prospect sees your website before they ever talk to you or buy from you. What does it mean to have your website as your first impression? First, ask yourself if your website makes your company look better or worse than you actually are? If it’s worse, then you’re losing sales. Second, on your website, how many clicks does it take for a visitor to find the course they want and click the register button? If it’s more than three clicks, then it takes too long and your website is creating frustration and reducing sales.

Understand Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and spend lots of time on it

Unlike Google Adwords, SEO is free…assuming you have the knowledge and the time to take advantage of it. The more time you spend on it, the more traffic you will get to your website and hopefully, the more prospects will buy your training. You can hire companies to optimize your website for search engines, but it’s usually over $5000 US to do so. Even at that, you won’t get as much as you can get by educating yourself and getting good at it.

The first step is to read the best book that I have found on the topic called “Search Engine Optimization, an Hour a Day”. Also, check out the author’s website, which has some tools to get you started.

Get the most out of e-mail marketing plan

This is another free one that anybody can do, but most don’t do it very well. To do it well, you need to start by planning way in advance. Put together a six month schedule of every e-mail you want to send. The more you plan the more the emails will complement each other and the less likelihood of you aggravating your customers with too many emails. Also, you’re more likely to do them if you have a long term schedule.

Secondly, you must have a plan to email your customers after they take a class. Right after the class is when they are most likely to register for a second class. The further away they get from the class date, the less likely they will be to take a class. Think this one through and setup weekly email batches that go out to your students.

Third, do a newsletter. This is a natural for a training company. Get your upcoming class schedule in the e-mail with individual hot links to each upcoming class. Remember that for your prospects, the timing of the class is almost as important as the class itself. With so much competition, make sure you show them class dates in the e-mail.

Document your success and get customer testimonials On your classroom evaluation questionnaire, do you ask your students if you can use their comments and name in your marketing materials? Like I mentioned earlier, almost no one buys training before they learn about how good the training is from a colleague. Grow your business by putting testimonials and positive quotes on your website, brochure, and catalog will increase your sales. There’s a direct correlation between the number of testimonials a prospect reads and their likelihood to buy your training.

Network with non-competitive training companies

There’s a lot of training companies who are in the same boat that you are. They have great training, but are a small company that doesn’t have the time or money for marketing. Call these people, get to know them, and share what you’ve learned. Nine times out of ten, if they’re not your competition, they’ll share what they have learned also.

One great idea that you can immediately apply to your business can be the difference between profit and loss. This is knowledge that you will rarely find in books.

What NOT to do:

Don’t even think about advertising

This will be the biggest temptation you have if you have any money sitting around that could be used for marketing. Advertising sales people will be calling you and they make it oh-so-easy for you to spend your money. Bottom line, advertising doesn’t work well enough. There’s always something better you could be doing with your money at this stage in your company.

Don’t even think about exhibiting at tradeshows

Talk about a drain on resources. What you pay for the booth space can be as little as 20% of the total direct and indirect cost of an event. In addition, tradeshows just aren’t that effective and are very hard to measure. Take my word on this one.

Don’t even think about direct mail

I think we’re both in agreement on this one. Direct mail is expensive and it requires some expertise to do well and to get a good return. Usually you do it three times before it starts to pay for itself and even then, you’ve got to know what you’re doing to really grow your business and get a real return on investment. For now, focus your efforts on making your e-mail marketing better.

Hope this wasn’t too much information, too quickly. The lesson learned here is that there really are a lot of things you can do with little or no money. And even more importantly, these things should all come before you spend a lot of money on marketing anyway. So, work your way through this checklist. After you’ve mastered them all and checked them all off, then you can start investing more on marketing.