February 08, 2007
How To

Special Report: Webinar Buyer’s Guide -- 12 Tips + List of Key Vendors

SUMMARY: If you’re hosting a lead-generation webinar in the near future, don’t sign up with a vendor until you look through our buyer’s guide.

We gathered a list of seven questions to ask about functionality, features and pricing that will help you match the best product to your company’s goals. We also have tips on how to use some of those features to get the most out of your registration pages, email reminders and other webinar tools.

Plus, we compiled a list of key webinar vendors, with details on their options and pricing.

Webinars are key tools in many marketer’s portfolios. In fact, a MarketingSherpa survey last year found that technology marketers ranked webinars as one of the top three marketing techniques and that 35% rated them as “very effective” -- second only to product demos in popularity.

But if you’ve ever hosted a webinar or are planning an event right now, you know there’s a seemingly endless list of vendors vying to provide your webinar platform. How do you select the right one?

We’ve pulled together tips on selecting a webinar vendor, including questions you may not have thought to ask but that could make the difference between an event that produces lots of hot leads and one that leaves some out in the cold. On top of that, we’re sorted through the key webinar vendors out there and features they offer.

Note: This piece won’t tell you how to run a webinar, but we’ve provided hotlinks to previous Sherpa Case Studies describing how to put on a good show.

Step #1. Decide What You Want From Your Event so You Know What to Look for in a Vendor

We’re using the term webinar to mean an event in which participants call a conference line to hear a presentation from one or more speakers while viewing slides on their computers. This means, at minimum, you’ll need a way to share slides over the Web and a conference line so attendees can hear the presentation. Around those tools, though, you might have specific ideas about how to enhance your event:

a. Size. How many people do you expect will attend? You can host anywhere from a few attendees to hundreds or even thousands of participants.

b. Media options. Do you want to show anything beyond a basic PowerPoint slide show? Many vendors offer streaming audio and video, flash or 3-D graphics that might make a presentation look snazzier, but also might be too complicated for presenters and attendees to deal with.

c. Interactivity. How much communication do you want between the audience and the presenters? Chat, Q&A, surveys and exit polls are common. Decide which are most important but remember that there are plenty of ways to hear from your audience before and after a webinar. For example, instead of a live Q&A, you could have attendees submit their questions during registration. This tactic can allow the presenters to be better prepared and make the presentation more relevant to the audience.

d. Event reporting. The idea is to generate leads, so you’ll want to know who signed up and who actually attended. But some services also let you see how long listeners stayed on the line, what questions they asked and get their post-event impressions of the presentation.

e. How much of the process do you want to handle yourself? Webinar vendors offer everything from DIY systems that require you to handle registration and notification to complete event staff that give you professional help planning and executing an event. Knowing how much your in-house marketing and IT staffs are able (and willing) to take on will help you decide how much you need a vendor to handle for you.

Tip: Don’t forget the down-and-dirty approach to easy webinars: If fancy features and a full suite of services aren’t important to you, you can always piece together your own system. You can simply rent a teleconference phone line (often for a low monthly rate) and then email a PDF of slides to attendees, letting them follow along on their own during the live presentation.

Step #2. Vetting Vendors

Understanding the options is the first step to figuring out which system is right for you. Many vendors re-sell Web conferencing tools from big providers, such as WebEx or Microsoft’s LiveMeeting. Others offer their own services. Either way, here are the key questions to ask when choosing a vendor:

-> How much do you charge and how can I buy your service?

Webinar technology can by purchased on a per-person/per-minute basis or by signing up for monthly or annual subscriptions. A one-off event might need only a one-time purchase.

If you plan to host several webinars during the year, a subscription might make more sense. And knowing your goals for the webinar will help you budget how much you want to spend, particularly since some vendors charge fees for additional services, such as polling and recording (see below).

-> What special features do you offer?

The ability to share slides is a given. Q&A, chat, polling and other interactive features, such as shared whiteboards and note-taking ability, are also common. They’re not critical but may be useful to you. While interactivity seems like a good idea, live chat or Q&A features may distract some participants and presenters, so consider those options carefully.

Streaming audio and video also are common, but an easy way to add a human element to the presentation may be as simple as displaying a photograph of the presenters on the computer screen or in the email invitation or registration page.

-> Can I customize the registration form and landing/thank-you pages?

Set up a registration page to collect the information you will need to judge qualified leads. To reinforce your own company’s brand on these pages, use logos and other look-and-feel features, or add hotlinks to your Web site.

Tip: Don’t waste valuable real estate. Adding hotlinks to relevant white papers and reports on your webinar registration pages or thank-you pages is a good way to provide additional offers to attendees. MarketingSherpa data shows that 39% of visitors signing up for a newsletter clicked on another offer when presented with choices on a thank-you page.

Important: Registration forms usually ask attendees for their email addresses. It’s critical that the registration page include a link to the vendor’s privacy policy, as well as to your company’s policy. Make sure the vendor won’t harvest those email addresses and use them for their own purposes.

-> Do you offer automatic email reminders?

Reminding registrants a week and/or the day before the event is crucial, and automated systems reduce some of the hassle. You’ll want to find out if you can customize those emails so you can include important links or a photo of the presenter. Also, ask whose server the emails will be sent by -- yours or the vendor's? Emails sent from a webinar vendor may be blocked by spam filters.

->What call-in options are available for the audio conference line?

Many basic services come with toll calling. Decide whether a toll-free line is important. If you expect attendees from around the world, ask if an international call-in line is available since many toll-free lines allow only US callers.

-> What’s included in the event reporting?

At a minimum, you need to know who registered, which registrants actually attended and how long they stayed on the call. Consider such data the basics, but ask what else is available.

Can you see who opened the invitation emails but didn’t register? What about who asked questions? How easy is it to export all this data into your in-house sales database? Post-event surveys also help you judge the reaction to your event; many vendors offer this feature. You can also poll attendees on your own, using a low-cost monthly survey ASP, such as SurveyGizmo or SurveyMonkey.

-> Can I record my event and host the file on my own servers?

Since an archived version can continue to generate leads long after the webinar has ended, recording the event is critical. Ask the vendor if this will cost extra and in what format you can get the file. Keep the file available online for as long as the content is relevant.

Tip: Editing the presentation into chapters is a big convenience for people who listen to the recorded version. Ask your vendor whether that’s an option.

Key Webinar Vendors

Here is an alphabetical list of webinar vendors and details on some of their service options:

Convenos' Convenos Meeting Center
Maximum number of users: 100.
Price: Professional Edition license is $1,200 per year unlimited number of meetings. $300 per year for the Standard Edition license with up to 20 users per meeting. Both editions include free audio options and no per-minute charges.
Special features: Slide, file, desktop and application sharing, polling, attendee monitoring, whiteboard, media and chat features are all included. Convenos Meeting Center also has certified integrations with Skype and Salesforce.com.
Customizable registration and landing/thank-you pages: Yes, but not highly customizable.
Customizable email invitations: Yes.
Automatic reminder emails: No.
Event reporting: No.
Recording: Yes.
Additional notes/information: Convenos Meeting center focuses on the small and medium size business market, enabling these businesses to leverage the same online meeting capabilities as large enterprise for a fraction of the cost.

Convoq ConferenceASAP
Maximum number of participants: 500.
Price: Four annual subscription levels for 25, 50, 100 and 200 attendees -- $2,400, $4,800, $9,600, $19,200. Additional users can be added for 15 cents per minute/per user; 5 cents per minute for conference call line.
Special features: Chat, streaming video, VOIP, participant monitoring and application sharing.
Customizable registration and landing/thank-you pages: Yes. Convoq’s system is integrated with Salesforce so hosts can set up a Web-to-lead form and host it on their own Web site.
Customizable email invitation: Yes.
Automatic email reminders: Yes. Convoq ConferenceASAP is integrated with Outlook or Salesforce to generate emails, track responses, attendance and details from post-event follow-up.
Event reporting: The basics, with the report created in Salesforce.
Recording: Yes. Files hosted by Brainshark.com, which provides reports of playback views.
Note: Flash-based application doesn’t require participants to download special software to attend a webinar.

Maximum number of participants: Up to 1,000.
Price: $99 a month for unlimited use or $948 annually, plus 4.75 cents a minute for toll-free teleconference line.
Special features: Chat, Q&A, polling, post-webinar surveys and attendee monitoring.
Custom registration and landing/thank-you pages: Yes, including upload of customers’ corporate logo.
Customizable email invitation: Yes.
Automatic email reminders: Yes.
Event reporting: The basics, plus a list of attendees ranked by “interest rating.”
Recording: A DIY system. The event host must have a sound card installed on their computer and an adapter to record from the phone line to their PC. The file can then be edited and hosted by the customer.
Note: Subscription to GoToWebinar includes use of Citrix’s GoToMeeting so hosts can offer follow-up events with smaller groups (up to 10 people).

Maximum number of participants: Unlimited.
Price: 10 cents per minute for “light collaboration” mode (sharing PowerPoint slides only); 20 cents per minute for “standard collaboration” mode (PowerPoint plus additional communication tools described below); 30 cents per minute for “full collaboration” mode (streaming video, VoIP and other advanced features).
Special features: Chat, Q&A, polling, surveys, application sharing, attendee monitoring, interactive whiteboards and streaming audio/video.
Customizable registration and landing/thank-you pages: Yes.
Customizable email invitation: Yes.
Automatic email reminders: Yes.
Event reporting: The basics, plus any interaction with attendees (questions, poll responses) and post-event surveys.
Recording: Yes.
Note: iLinc’s Event Plus service offers a host of event planning and management services, from more in-depth registration form data gathering to presenter training, operator assistance. Prices depend on services used.

Infinite Conferencing
Maximum number of participants: Default set at 100, can be set to “as many as you like” for no additional charge.
Price: 7.5 cents per minute, per user (not including telephone line) or $200 a month for up to 50 users. Additional charges for certain services (see below).
Special features: Chat, Q&A and application sharing.
Customizable registration and landing/thank-you pages: Yes, for an additional $1,000.
Customizable email invitation: Yes.
Automatic email reminders: Yes.
Event reporting: The basics, plus optional post-conference survey for $250.
Recording: Optional. $300 for up to 1.5 hours and basic editing. Includes three months of hosting.

Maximum number of participants: 1,000.
Price: 15 cents per minute per user (not including teleconference line).
Special features: Chat, text messaging, Q&A and polling.
Customizable registration and landing/thank-you pages: Yes.
Customizable email invitation: Yes, for $150 fee.
Automatic email reminders: Yes, including customizable templates. Sent from MeetingBridge’s servers or by event host.
Event reporting: The basics, including the ability to see who opened the email but did not register.
Recording: Optional. $300 for the first hour, $150 for each additional hour.
Note: MeetingBridge offers event specialists to help customers prepare and host a webinar.

Maximum number of participants: Unlimited.
Price: $499 a month for up to 100 users or a “pay as you go” plan, which requires a $200 account set-up fee and then 25 cents per person/per minute.
Special features: Q&A, polling, surveys, interactive noteboard, streaming audio and video and audience feedback.
Customizable registration and landing/thank-you pages: Yes.
Customizable email invitation: Information not available
Automatic email reminders: No.
Event reporting: The basics.
Recording: Optional. Costs $299.
Note: Operates from attendee’s browser so no software download is required. New MegaMeeting customers receive training on how to use the system and conduct a Web event.

ON24 Inc.
Maximum number of users: Unlimited.
Price: Average cost is $3,000, although customization options are available.
Special features: Lead scoring, customizable interface that's scalable up to thousands of live attendees, Q&A, chat, polling, survey, streaming audio and video, attendee monitoring, no downloads required and reliable infrastructure.
Customizable registration and landing/thank-you pages: Yes and brandable.
Customizable email invitations: Yes and brandable.
Automatic reminder emails: Yes.
Event reporting: Yes, real-time reporting and leadscoring.
Recording: Yes. Complimentary three-month archive.
Note: ON24 offers an event management service to help train presenters and run the event. They also offer a full suite of marketing solutions, including lead generation.

Premiere Global Services
Maximum number of users: 1,800.
Price: Various pricing options for automated and fully managed event calls for audio and Web conferencing, plus webcasting.
Special features: Choice and consultation as to which service suits the client's particular needs, live and on-demand support.
Customizable registration and landing/thank-you pages: Yes, using either their Web conferencing partners or their own in-house application for better branding.
Customizable email invitations: Yes, the blast e-mail service is highly customizable.
Automatic reminder emails: Yes.
Event reporting: Yes, detailed reporting.
Recording: Yes, they can host the recording or provide clients with their own copy.
Note: Audio and Web conferencing provider from small to large high-profile events. Full range of services from pre-registration, participants screening, event management team, post-conference reporting, ability to edit files/record calls for a more professional approach. Complimentary training available tailored to each client's needs, 24/7 on-demand support and on-site/online live support during events.

Maximum number of participants: 2,000 (350 for application sharing/demo mode).
Price: $49 a month for up to 15 attendees; unlimited monthly usage rates available; prices depend on volume.
Special features: Chat, Q&A and application sharing.
Customizable registration and landing/thank-you pages. Yes.
Customizable email invitation: Yes, integrated with Outlook.
Automatic email reminders: Expected in an upcoming release.
Event reporting: The basics, plus a post-event feedback survey.
Recording: Yes, including listener registration form and reports on playback views.

Maximum number of participants: Unlimited, but the company recommends using webcasts for audiences in the thousands.
Price: Self-service system available for 29 cents per minute or $69 per user (volume discounts available). Full-service system (including event production services, operator assistance, etc.) starts at $675 per event.
Special features: Q&A, polling, surveys, application sharing, online collaboration tools, such as whiteboards and flip charts, streaming audio and video.
Customizable registration and landing/thank-you pages: Yes.
Customizable email invitations: Yes.
Automatic reminder emails: Yes.
Event reporting: The basics, plus attendees’ use of interactive features (Q&A, polls) and post-event feedback surveys
Recording: Yes.

Webcast Group
Maximum number of participants: 20,000.
Price: Webcast Group charges a per-event fee. A one-hour event for 250 attendees typically costs $995.
Special features: Chat, polling and Q&A; HTML and Flash in the slide window; attendee monitoring.
Customizable registration and landing/thank-you pages: Yes.
Customizable email invitation: Yes, integrated with Outlook.
Automatic reminder emails: Optional. Sent from Webcast Group’s servers. The company recommends customers send their own reminder emails as well.
Event reporting: The basics.
Recording: Free, but with hosting/streaming fee that starts at $114 a year.
Note: Webcast Group offers an event management service to help train presenters and run the event.

Maximum number of participants: 3,000.
Price: $55 a month for up to 200 participants. 12 cents per minute/per user for toll-free call-in line.
Special features: Q&A, polling, Flash, 3-D objects, streaming audio and video and attendee monitoring.
Customizable registration and landing/thank-you pages. Yes.
Customizable email invitation: Yes, integrated with Outlook and Lotus Notes for scheduling.
Automatic email reminders: Yes, sent from WebEx servers.
Event reporting: The basics, plus user feedback form.
Recording: Yes, either to host’s desktop or hosted on WebEx’s servers.

WebDialogs Event Central
Max number of participants: 1,000+.
Price: 15 cents per minute/per person or monthly plans starting at $225 per month for Web conferencing and toll phone line.
Special features: Chat, Q&A, polling and document sharing. Streaming audio and video planned to be added in April 2007.
Customizable registration and landing/thank-you pages: Yes, with up to 14 fields that can be required or optional.
Automatic email invitations and reminders: Yes, up to three, sent from WebDialogs’ servers.
Recording: $300 for the first hour, $5 per minute after that.
Reporting: The basics.

Note: If you’re a webinar vendor and would like to be considered for inclusion in our listing, email the following information to Senior Reporter Sean Donahue at seand(at)marketingsherpa(dot)com

Company name:
Web site:
Maximum number of users:
Are you reselling another vendors Web conferencing technology? (If yes, which company’s?)
Special features:
Customizable registration and landing/thank-you pages:
Customizable email invitations:
Automatic reminder emails
Event reporting:
Additional notes/information:

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from webinars:

How to Produce Better Webinars for Fortune 500 Exec Prospects: 7 Tactics & 3 Worksheets:

How to Sell Sponsored Webinars -- Pricing & What Sponsors Want

How to Sell Sponsorships to Webinars, Part II: Content, Marketing & Production Tips

How to Improve Webinar and Email Newsletter Results With Very Simple Video:

Results Data & Useful Ideas From Fairchild Semiconductor’s Seminar and Webinar Tests:

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