Fresh lunch-and-learn ideas: Practical tips for better IT demand generation

Get four practical tips for a better return on the time you spend at lunch-and-learns with customers and vendor partners.

Editor's note: This column by Rich Young, marketing and corporate communications manager of eGroup Inc., is the first in a series we're calling Channel Intelligence. Young's company, eGroup, is a solution provider based in Mount Pleasant, S.C., specializing in cloud services, application services, end-user computing and support. Readers of -- your VAR, MSP and systems integrator peers, and possibly even you!* -- will write the Channel Voices columns, addressing issues related to doing business in the IT channel. Coverage will include topics such as strategies for dealing with vendor partnership problems, getting a better ROI from marketing dollars, recruiting skilled staff members, winning new business, learning new technologies, maintaining margins, vetting companies and products, accreditation, competition in the marketplace and business risk management.

*If you're interested in contributing to this new Channel Intelligence series, please contact Executive Editor Sue Troy for more information.

It's no secret that, when it comes to marketing, the channel tends to come up short. The reasons are many: a mindset that marketing is a cost center as opposed to an investment; not enough internal resources; a staff that is laser-focused on sales and customer delivery; or an overreliance on vendor marketing campaigns, which do little to build the solution provider's brand.

But these are just excuses. And those solution providers that continue to use them will find themselves in a race to the bottom.

With the tools available to channel marketers today and a bit of creativity, there's no reason solution providers cannot up their game.

In future Channel Intelligence columns, I plan to provide practical advice and how-tos to more effectively market your people, your solutions and, ultimately, your brand.

In today's column, let's take a look at one of the vendor community's go-to-market plays: the lunch-and-learn.

I'm sure you're familiar with the rather stale lunch-and-learn model. You and your customers: a) show up at fancy restaurant; b) network for 10 minutes; c) sit down and get served; d) listen to the vendor's pitch, which usually consists of more than 50 PowerPoint slides and e) leave with a full stomach. With such a staid formula, it's no wonder that we've all lost our lunching-and-learning appetite.

As expert channel marketers, I propose that we bring lunch-and-learns back from the brink of death. Why? Because they still can be an extremely valuable demand-generation tool. But it's up to us to make them a much more valuable experience for the attendees. With that in mind, here are some lunch-and-learn ideas for tweaking your program.

  • Make it a "brunch-and-learn." Don't be afraid to change the time of the event to mid-morning. Doing so allows your attendees to work from home first thing in the morning, come to the event and get back to the office by lunch. Most importantly, you can expect a better attendee rate as they won't get bogged down at the office (or traffic to the office) the first few hours of the day.
  • Ensure a unique takeaway. Have you ever heard of visual partners and graphic facilitators? They add a neat visual element to any corporate gathering or meeting, such as a lunch-and-learn. Having a graphics facilitator illustrate the meeting with visuals fosters an active atmosphere and stimulates excitement and curiosity among the group. People sense something different; they become receptive and retain more of what they learn from the presenter. As a follow-up, send each attendee digital and hard-copy versions of the final work. Or even replicate one particularly important image on a sticker.
  • Add a twist to the door prize giveaway. Your attendees come to learn something, but they also expect some swag or even a sought-after giveaway. But instead of providing the requisite AMEX card, give away the gear used during the presentations. In other words, the iPad, mini projector and laser pointer would all get thrown in the prize basket.
  • Talk with them, not at them. Your attendees want to hear from peers who faced IT challenges similar to the ones they're facing; attendees want to hear about the problem as well as how it was resolved. Case study slides are good. But a living case study is even better. So instead of simply relying on a case study narrative, set up the program as a Q&A talk show with a customer or two. This format certainly takes more time and effort to execute, but the value delivered to your attendee is well worth it.

Those are just a few lunch-and-learn ideas to liven up the time you spend at events with customers and vendor partners. What are your thoughts? How have you delivered a valuable lunch-and-learn program?

Rich Young can be reached at [email protected]

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