MSPs: How to Host a Lunch and Learn in 2010...

Our blog team attended a Dec. 2 lunch-and-learn session hosted by DynTek (an $85 million solutions provider). During the gathering, DynTek educated more than 60 existing and target customers about Windows 7 and virtual desktop infrastructure. It got me wondering: How many managed service providers are planning similar lunch and learns for 2010? And if you've never hosted a lunch and learn how can you get started?

First let's start with your goal: Generating long-term quality business leads. If you've never done a lunch and learn before I think you should start small -- but be sure to think long-term. Host one event in 2010 with perhaps 25 attendees, two in 2011 with perhaps 40 attendees and perhaps move to a quarterly format in 2012. Let me repeat: Think long-term and get into a rhythm.

So, what will you need? Some of the items below may seem obvious. But I'm not sure I've seen a "To-do" list for lunch-and-learns published anywhere. So, here's the start of the list. Feel free to fill in any blanks I may have left...

What You'll Need...

1. Project Owner: Who's ultimately responsible for the success or failure of this project?

2. Budget: Who's going to pay for the event? The VAR/MSP or a partner vendor? You'll need money for marketing/promotion, travel, the host location (food/drinks/tips, etc.), audio/visual and ... what did I miss?

3. Target Audience: Sometimes I think MSPs and VARs spend too much time trying to pitch "new" customers. For your first lunch and learn, I wonder if it's smarter to pursue an 80/20 audience mix (80 percent existing customers, 20 percent new customers). After all who's most likely to buy from you after a single luncheon:

  • Someone you already know?
  • Somebody you're just getting to know?
Plus, your existing customers can mingle with new target customers -- just make sure the existing customers are truly happy with your services.

For your first event I'd push for roughly 25 attendees (20 existing customers, 5 new customers). And make sure the room's seating capacity/layout is appropriate.

4. Time/Location: The DynTek event was at an upscale steak house in New York. Not cheap. But the location was a great draw for customers who want (A) a good meal with (B) good conversation.

Another great approach is the early evening wine tasting. That typically runs 4:30 to 5:00 p.m. for registration, 5:00 to 6:30 p.m. for content, and 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. for wine tasting and hors d'oeuvres. The wine tasting session is a fantastic networking opportunity following your content.

Looking to save a few dollars? You can do a morning breakfast-n-learn in a hotel conference room, serving continental breakfast instead of a full-blown meal.

Most of the morning sessions I moderated (a lifetime ago...) typically run 7:30 a.m. (registration) then 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. (content). Attendees can typically get to their offices by 10:30 a.m. Anything longer and you're pushing into attendees' lunch hour...

Want to save even more money? Check in with your local college to see if you can leverage some of their space for a learning session.

5. Content: What are you going to educate customers and target customers about? The DynTek event was promoted as a three-hour event at an upscale Steak House. The event was scheduled to run 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. It started on time (very important touch) and the content ran from about 11:10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., leaving plenty of time for attendee networking. The content was limited to two topics:
  • Windows 7 for business
  • Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
Be sure to take attendee questions throughout the content. Eliminate the virtual wall between presenters and attendees. Microphone your speakers and have them repeat all attendee questions before answering them for the entire room.

6. Promotion: Start promoting the event at least two months before the actual date. I'm not going to offer a deep-dive on event promotion because you know the basic channels you need to use (direct mail, social networks, FaceBook, Twitter, email, etc.). For more help, consult with a certified meeting planner (CMP). Your local business association should be able to put you in touch with local CMPs.

7. Ensuring Attendance: What's your hook? What's going to get attendees in the door?

Great content helps.

I'm not a big fan of registration teasers that promote prizes (iPod giveaways) because you want the right attendees to register for the right reasons. Still, if you're promoting a Windows 7 migration event -- why not put a free Windows 7 PC in the hands of one lucky winner? Just make sure your prizes reinforce your own services. That way you can check in a few times with the prize winners, post event, to see how the products/services are performing.

Also, confirming an attendee isn't enough. You need to re-confirm attendance multiple times. Make sure automated reminders reach attendees the week before the event, the day before the event and even the day of the event. Some MSPs spend big bucks on telemarketing teams to handle those reminders. Other MSPs simply use automated email. Either way it's a necessary step.

8. Branding: Make sure your brand is front-and-center on all event messaging and materials: From a web site landing page to all event presentations to all  of the materials on the table.

9. Entrance and Exit: Make sure all attendees sign in so you know who actually attended. And before the event wraps, personally visit each table and thank attendees for coming. Plus, require attendees to fill out a one-page survey about the event before they leave. If you're polite about it, attendees are happy to offer feedback.

I'm always a little wary of surveys that ask attendees "how soon" they want to buy a specific solution. Rather, you might want to ask about the attendees' top 3 IT or business priorities for the next six to 12 months. Their answers may reveal hidden sales opportunities...

10 Foll0w-up: The day after the event make sure attendees receive an automated thank you for their attendance. And make sure you have a more formal lead generation and qualification process that tracks attendees and your follow-up engagements with them.

11. Next Event: Make sure you have a formal debrief following the event. What went right? What went wrong? Was their ROI? What changes should you make for your next event.

Yes: You will be holding a second event. And then a third... and so on. Lunch-and-learns are proven and widely used by IT vendors. It's time for more MSPs to get on the bandwagon.

One final thought: Like I mentioned above, I'm sure my list is incomplete and full of holes. So please feel free to fill in the holes on your own or in our comments area. And let us know how your lunch and learns perform.

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TAGS: Marketing
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