About 10 years ago, a good friend of mine called me up to say that she had accepted a new job as communications director for an online university in Florida. I laughed and asked her if attending the school was like getting a mail-order degree from one of those less-than-reputable study-at-home colleges you see advertised in the back of magazines. She didn't appreciate my humor at the time, and looking back on it today, I guess she did have the last laugh on me when you consider the recent explosion of Webinars for online training and marketing.

Webinars (Web-based seminars), which typically feature interactive learning through audio conferencing and simultaneous visual presentations over the Internet, may have made early inroads in the continuing education arena, but now they are becoming the latest buzz in the corporate world, and for some very good reasons. As a marketing tool, Webinars can offer a low-cost alternative for conducting product demos and generating leads, as well as identifying prospects via simple online registration for the events. As a training tool, Webinars allow companies to offer valuable education to customers who are often time-crunched and inconvenienced by having to physically show up for a conference or seminar.

In the construction and LBM industries, Web-based training definitely is starting to catch on. You can read about one of the pioneers, Remodelers University, in this month's ProWatch on page 24. This online training institution recently forged a partnership with Brooklyn Park, Minn.–based Scherer Bros. Lumber to offer the dealer's remodeling customers online seminars that will be broadcast from several of its yards in the Twin Cities metro area. In writing that story, I had the opportunity to do a conference call interview with Remodeling University's Dave Lupberger, and Dave Klun, who heads up Scherer Bros.' “The Remod Squad” sales force. Their enthusiasm for virtual seminars stems in part from the newfound ability to bridge several links in the supply chain to cost effectively offer training through a pool of national instructors. Scherer also is gaining a competitive advantage by offering a value-added service to its customers, Klun told me.

That was enough to convince me that we should test the Webinar waters at PROSALES, and we have scheduled our first event for Monday, August 15, at 2 p.m. EDT. At that time, you will have the opportunity to talk online with builders who will be participating in a panel at the upcoming NLBMDA/ProSales Industry Summit, taking place Sept. 29–Oct. 1 in Vancouver, British Columbia. These builders include Scott Hearty, vice president of regional purchasing for Standard Pacific Corp., and Ron Alberts, director of purchasing for Village Homes. They will be discussing different business models for serving small local, regional, and national production builders. (You can register for this event at http://symbius.raindance.com.)

If you are considering diving into a Webinar to help boost your business, here is a great checklist I recently ran across in the article “Webinar Essentials” in the June 13 issue of B2B magazine:

  • Prequalify the audience to attract the right people to your online event.
  • Pick the right topic and ask your customers what type of information they would like to receive.
  • Promote events and send frequent reminders to get people to sign up.
  • Practice an event before going live.
  • Keep the conversation moving and make sure that one speaker does not drone on for a long period of time.
  • Follow up with attendees no longer than 48 hours after the event to identify opportunities to provide more information.
  • Now is the time to get your feet wet.