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Answers To
Commonly Asked Questions!

What You Need To Know To Make Seminars Work For You!

Why market by seminar?
Where do I begin? Who should I invite?
Where should I hold my seminar?
Is there anything I should know before setting a seminar date?
How many prospects should I invite?
How can I enhance the likelihood of prospects attending my seminar?
How do personal invitations compare to other invitation methods?
Should I offer a free meal at my seminar?
Breakfast? Lunch? Or Dinner?
Which day, and time of day, attracts the most attendees?
Are there any secrets to creating an invitation that generates response?
Can I promote more than one seminar on a single invitation?
What response mechanism should I offer with my invitation?
What can I do to assure that prospects not only respond, but attend my seminar?
How can I utilize existing clients to boost the effectiveness of my seminar?
Do I need a Business Reply Mail postal permit?
How do I receive postage-paid responses?
How much lead-time is required to create and mail invitations?
Does CIS guarantee a minimum response rate for the invitations it has created and/or mailed on my behalf?
Whom do I call if I have additional questions?
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Why market by seminar?
Seminars allow you to leverage your time by creating an environment where, at a single event, you can speak to a controlled, pre-qualified audience, with both the need and resources to purchase your products and services.

Contrary to the belief of many, seminars should not be positioned as overt selling events. Rather, they should be considered educational forums that subtly set the groundwork for future one-on-one sales opportunities.

Your goal should be limited to demonstrating your knowledge, competence, and professionalism, so that, as a result of your presentation, attendees will logically be drawn to the conclusion that what you've presented is relevant to them, and, most importantly, that you're the right person to help them implement an action plan.

Where do I begin? Who should I invite?
Before considering the invitation process, consideration must first be given to who should be invited and why. First and foremost, the audience must be appropriate for the seminar topic. Among the demographic selection criteria to be considered are age, income, net worth, education level, profession/occupation, sex, marital status, presence of children, i.e. whatever criteria are appropriate for the subject being discussed. The goal is to target those with the greatest propensity to respond. -- not only those with income, but also those with the need for the product or service that will be discussed. As a general rule, your best prospects will be those whose characteristics mirror those of your best clients.

In addition to inviting targeted prospects from qualified lists, it is suggested that you invite some of your clients, and, in turn, ask them to invite others who they think would benefit from attending. A mixture of "cold" prospects, clients, and friends of clients, presents the optimum audience for a successful seminar.

When mailing your invitations, don't address them to "Occupant" or "Friend." You will attract a significantly larger audience by personalizing your invitations by addressing each to a specific individual by name.

Once you have established an appropriate prospect profile, the issue of geographic selection i.e. the zip codes from which prospects will be invited, must be addressed. As a general rule invitations should not be mailed to prospects that reside more than 20-25 minutes from the location of your seminar. Time to your location, rather than distance should be the determining factor in identifying the zip codes from which prospects will be solicited. Note, however that in some markets you must also consider natural boundaries and/or local area customs. For example, Kansas City, MO is a completely different market than Kansas City, Kansas, notwithstanding the fact that they are adjacent cities. Similarly, St Paul, MN and Minneapolis, MN are distinctly different markets although they are within a 20-minute drive of each other.

Where should I hold my seminar?
As a general rule, it's always advantageous to hold your seminar at a "neutral" site. Having the seminar in your office conference room, as nice as it might be, traditionally limits attendance, as it has a tendency to cause the invitee to feel somewhat uncomfortable, even pressured. Not surprisingly, this is even more relevant if they are currently doing business with a competing firm. Another general rule impacting attendance is that the higher the income of the prospects invited, the more upscale the seminar location should be. Hotels, motels (upscale), country clubs, restaurants (private rooms) are all acceptable locations for seminars directed toward higher income/net-worth prospects, while libraries, class rooms, civic auditoriums etc. are appropriate for mid-level markets. Seminars held at colleges, however, particularly those perceived as prestigious, have proven to be excellent locations for all seminars. If you are serving a meal it's important to remember that the quality of the venue selected be comparable to that which the prospect would ordinarily frequent.

Is there anything I should know before setting a seminar date?
It's amazing how many seminars have failed simply because their sponsors didn't give much thought to the date of the planned event. Make sure you select a date that doesn't conflict with other events in the community i.e. open school night, local football games, etc. Also, give thought to what else might be going on regionally or nationally such as Monday or Thursday night football, the world series, a popular television program, etc. Lastly, give thought to holidays, religious or otherwise.

How many prospects should I invite?
Generally, in determining the number, it's easier to work backwards. First, identify how many prospects you'd like to attend (per session offered), and then, based on a conservative anticipated "show" rate, invite the number required to meet your goal. Be careful, however, not to confuse "response" rates with "show" rates.

Historically, between 1% and 4% of invited prospects will respond favorably to your invitation. However, only .75% to 2.75% will actually show up. Note that these statistics are based on invitations mailed to prospects at their home address. Invitations mailed to business addresses will generate a much lower response rate, perhaps as much as 50% lower.

In answer then to how many prospects should be invited, first determine how many you'd like to attend, then calculate the number of invitations, based on a 1% - 2% show rate (calculate conservatively). For example, if you want 60 prospects to attend you should mail approximately 6,000 invitations.

Note also, that seminars offering a free meal historically generate a 25% or greater increase in attendance than those that don't.

How can I enhance the likelihood of prospects attending my seminar?
The importance of the "image" created by your invitation cannot be overstated. It's crucial to the "show" rate generated, as it not only portrays the importance of the seminar, but indirectly categorizes your competence as well. An upscale invitation creates a feeling of respect for the presenter, while a lower quality invitation categorizes both the presenter and event as irrelevant. Always place yourself in the shoes of the prospect. Ask yourself honestly; does this invitation portray me in the best possible light? Would I respond if I received it? If you can't answer affirmatively, start over. A general guideline to follow is, the higher the income of the invitee, the higher the quality the invitation must be to attract response.

How do personal invitations compare to other invitation methods?
Generally speaking, graphically compelling personal invitations significantly out pull other invitation methods. Newspaper inserts rarely work and newsprint ads are costly and generally ineffective, except in those areas with a high concentration of seniors (who all too often evaluate seminars on the basis of the meal offered).

As for individually written or typed letters, on company letterhead, they work quite well when addressed to existing clients but not when used for "cold" prospecting to the general public.

Should I offer a free meal at my seminar?
While this is an extremely controversial issue, there are several points that have been statistically validated. First, as one would expect, the offer of a free meal does, in fact, increase attendance. Second, if you are in an area where it is commonplace for your competitors to offer a meal, you unfortunately may have little choice but to do likewise. Third, the fact that a free meal causes more prospects to attend your seminar does not necessarily mean you will do more business from the seminar. Attendance figures alone don't tell the whole story. It is well documented that in certain geographic areas, particularly those inhabited primarily by seniors, the offer of a free meal frequently attracts what can only be described as "professional seminar attendees." They'll fill your seminar but rarely your book of business. Fourth, almost without exception, statistics show that it's not the quantity of attendees, but rather the quality, as defined by their need, and income to satisfy that need, that ultimately determines the success of your seminar.

When all is said, the fact remains that the question of whether or not to offer a free meal must be evaluated on a case-by-case, and market-by-market basis. There are clearly times when the offer of a free meal will enhance the success of your seminar, but there are an equal number of times when it won't. CIS account executives would be pleased to discuss the "pros and cons" of providing a free meal in your local marketing area when you call to place an invitation order.

Notwithstanding the above, it's important that you do serve something during the seminar, even if short of a meal, particularly if it's an early evening seminar. You certainly don't want to face attendees with growling stomachs. They're apt to leave at your mid-point break. If you're not serving a complete meal, a good solution is generally to serve something sweet, such as coffee and cake, cookies, fruit, or finger sandwiches -- something that will "hold them over." Remember, also, to have something appropriate for diabetics. Lastly, while it may seem sophisticated to serve wine, it's generally not a good idea, as it tends to either dull or agitate the senses of those in your audience.

If you do serve a meal, make sure it's AFTER you're well into your presentation. Otherwise, you may find it difficult to keep your audience focused. Clanging knives and forks, mixed with normal dinner chatter, are not conducive to getting your message across. If, however, you're only serving snacks, finger sandwiches or dessert and coffee, it's okay to have them on the table before you begin speaking. Their consumption won't interfere with your presentation. Another advantage of speaking first is that it permits you the opportunity to interact with your audience as you "table hop" and further personalize your approach.

Breakfast? Lunch? Or Dinner?
Historically, dinners attract the most attendees, followed by lunch and then breakfast. However, they're all appropriate, if carefully thought out. Breakfast and luncheon seminars work best for business owners. Dinner seminars work best for everyone else. If your seminars are directed primarily to seniors, remember that many are hesitant to drive at night. Also, keep seasonal weather conditions in mind when planning your event.

Which day, and time of day, attracts the most attendees?
Historically, seminars held on Tuesdays and/or Thursdays have attracted the highest number of respondents, followed by Wednesdays. Conversely, seminars held on Mondays, Fridays and Saturday mornings have attracted far fewer attendees.

While there are no set rules as to the best time of day to hold a seminar, certain facts should be considered. First, if your seminar is directed to seniors, remember that many are still gainfully employed. Others don't drive at night. Thus, you might want to offer two different seminar time options on your invitation. One, earlier in the day for retired seniors, and a second, in the evening, for those still working.

Second, young families always face problems of getting baby sitters and/or getting children to bed. Accordingly, give them more than the usual advance notice, to allow them time to make these preparations. An alternative might be a Saturday morning seminar. If you're considering this, also consider providing babysitting services together with games for older children, in an adjacent room.

Lastly, consider commuting problems in your local market. If you're not offering dinner, make sure you allow for a starting time that will permit potential attendees sufficient time to get home, have dinner, and still get to your seminar on time. If commutes of more than 45 minutes are common in your area, consider expanding your food offerings to encourage prospects to go directly to your seminar rather than first going home.

Are there any secrets to creating an invitation that generates response?
If your invitation isn't opened, it doesn't matter what's inside. Thus, first and foremost, it's crucial to do all you can to encourage opening. Steps that have proven effective include calligraphy addressing the invitations, placing your return address, but not your name, on the outside of the envelope, affixing postage by stamp, and using an envelope that because of its size or quality stands out from other mail. Addressing your invitations with a label, inserting them in conventional window envelops, or affixing postage by indicia or meter will all have a significantly negative effect on your response ratio.

Conversely, the use of upscale wedding style invitations, as well as GRAPHICALLY COMPELLING self-mailers, postcards and letter style invitations, inserted in FULL VIEW window envelopes, have all proven effective at generating seminar response. While each will work when used appropriately, each serves a different purpose. Wedding style invitations have proven to be extremely effective at attracting higher income/ higher net worth audiences, as they impart a sense of importance. Self-mailers that incorporate a wedding style format are a viable alternative when mailed to a slightly lower income group. Letter style invitations have worked best when used in conjunction with more broadly based seminar topics requiring greater use of text to describe the event. Postcard invitations have proven effective when incorporating a free meal offer and are mailed to middle and lower middle-income prospects, particularly seniors.

Regardless of the invitation style selected, the invitation must immediately convey the feeling that yours is an event not to be missed. Proper layout and proper use of headlines and bullet points are crucial to achieving this result. More effective invitations begin with a headline designed to hit the reader's "hot button." They focus on a single timely idea or problem that will be discussed or solved at the seminar, followed by a series of bullet points that further amplify the seminar topic. The bullet points, as with the headline, are designed to raise, rather than answer questions. Only attendance at the seminar will do that.

Paragraphs that follow should create a sense of urgency by emphasizing the benefits of attending. Finally, in closing, a statement should be added that there is no obligation associated with attending. All this, of course, presupposes that the seminar topic is relevant to the audience invited.

Also, it is advisable to state the ending as well as the starting time for your seminar as some participants may have to make baby-sitting or other custodial care arrangements.

While it might seem quite natural, even beneficial, to exhort your professional accomplishments and virtues on the invitation, in reality, excessively detailed biographies detract from the appeal of your invitation. Keep your personal bio brief, and to the point, citing professional designations, and awards of distinction only.

Can I promote more than one seminar on a single invitation?
It is inadvisable to promote two completely different seminars on the same invitation, i.e. seminars that discuss different seminar topics. However, it is permissible, even prudent, to offer multiple date options, multiple time options, and/or multiple location options for the same seminar, on the same invitation, as long as the total number of seminar date options is kept to three or less.

What response mechanism should I offer with my invitation?
Your invitation should contain at least two response options, generally a postage-paid reply card and a telephone number (with the name of a specific person to ask for). In addition, you may also consider adding an e-mail response option.

Don't underestimate the importance of the person taking response calls. The wrong person can negatively impact your "show rate" by counteracting all your efforts to create a positive professional image. Be sure the person accepting reservations has a pleasant phone manner, speaks proper English (no dems and doses) and preferably understands the subject you'll be speaking on.

What can I do to assure that prospects not only respond, but attend my seminar?
The fact that prospects respond to your seminar solicitation does not mean they will actually show up. To assure attendance, it is critical that you confirm their attendance at least twice, preferably three times. It is suggested that someone other than you make the first confirmation call. It should be general in nature, just confirming that you have received their response. Don't let the opportunity pass, however, without having them told how pleased you are that they've elected to attend and how confident you are that they'll find the seminar to be very informative and of great value.

If a meal is going to be served, the second confirmation call can be made on the pretense that you are making final dinner arrangements and are inquiring as to their dinner preference, i.e. chicken or beef? If no meal is being offered, or if you have already made a dinner selection call, your final call, made the day before the seminar, should be made on the pretense that you are finalizing your presentation and want to know if there are any specific subject areas that the invitee would like discussed.

How can I utilize existing clients to boost the effectiveness of my seminar?
It is recommended that you always invite existing clients to your public seminars. Invariably attendees will ask each other if anyone knows, or has dealt with, the presenter. Having clients in the audience to substantiate, from personal experience, results obtained from guidance given, adds instant credibility to your presentation. To maximize this subtle benefit, always plan your seating arrangements in advance making sure that at least one satisfied client is seated at each prospect table.

Do I need a Business Reply Mail postal permit?
If you participate in the "Seminars Plus" program, you have two options available as to how your business reply cards will be prepared.

  1. If you already have a Business Reply Permit, simply fax CIS a copy of any business reply card previously mailed, using the permit, and CIS will create the artwork required for your mailing. Nothing else is required.
  2. If you don't already have a Business Reply permit there's no need to purchase one. You can use CIS's permit. However, you must obtain from your local post office a business reply zip+4 number and barcode for your local business address. This is a routine request that will be completed by your local post office within a few days, without cost. You can request that it be mailed to your attention or you can pick it up at the post office. In either case, upon receipt, simply fax a copy to CIS. Nothing else is required.
How do I receive postage-paid responses?
Responses will be returned to you by your local postman/postwoman as received. Upon receipt, you will be required to pay the exact reply postage due. Responses will not be left without proper payment. To avoid the inconvenience of having exact postage on hand, the postal service offers an alternative payment method -- a pre-paid postage account at your local post office. These accounts function somewhat like a bank account. You deposit a small dollar amount in your account and the post office automatically deducts appropriate postage as responses are received. As you account nears a zero balance you are asked to deposit an additional sum. The advantage of setting up such an account is that even if you are out of the office or don't have exact change, you will still receive all your responses in a timely fashion. Note that the post office charges an annual service fee for maintenance of the account.

How much lead-time is required to create and mail invitations?
If you're planning your first seminar using the "Seminars Plus" system, you should allow six weeks lead-time from the date you place your order with CIS, to the date of your seminar. This breaks down as follows: 7 days to finalize copy and layout, 9 days to process your list, typeset, print, and mail your invitation, 8-12 days in the mail (postal delivery, standard class), 8-10 days for recipients to respond. Total: 32-38 days (approximately 5 weeks). Subsequent mailings, requiring only time, date, and/or location changes, can be accomplished with slightly less lead-time.

Does CIS guarantee a minimum response rate for the invitations it has created and/or mailed on my behalf?
No. While CIS will use its best effort to create an invitation that will generate a favorable response rate, it makes no guarantee, warranty, or representation as to the response rate or revenue that may be generated from the creation, mailing, fulfillment, or processing of a order for the mailing of seminar invitations. Nor does it guarantee or warranty the delivery of invitations by the US Postal Service in a timely manner once they have been deposited and accepted by said institution.

Whom do I call if I have additional questions?
For additional questions concerning seminar invitations, call Ilyssa Rosenberg, Director of Seminar Marketing, at 1-800-547-5478 ext. 122.

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