Credit: Barry Blitt

Many successful financial planners market their consulting services through free dinner seminars. They promise to teach prospects to invest safely and manage in turbulent times.

Managing volatile home energy costs is a similar challenge. Home improvement companies find that the free dinner seminar is a cost-effective way to get homeowners' attention and present a compelling case for energy-saving products.

PROMOTE IT Here's how it works. Screen the mailing list for your target demographic. Direct mail an invitation offering a free meal for two at a popular restaurant. Feature a presentation on home energy use. Offer two dates, and include an RSVP 800 phone number and an online reservation option.

A mail house specializing in seminar marketing can design, print, address, and mail the invitation; provide a phone room for 24/7 reservation capture; and make a follow-up call the day of the seminar, all for less than $1 per address.

An invitation to a familiar restaurant has remarkable pull and assures that couples will attend together. The group forum reduces fear of a high-pressure sales pitch, and improves response rate.

THE PRE-SELL Your expert presenter should deliver a 35- to 40-minute information-rich talk before dinner is served. When he's finished your staff should talk to each prospect. As many as half will set appointments.

A well-run seminar marketing program can deliver marketing costs of less than 10%. These pre-sold leads usually close at a rate 10 points higher than traditional advertising leads. They're also scalable. If you make money on the first seminar, you certainly will on the second and thereafter as you fine-tune.

Even homeowners who don't schedule an in-home appointment to discuss insulation will think of your company as “the energy experts who invited us to dinner” — the company to call when they need windows or siding.

—John Stevens is a partner in Peterson/Stevens, an advertising agency specializing in brand-building and lead generation for the home improvement industry. 800.270.0911;