Wednesday, September 26, 2007

WMC Interviews: Sharat Sharan


This week, I had the opportunity to learn more about how Sharat Sharan, president and CEO of webcasting and rich media platform provider ON24, has built this company into a leader in online lead generation and communication. ON24 provides a hosted platform to help B2B marketers and other business professionals produce webcasts, podcasts and rich media presentations for prospects, customers, employees, analysts and investors.

ON24 is also the company behind Insight24.com, a hosting service for thought leadership rich media B2B webcasts, podcasts, videos and demos from leading B2B vendors.

WebMarketCentral (WMC): What did you do before ON24?

Sharat Sharan (SS): I was Group Vice President of Hearst New Media Group in New York. Before that, I was responsible for business development for Wireless Networks at AT&T.


WMC: How and when did you get started in this business?

SS: When I joined ON24, the company had a different business model. During the downturn, the business model was challenged. Since our original business enabled us to create a strong brand within the financial services and technology worlds, we leveraged that as we started to migrate the model in 2001.

That’s when we started focused on live webcasting events. Of course with a lot of hard work, execution and some luck, we were able to win more customers. We launched our first product in 2002 and now are the global leader in this category.


WMC: Who is your ideal or typical client?

SS: For us, webcasting is a horizontal application in which each company in the world has a need for it. With that said, we have several types of customers from enterprises to pharmaceutical, medical devices, publishing, life sciences and government. Each of these customers leverages our webcasting and rich media marketing solutions in several ways.

We focus on enterprise applications that companies are using for lead generation, product launches, internal communications and more. So our customers are the marketing departments of large companies, such as Cisco and IBM. Since many publishers use ON24 to power their webinars, publishing is another focus for us. These publishers are providing end-to-end lead generation webinars to technology customers. And then we have continuing professional education (CPE) customers in medical and audit categories. These customers use ON24 for CPE webcasts.


WMC: Who exactly do you view as your competition—and what sets you apart from them?

SS: ON24 is in a unique position as we provide a wide range of webcasting and rich media marketing solutions based on our close working relationships with our customers. Our customers turn to us for our outstanding professional services, our scalable and reliable technology platform and our ability to innovate in terms of how webcasting and rich media can be applied to enhance their marketing and lead generation agenda.

There may be companies that have components of these solutions, but from a comprehensive level, we believe that this truly sets us apart from everyone else.


WMC: How do you market and promote your business?

SS: Our goal is to constantly demonstrate the value that our webcasting and rich media marketing solutions provides to our customers. For us, we’ve been fortunate to have customers who recognize how our products and solutions benefit their corporate and marketing initiatives. Our customers have become advocates who either communicate the value internally to other departments and colleagues or who actively participate with us on customer case studies, testimonials and media references. Combined with our customer relations efforts, we are also very aggressive in our lead generation activities, of course using webcasting as part of our marketing mix, tradeshows and public relations efforts.


WMC: What's the biggest or most important marketing lesson you've learned since you started ON24?

CC: I think the most important thing, which is part of Marketing 101 or Product 101, is to be extremely close to your customers. In a category like ours, in which people were initially concerned about the complexities of audio and video but its now an important part of the future, we have to constantly hear from customers about the types of applications that they want. We want to know what they’re thinking about, as this is the only way that we can adapt our offerings to support them. For example 3-4 years ago, lead generation webinars didn’t exist. And now, nearly 50% of the webinars we host are for lead generation purposes.

New applications are evolving and as we stay close to our customers to understand their needs and to develop new applications that address these needs.


WMC: What inspired you to start Insight24.com?

SS: As I mentioned, we listen to our customers. We recognized that live webcasts are great for lead generation, with a majority of the audience attending during the live webcast and another 25-30% within the first week after the live webcast. We learned that many of customers would then have all of the archived webcasts but they were focused on the next campaign, so all of this content was sitting hidden on corporate websites or just not being used.

Secondly, when we started looking developing Insight24, a report came out highlighting how business and IT professionals preferred to receive their content. A vast majority indicated that they learned about solutions and companies through webcasts and podcasts.

We realized that by developing Insight24, we could provide two benefits—a resource for business and IT professionals to research solutions and compare vendors, while extending the shelf-life of rich media content for increased ROI.


WMC: Anything else you'd like to add?

SS: We are constantly looking at how we can better serve our customers and this was a great opportunity to share our thoughts. Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you and your readers Tom.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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