The recession has impacted Chartwell, a research publisher to the utilities market, perhaps less than other firms, especially when it comes to renewals. They are lucky that their niche has remained strong, but more than that, they have a great pricing model, multiple revenue streams, and solid sales tactics. If you sell group subscriptions, you may find several ideas in this exclusive Case Study that could apply to you.
The primary market is management-level executives at American electric and gas utilities, along with execs from some water utilities. However, Chartwell mainly sells group subscriptions, so the executive who uses the information isn’t always the same person who orders or manages payment for it. When we asked Smith how Chartwell figures out who the person in charge of ordering information for a company is, he sighed, “I wish I had an easy answer. Our sales director beats the bushes talking to people. Older utilities tend to still have a corporate librarian. At others the best person may be on the market research staff or in strategic research by division. There’s not one job function you can target anymore. It’s a challenge.”
Chartwell publishes in a highly targeted niche. “We don’t cover distribution or delivery and we’re not out there writing about power plants. We’re writing about customer service issues such as metering, billing, call centers, and payment programs.” For example, smart grid metering is a hot topic these days.
All of Chartwell’s content is original, researched and written by (or in the case of event presentations, developed in close tandem with) in-house analysts. The emphasis is on serious business information, not PR fluff. Content includes case studies, research reports, vendor profiles, and best practices studies.
Much of the content is in a searchable library online and the longer reports are downloadable PDF format. The company also produces in-person Summits, billed as interactive events that blur the “barriers between speaker and attendee,” EMACS conference & expos with a more traditional convention format, as well as more than 40 live best practices webinars per year.
Webinars, which often run up to 90 minutes, include a solid 20 minutes for live Q&A and do not allow sponsorships. Smith said proudly, “Our webinar content is top notch. We don’t allow vendors to speak at all. We keep it to case studies, our own research presentations, and our own analysts.”
Lastly, the company offers personal phone time with an analyst, for members only of course. Smith notes, “We’re happy to answer calls for five minutes.” Some members call frequently, others not at all.
Phone calls sometimes lead to ideas for in-depth research reports that all members may benefit from — so this access is a form of editorial R&D.
#1. Premier Membership: Sold to companies and organizations. It includes access to an online searchable EnergyLibrary including Chartwell’s past case studies, research reports, vendor profiles, etc. Membership also includes phone access to an analyst, as described above, and discounted tickets for Chartwell Summits, EMACS expo, and live webinars. For example, a non-member would pay $295 per phone line to attend a webinar while a Premier Member would pay $150 per phone line. (Multiple attendees may gather around the phone.)
Memberships are priced based on the overall size of the company or organization, not by the number of “seats” that might be used. Smith said this tactic makes it easier not to worry about DRM (digital rights management), plus more potential site users can equal more potential event tickets sold down the line. A typical organization membership would be in the “five figures range.”
#2. Premier Plus Membership: All the benefits of Premier Membership, plus two phone lines per webinar, which equals an even larger discount off of the regular webinar rate. Plus members also can request a recorded version of a recent webinar for free.
#3. Event Revenues: Non-members can buy tickets to events including Summits, EMACS, and webinars. Vendors can buy sponsorships to Summits and EMACs, and subscribe to Chartwell’s basic membership services. The members-only content and site is resolutely ad-free.
Events are a great lead generation tool to find industry execs whose organizations might want to become members. After all, if someone has paid full price for a ticket and been impressed, they might want a guaranteed discount to the next event. Chartwell’s marketing team conducts email campaigns to attendee lists and the in-house sales team calls them. The company also sends reps to important third party events to scope out potential prospects.
Engagement & Usage:
The biggest problem most group membership publishers have is in getting their new clients to actually use the service. Unless you can document plenty of usage, it’s awfully hard to get the sale come renewal time–and most of your profits are in the renewals. Many publishers count on email campaigns to drive use; however, Smith said, “Email is good at gauging interested parties and promoting events, but not so much as building a network within a member organization.” Instead, he recommends a two-pronged approach:
a. Gatekeeper Liaison — each account is assigned a rep who serves as their primary contact with Chartwell. (Chartwell has two people in that role now, one senior who can mentor the junior.) The rep contacts each account at least quarterly.
b. Orientation webinars — new accounts and new execs within accounts are invited to a live orientation webinar held routinely.
When a major account is up for review, Chartwell’s reps go visit the client in-person. They’ll coordinate timing and invitations with the account gatekeeper on the client side. “You’re not just coming to sell; you’re coming to give a presentation. Get group managers, directors, and VPs in the room. Talk about trends in the industry. During the talk, also mention the advantages of their membership, the perks, especially the discounts they’ll get, such as almost 50% on webinars.”
About Dennis Smith and Chartwell
Long-term Georgia resident, Smith started out as a newspaper journalist covering classic beats such as courts and crime reporting. He joined Chartwell in 1997 as an editor, and has loyally worked his way up through the ranks there since then. Launched in 1993, originally as a research report house which went to printed subscription newsletter in 1994, Chartwell Inc moved to its current business model in 2001. The firm currently has about 15 employees and dominates its B2B niche.
Subscription Site Insider’s Quick Analysis
Smith makes one of the best arguments we’ve heard for selling groups by the organization size instead of by seat. Of course the whole thing hinges on having a product line (in this case dozens of annual events in a variety of formats) that you cross-sell to members so the more users, the better.
Chartwell also does a fine job of clearly defining how much a sponsor can be involved at each type of event. The church-and-state line is drawn very clearly for all to see. They may pay to attend (but not speak or sponsor) webinars. They may pay at attend and have their logo displayed at a Summit. They may exhibit at and generally be more “salesy” at an Expo. Many other publishers get confused about where their lines are, especially with big sponsor checks being waved at them, and then risk losing respect from their member base for the supposedly unbiased nature of their content, not to mention creating confusion among the editorial staff who aren’t sure when they should be utterly truthful and when they should schmooze.
Lastly, we suspect too many publishers count on emails within group accounts to increase usership. Smith is entirely correct when he said email isn’t the best tool for the task.