When Greenbrier & Russel (G&R), a $20-million computer consulting firm based in Schaumburg, Ill., holds a free seminar for its clients, the resulting sales often cover the cost of the daylong event. The seminars (12 per year) have also helped the firm amass a 12,000-name mailing list of qualified leads that earns returns as high as 12% on direct-mail campaigns.

The secret to G&R's seminar success? Getting industry players to cohost sessions while keeping top billing for itself. Partners such as Microsoft help draw crowds as large as 400 to the consultancy's four U.S. seminar sites. Most attendees are G&R customers -- such as Allstate, Motorola, and John Deere -- with long-term needs.

G&R began pursuing partners when it had just $1.7 million in sales. Seven years later it has mastered working with cohosts. Here are a few of the guidelines G&R follows:

Pitching to potential partners. G&R sells outside software that complements its own. So the company presents its seminars as choice opportunities for penetrating new markets with Fortune 500 clients. And G&R touts its handling of the logistics, says Deborah Turkot, marketing manager. "They just have to show up and walk away with leads." When she first started calling likely partners, Turkot got the runaround from national public-relations reps, so she appealed to the cohosts' local marketing directors.

Preserving top billing. G&R makes sure it retains the "emcee" role. Turkot negotiates the time the partner will spend speaking and conducting a product demonstration. Then they talk money. Partners usually foot about a third of the $10,000-a-day seminar bill and raffle off free software or training (to encourage attendees to stay all day). Partners send their own employees to be speakers, but Turkot gets a copy of each presentation beforehand, so she can minimize overlaps. She also assembles all promotional materials, on which G&R's logo is always front and center.

Maintaining intimacy. With so many attendees, breakout sessions are essential for one-on-one contact. Frequently, G&R will ask two or three large companies to be cohosts, so each can handle a small product demonstration during the breakouts.

Minimizing risk. And what about the risk of the giants' stealing clients? G&R does sell a few products similar to Microsoft's. Turkot ensures that poaching won't be a problem by administering an evaluation form that asks attendees about their product interests. G&R tells cohosts beforehand that it will follow up on all pertinent leads and pass on those that either are outside its territory or express interest in a product or service G&R doesn't offer. -- Phaedra Hise

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