“If anyone is going to disrupt this industry, it is going to be us!”
I love this quote from Smart Customers, Stupid Companies. I think more conference organizers should adopt it!
Here’s my question for meeting professionals and conference organizers: Are you going to have “Smart Attendees, Stupid Conferences or Smart Attendees, Smart Conferences?”
To paraphrase Smart Companies authors Michael Hinshaw and Bruce Kasanoff:
Massive disruption is coming (and in many cases has already arrived – note added by me), and the only question is whether your conference is going to cause it or fall victim to it. Disruption is not easy, either to create or confront.
We have to realize that we have very smart, savvy customers today. They can often run circles around our organizations when it comes to technology and processes. We need to refocus our conference experience on meeting these smart customers’ needs.
Conferences Have Made Content Their Products
For too long, conferences have been data-, information- and content-centric. We have built the entire conference experience around content. We have felt that if we can create more education sessions on more topics, we have more to sell.
Our education and networking sessions are our product. We have focused on the demands of that product (the demands of the speaker and the expertise of that speaker). Entire committees and processes have evolved around selecting and creating that product. The long term focus has been about offering more speakers and more sessions as a way to expand our product (content and sessions.) We have become product-driven.
When you create customers around offering as many different sessions as possible, you may have those customers today. However, they may not be your customers for long because your product is average at best. Their loyalty extends as far as their next breath.
These customers quickly realize they don’t need to come to your conference to get data, information and content anymore. It is everywhere! Your information transfer is not better than that of the Web.
Are All Conference Customers Equal?
In my opinion, not all of your paying registrants are created equal. This gets back to the question I asked earlier, “Do we focus on all of our paying attendees or the target paying attendee?”
Conference organizers must ask the hard questions and realize that not all paying registrants deserve our best efforts. Yes, I said that!
Why would I ask conference organizers to think this way? As author Peter Fader says, “In the world of customer centricity, there are good customers…and then there is everybody else.”
Of course we don’t want to ignore the later group. I’m not suggesting that we just forget them or treat them poorly. There are other ways to service them or other products that are better for them. (That’s a different post than this.)
However, conference owners should spend more time focused on serving their good customers. Those are the attendees who hold the key to your conference’s long-term profitability and sustainability.
Identifying Your Most Valuable Conference Customers
Remember that the majority of B2B conferences are a business. They exist to make money for the conference host. Sure there are conferences that have a different goal and I am not talking about those events here.
Customer centricity is about identifying your most valuable customers. Then it is designing a conference experience around those most valuable customers. It is programming content that helps them solve their issues. It is designing learning opportunities that help them retain knowledge, understand challenges and uncover solutions that they can apply immediately.
Then it is about doing everything in your power to find more customers just like them.
So how do you identify your most valuable conference customers? You need to look hard at your data and see which companies are sending the most attendees. You need to see which organizations are spending the most money with your event for exhibitor space and sponsorship.
Once you identify the top paying sponsors and exhibitors, you have to wrestle with who they want to see the most at your event. Typically, they want to see a company’s decision maker and the person who holds the purse strings first. They are also willing to see influencers, those who can’t say yes but can say no.
So who are those customers that your exhibitors and sponsors want to see? What part of the industry are they from? What’s their role in their organizations?
When you can answer those questions, then you’ve identified your most valuable conference customers. That’s who you design your conference experience for and when you become customer-centric.
What concerns you most about becoming customer-focused for your conference? What holds you back from developing a conference experience for a target market?