Email a colleague    

June 2012

High Touch Networking meets High Tech Partnering:  How to Leverage a Software User Conference

High Touch Networking meets High Tech Partnering:  How to Leverage a Software User Conference

“High-tech/high-touch.  This principle symbolizes the need for balance between our physical and spiritual realities.”

John Naisbitt, MegaTrends,1982


Megatrends

Our LinkedIn world provides many “high-tech” ways of exchanging ideas and gathering industry knowledge.  But 28 years before Facebook, futurist John Naisbitt brilliantly anticipated that more virtual interaction would need to be offset by greater “high-touch” personal contact.

It’s no surprise then that private user conferences sponsored by software firms have become a great way to put a handshake to a Google+ profile.

I just returned from two well-organized user conferences.  One was a U.S. event put on by Razorsight in Washington DC and the second was a global conference sponsored by WeDo Technologies and held in Portugal.  So with the lessons of these events fresh in mind, here are some tips on how users and software vendors can best leverage these events.

A Marketing & Branding Opportunity for the Software Vendor

Because a user conference is highly targeted at customers and prospects, it’s one of the most cost effective and personal ways for a software vendor to spread positive industry buzz and pave the way for sales.  It also becomes a great way to please the vendor’s consulting and other partners who present in sessions at the event.

WeDo pulled out all stops.  The venue in Portugal was a 5-star beach-side hotel surrounded by a golf course.  Users who hailed from operators in 40 countries paid for their own air fare, but WeDo picked up all costs once they arrived in Portugal.  WeDo even had a branded welcoming booth in the Lisbon airport to greet users and get them on vans for the one-hour ride to the hotel.

Razorsight spent much less money, but still pulled off a good conference.  Of particular note was its skill in including partners such as IBM and GCS in the event.

A Chance to See the Software Supplier Up-Close

If you’re planning to buy new RA or fraud management software solution, attending a user group meeting is a great way to see your potential software supplier in action.  And if you’re negotiating a new purchase from the firm, they can hardly refuse your request to attend.

For the prospective customer, the beauty of an event like this is that you can informally meet customers and discuss the pros and cons of working with the supplier.

And customer loyalty being the way it is in our industry, even current customers need to be periodically reassured that their software supplier is financially stable, has a good product roadmap, and continues to  attract quality customers.  The user event is an excellent way to evaluate these virtues.

For the software vendor, of course, the risks are high.  It’s akin to getting a full body scan from airport security.  The software vendor opens itself up to either criticism or praise depending on how well it organized the event and satisfied user needs.

I would have loved to have been the printing shop that supported the WeDo conference.  WeDo’s branded banners, signage, postcards and welcome bags were displayed everywhere around the hotel and it was tastefully done.  With all the orange and black colors you would have thought a Halloween party was going on.

OK, so why is handling these details so important?  Because they point to a software vendor’s ability to execute.  Did they anticipate my needs at the conference?  If they made a mistake, did they recover quickly?  All of these are indicators of the kind of service you are likely to get as a customer.

Keeping the Sales Hounds at Bay

For the software vendor, it’s always tempting to get the salespeople actively involved at user events.  But if salespeople play too active a role, the user event will suffer.  Five years ago a software user event I attended turned into a circus because two-thirds of the people attending were the vendor’s salespeople and partners.  The vendor also played loud music during coffee breaks and cocktail hours — a great way to muzzle user-to-user conversations.

Spending too much time soliciting user feedback or discussing company roadmaps is another downer for most users.  Feedback is better handled via a well-designed survey instrument after the event.

Wrapping some Fun Around the Event

Telecom software can be a pretty mundane subject.  That’s why it’s important to get people smiling and laughing early and often.  On the first day, Razorsight accomplished this by planting a few hundred dollar bills and asked people to stand up and see if there happened to be any Benjamin Franklins under their chairs.  In the evening, it hosted a popular “casino night” cruise on the Potomac River.

WeDo hired TMForum’s Tony Poulos to act as its master of ceremonies.  Tony was the perfect choice because he’s a great stand-up entertainer and industry expert in one package.  An ability to fill both roles came in handy during a panel discussion where Tony served as both moderator and active participant.

Pre- and Post-Event Promotions and PR

Before the event takes place, it’s wise for the software vendor to court its users much like a lover sends his beloved flowers and chocolates.  Remember: a  good 80% of the people invited will not actually attend, yet with good upfront promotion, the brand is enhanced for these people at a fraction of the cost it would require to have them actually attend.

If the event costs $100,000 to pull off, spending $5,000 in pre-event promotion is well worth the investment.  And this can come in the form of formal invitations, postcards, event calendars, brochures, even surveys.

WeDo had its event covered with a crew of video pros and photographers.  These guys not only recorded the sessions but filmed users as they attended informal events such as the tour of the local medieval castle and town.

The effect of having photographers gave the happy illusion that we were all getting awards at Cannes.  Likewise, the spotlight glitter and cameras made the customers who gave presentations look like industry stars.  Another key benefit for the vendor sponsor, of course, is the ability to use videos as sales props after the event.

The Professional Conference Program at the Event

Vendors have different goals when it comes to the conference program at these events.  Razorsight had it easier for the simple reason that almost everyone attending was from North America, a common culture and market.  The conference program was much harder for WeDo to pull off because the people attending were from all over the world and all had different English accents.

I’ve attended user conferences where the vendor only selected speakers who would say great things about the vendor’s software.  Users see through this bias pretty easily.

Often the best speakers come from outside the telecom industry.  Razorsight invited a retired Marine Corps general, a former commander of U.S. forces in the Iraq Desert Storm campaign.  The general gave an inspirational talk about leadership, whose message was subtle, powerful and relevant to anybody in the room who manages people.

Likewise, other subjects off the software management path also get good reviews at user conferences.  On the first training day, WeDo gave a talk explaining many of the fraud and security dangers that LTE networks will eventually bring to telecom.  It’s was a highly interesting session that informed many minds in the room.

In addition to the formal presentations, surveys and roundtable discussions are effective at getting people involved and promote professional learning at the same time.

Making the Best Use of Time at the Event

When I was in the U.S.  Navy, we used talk about the 6 P’s -- Prior Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.  The 6 P’s lesson applies equally to user conferences.  Users who want to meet other users should get a list of people likely to attend the event.  With that list you can begin to explore LinkedIn to check their bios.  At the welcome dinner, if you would like to sit near people from a certain operator, you can let the organizer know in advance.

Bring a stack of business cards, but remember that it’s not the number of cards you exchange, but the relatively few quality interactions you have.  These are the people you are most likely to share professional advice with for a long time to come.

Conclusion

Business assurance is a small enough niche in telecom that private user events will probably grow in the sector.  “High touch” private events are the perfect complement to “high tech” social media.  So plan for your next event wisely.

Copyright 2012 Black Swan Telecom Journal

 

About the Experts

Dan Baker

Dan Baker

Dan Baker is research director of Technology Research Institute (TRI) and editor of the on-line magazines Black Swan Telecom Journal and Top Operator.

Dan is author of the TRI report, Telecom Fraud Management Services, Software and Strategies 2017, featuring commentary by 49 fraud control experts.

He’s now working on a new TRI report entitled: Telecom Wholesale Solutions, Networks and Strategies 2018: North America and Beyond.

This study dives into the dynamic world of carrier data centers, metro fiber, network connectivity, undersea cable, BSS/OSS software, and other solutions powering regional, national, and global infrastructure for cloud, voice, content and enterprise data.   Contact Dan via

Related Stories

  • High Touch Networking meets High Tech Partnering:  How to Leverage a Software User Conference by Dan Baker — Because a user conference is highly targeted at customers and prospects, it’s one of the most cost effective and personal ways for a software vendor to spread positive industry buzz and pave the way for sales.
  • Telecom Software: Should I Buy or Should I Build? by David West — Build custom systems in-house vs. buying commercial software is a critical issue for service providers.  This article make a strong case for why commercial software is best in most situations.  Discussion points include: cost tradeoffs, the illusion of in-house control, and staying current in a dynamic market like fraud assurance.

Related Articles

  • The Bluejay Speaks: How to Rise above the Chatter, Grow Followers, and Deliver Rich, Powerful Content on the Web interview with Michael Bluejay — Telecom professionals need to constantly hone their web communication and marketing skills.  Here we interview a high Google ranking website author who shows how to communicate with power on any subject via the web.
  • Please Mishandle my Telecom Job and Professional Career interview with Eric Priezkalns — Philosopher Nassim Taleb has released a new book on the subject of anti-fragility, a self-invented word describing how people, businessees, and other organic things can benefit from a certain amount of stress, disorder, and shocks.  The article examines Taleb’s theory from the context of the telecom business, and business assurance careers especially.  Professionalism is defined as a bold dedication to scientific inquiry and a data analytics mindset.
  • Stay Focused, Coordinate and Keep it Simple: Applying Steve Jobs‘ Leadership Tenets to Telecoms and Business Assurance interview with Ed Shanahan — Much has already been said about the brilliance of the late Steve Jobs.  In this article, RA consultant Ed Shanahan analyzes the leadership tenets of Jobs, then uses that as a springboard for a deeper diagnosis of telecom’s organizational flaws.  It’s a rallying cry for executives and business assurance pros to get things moving in a simpler, better coordinated, and more focused direction.
  • 19th Century Telecom Pioneer, Thomas Edison: How He Succeeded as Told by Himself interview with Thomas Edison & Orison Swett Marden — Here is a remarkable first-person interview with electrical and telecom industry giant, Thomas Edison, the Steve Jobs of the late 19th century.  Edison’s remarks, as orginally published in a 1901 book, reaffirm the principles that deliver success in any century or in any human pursuit: drive, dedication, focus, and an ability to turn good luck into victory.
  • High Touch Networking meets High Tech Partnering:  How to Leverage a Software User Conference by Dan Baker — Because a user conference is highly targeted at customers and prospects, it’s one of the most cost effective and personal ways for a software vendor to spread positive industry buzz and pave the way for sales.
  • Is Your Company Penny-Smart and Dollar-Foolish in Auditor Productivity? by Peter Yelle — Operators who fail to automate their invoice reconciliation process could be seriously undermining the morale and efficiency of their most valuable auditors.  This article explains the many subtle ways that manual auditing process can cost operators money.  Also presented is an analysis of the typical returns achieved by CSPs with mature cost assurance programs.
  • What If a Large Telecom Operated as a Thousand Business Units? interview with Eric Priezkalns — The Haier Group, a $20 billion consumer appliance manufacturer is a one-company Capitalism Revolution.  It’s organized into thousands of business units with bottom-up as opposed to top-down decision making.  What would happen if Haier’s management style was used to transform a large carrier?  That questoin is the starting point for an intriguing “outside the box” analysis by one of RA’s biggest thinkers.
  • What Are the Proper Boundaries of Revenue Assurance Software and Organizations? interview with Guera Romo — Is the mission of a revenue assurance department to be simply a watchdog over billing and operations functions?  This article challenges readers to examine the fundamental assumptions that underlie RA organizations.  Issues discussed include personal accountability, training, the scope of RA oversight, and the role of assurance software.
  • Japan’s Community Assurance: The ‘Ganbatte’ Spirit by Dan Baker — This story, posted a month after Japan’s devastating March 2011 tsunani, takes stock of the community assurance spirit that pervades Japanese culture and allows the nation to both overcome disasters and deliver high quality products.
  • Can Revenue Assurance Pioneers Survive the Age of Analytics? interview with Eric Priezkalns — Here is a pundit’s analysis of the revenue assurance profession.  Tracing the history of RA from pioneer consultants to modern-day “big data” pros, the article discusses different analysis styles, career strategies, and provides ideas on how RA can further leverage technology to add even greater value to telecom organizations.
  • When Revenue Assurance and IT Clash, Look in the Mirror interview with Rob Mattison — Succeeding in RA requires coordination with outside departments — billing, customer care, marketing, engineering, and especially IT.  This article shows how conflict often arises between RA and IT over what it truly means to “run systems”,  However, IT can be an even bigger roadblock when RA is confused about its proper mission.
  • Telecom Software: Should I Buy or Should I Build? by David West — Build custom systems in-house vs. buying commercial software is a critical issue for service providers.  This article make a strong case for why commercial software is best in most situations.  Discussion points include: cost tradeoffs, the illusion of in-house control, and staying current in a dynamic market like fraud assurance.