CRM & the Event Industry – Tips from the Trenches

There was a question in the “Trade Show Executive” LinkedIn group posted a few weeks ago that is the inspiration for this post. The question was this:

What are the most effective CRM (customer relationship management) systems out there to drive exhibit sales growth?

While the question gave me pause, when I reworded it I discovered the inspiration:

How can I effectively apply CRM to drive exhibit sales growth and what is the best tool to help achieve that growth?

Full Disclosure: I have spent my career planning, developing and managing CRM for companies across multiple industries. Currently I manage CRM for Freeman. I have implemented salesforce.com, Oracle’s on-demand CRM, Siebel, NetSuite and RightNow….as well as setup Goldmine and ACT! for several small firms. This post is not intended to sell a solution. In fact you’ll see that the technology is only the final of many steps.

Too often, CRM is defined as a technology solution. While there are a number of technologies that can be employed to aid in the strategy and tactics of CRM, the practice of deepening and broadening relationships with customers is about much more than technology. Put more succinctly Paul Greenberg best defines CRM this way:

“CRM is a philosophy & a business strategy, supported by a technology platform, business rules, workflow, processes & social characteristics, designed to engage the customer in a collaborative conversation in order to provide mutually beneficial value in a trusted & transparent business environment. It’s the company’s response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation.”

Paul goes on to provide a “tweetable” version of the definition this way

“The company’s response to the customer’s control of the conversation.”

Thanks Paul.

Now that we’ve set that framework let’s get back to the question as it relates to the event industry.

How can I effectively apply CRM to drive exhibit sales growth and what is the best tool to help achieve that growth?

Given the above definition, driving exhibit sales growth is tied directly to engaging people in meaningful conversations. Those conversations, those relationship building activities between people build trust through genuine listening and responding to the discovered needs. Remember, this is a process…not simply a 2 minute scanning transaction in a booth. It begins well before your appearance at the show and extends well beyond the time borders of the event.

If the key to CRM success is listening and responding appropriately then the CRM system we choose should allow us multiple ways to capture those conversations:

  • Operational CRM
    • Who the customer is (basic info – who, what, when)
    • What their interests are
    • How they’re tied to your organization
    • What they’ve bought
    • What they might buy based on history
    • Their customer service history
    • How they’ve rated us
    • When have they needed the products/services we provide
  • Social CRM
    • How they are tied to other customers
    • Where do they go to be heard (blogs, micro-blogs, other online social communities)
    • To whom are they connected (who’s in their 150)

Other questions to ask:

  • What is your sales process (or said a better way – what process do you follow to start & nurture collaborative conversations?)
  • Who is involved in your CRM initiative? Sales? Marketing? Customer Service? Operations? I’d argue all should be included but that’s an upcoming post
  • What are your pulse points? What metrics/measures tell you that your current process and strategy is working (or not working)

After answering these (and more) questions it’s time to ask, “what technology solution can help us best manage this?” You wanted to ask the question at the beginning…many do and when they focus first/only on the technology it normally ends in a technology change after months/years of underproductive headbanging sessions.

Decide on your CRM system the same way(s) you’d answer the question “what car meets my current needs?” Most of us don’t just plop down our bankroll and jump behind the wheel of an impromptu purchase. There’s thought about our current situation (family size, income, debt, environmental impact, how long we need (or want) to drive the car) the reliability of the car in question, and many other questions that depend on your who you are.

Picking a CRM system also depends on who you are and your current situation as well as your needs (covered in the questions above). When considering these systems the most important thing you can do is build a list 2 columns

  • Needs
  • Wants

Now that you have that list, get in touch with CRM vendors and talk about your needs and wants. Each vendor has it’s sweet spot as well as it’s holes. I’ve tried to outline the sweet spots below:

  • Salesforce.com – customizable, robust platform. Scales from smallest to enterprise organizations.
  • Microsoft Dynamics – late to the CRM game but gaining ground. Tight integration with Office.
  • NetSuite – very tight ERP integration
  • RightNow – Strong for call centers
  • Goldmine – one of the first CRM tools to connect to the web. Works well for small to medium sized businesses.
  • ACT – Great for small businesses interested in simple contact/customer management

There are many others and there’s no magic answer. Choosing the right technology never is. The difference between the right choice and wrong choice is always traced back to planning. Spend the time asking questions, defining needs vs. wants and understanding current and future processes and then go seeking for solutions that meet those needs (and hopefully some wants).

“Plan your work for today and every day, then work your plan.” –Norman Vincent Peale

Technology is important in our business. CRM offers several technology solutions. Don’t get hung up on the technology, instead focus on CRM and let the right technology fall into place.

    Categories: CRM, Events, Uncategorized

    Innovation: Get in the Batter’s Box

    I love baseball. Everyone has a baseball story. You played baseball, watched a family member play or joined the game being played at the park or in the backyard. You’ve been to a game as either a participant or spectator. Tell me I’m wrong (if I am).

    What is it about the game of baseball?

    The most intriguing part of the game for me is a mix of the
    on-the-field strategy and the statistics that govern the play. In particular I’ve always had a fascination with the batting average (another thing that, in one way or another everyone is familiar with). Don’t think so?

    Ever heard or used the phrase “batting a thousand”?

    Batting average (simply defined as the ratio of hits to at bats) measures how often (on average) a batter will get a hit. If a player has a batting average of .250 then, on average they will get a hit for every 4 times they visit the plate.

    So why are we talking about baseball and batting averages? I thought I opened this to read about innovation.

    Stick with me for just a minute. The two tie together.

    Innovation has always been key to business, especially in times of economic turmoil. It’s also an idea with which we have a romantic fascination. Who doesn’t want to innovate? “We need to innovate more” is a battle cry of sorts that gets attention and inspires us to our feet while raising the pulse. I love the idea of innovating more and agree that it (innovation) must be a constant. We talk a lot about innovation, its importance, its impact. That’s the fun and easy part. The hard part, and where innovation falls apart is in the execution. We are called to arms, maybe we have some discussions around it, make some plans and then it stops. There’s too much ideation and not enough implementation.

    Is it any wonder why innovation stops before it starts?

    We want to innovate, we just don’t want to take the step to execute a change, we find it difficult to try. We want to raise our batting average, to get more hits (on average) we just don’t want to step in the batters box and face more pitches in order to raise that average.

    There’s one way for a hitter to raise their batting average.

    Take more swings.

    Face more pitches, take more swings.

    There is no way around it.

    The same is true with innovation. It’s important to set the vision, call for innovation. It’s more important to try a bunch of stuff (stand in the batter’s box and swing). The result of those swings will be the true collaborative ideas that lead to your next innovation.

    Baseball season starts in a couple of weeks. Salute your baseball story by thinking of a need, thinking of some solutions and commit to increasing your innovation batting average.

    NEXT POST: How to spur innovative ideas into action.

    S-P-R-A-Ying with @JasonFalls

    February 11, 2010 6 comments

    While attending EventCamp10 (#EC10) over the first weekend in February I had the opportunity to be a part of a session with @JasonFalls of SocialMediaExplorer. I have followed Jason’s thoughts for over a year and appreciate his straightforward, collaborative style. What you read and what you get in person is the same authentic desire to educate and share.

    The session focused on listening and started off by discussing the importance of listening…not hearing…but really (active) listening.

    A Primer for Effective Listening

    Wikipedia defines active listening as:

    Active Listening is not just an automatic response to sounds. It requires a listener to understand, interpret, and evaluate what he or she heard. Today, the ability to listen is an important skill in interpersonal communication. It improves personal relationship through reducing conflicts, strengthening cooperation, as well as fostering understanding.

    When interacting, people often are not listening attentively to one another. They may be distracted, thinking about other things, or thinking about what they are going to say next (the latter case is particularly true in conflict situations or disagreements).

    Active listening is a structured way of listening and responding to others. It focuses attention on the speaker. Suspending one’s own frame of reference and suspending judgment are important in order to fully attend to the speaker.

    So often we think we’re listening but in reality we’re only hearing (huge difference). Rather than listening we’re really only waiting to respond or we’re multi-tasking (ever attend a webinar while completing a project or catching up on e-mail?) [Guilty]

    In Stephen R. Covey’s The Four Disiplines of Execution there is a quote that fits quite well here and is related to listening:

    Human beings are wired to do only one thing at a time with excellence.

    What struck me in the first few minutes of Jason’s session was that:

    • We all have a basic need to connect and help each other
    • We connect to each other by learning more about each other
    • We help by using those connections to create shared collaborative moments
    • We build these bridges by listening

    So listening is a critical skill. If we don’t here’s what collaboration looks like:

    All too often our interactions with each other, in person and online are some rendition of this classic scene.

    So now we’re ready to communicate more effectively right? As Jason continued our session we discussed what effective communications had in common.

    Communication model

    Communication requires:

    1. A sender
    2. A medium (TV, internet, air, etc)
    3. A receiver

    See where that multi-tasking comes into play…it can really interfere with effective listening and keep the receiver(s) from truly understanding the message.

    When we have the right players and tools in place, listening will happen. And, (quoting Jason here)

    When we listen effectively it allows us to do one really, really good thing — provide excellent service.

    Listening Online

    Now we get the importance of listening. And going back to our awesome graphic there’s this medium thing (as in the spaces in which these communications are passed). There are multiple types of media (air, internet, TV, etc). Some sort of transmitter. This is where Jason honed in on what is his expertise: listening online.

    If we’re going to engage in listening online we need to know what people are saying about us right? Well yes there’s that tactical self serving purpose. But using Jason’s quote from above, the real value in listening online is to listen for what our communities want to know more about us. Listening to these conversations gives us the opportunity to act. Listening to and through those listening acts building relationships online creates a bond between you and your communities.

    At this point Jason offered some advice:

    • In using online mediums to build relationships – pitch relationship building with those you encounter, don’t pitch a story. This isn’t about marketing, it’s about a real relationship. Respect it.
    • Remember to listen not only to your brand but also to topics that define your brand

    Moving from listening to engagement

    Once you’ve developed those listening channels there are three theories you can aspire to, each one requires more engagement and effort than the one before, but the payoff is greater (exponentially). You can:

    1. Give your community what they want (you can appear smart to them)
    2. Listen & actively participate (ask them what they want (appear smarter)
    3. Share great content, connect & create thought leadership in your space (makes your community want what you give them)

    Moving from listening to engagement is a process and like anything is a craft. Along the way keep in mind:

    • Write good headlines (headlines get readers to engage)
    • Write what the thought leaders are writing about (in your own words)
    • Find and share 3-4 good pieces of good content on Twitter
    • Post consistently set and maintain  audience expectations

    To bring these thought back to some actionable takeaways Jason closed our session by discussion a method we can use to listen and engage to achieve the levels mentioned above.

    It’s all about S-P-R-A-Y

    1. S – Search (for what you want to find)
      • Use RSS feeds and a reader (like Google Reader)
      • Use Google Alerts (covers 75-80% of the web)
        • Enhance Google Alerts with IceRocket & Technorati
      • Use Twitter search for real time searches
      • Check out TPS Reports (Tweet Positioning System)
        • Takes what people are saying and overlays where they are saying it
      • Socialmention.com is also a terrific search tool
      • Remember: you’re looking for keywords about your brand (what your communities are searching for)
    2. P – Prioritize what you find (respond now/respond later, route it, etc)
      • Are you finding negative mentions? – Respond immediately
      • Transactional opportunities? – jump on them now (you’ve found them in the moment they want to buy)
      • Finding positive mentions? – stay on top of them
        • See someone tweeting a lot about eNewsletter. DM asking for mailing address – mail them a book.
        • Remember that when you communicate online you’re magnifiying the great/good
        • Look for suggestions
    3. R – Route to actionable party
      • Define your process to route/respond to actions found in the prioritize stage
      • Set expectations with your team and community about accepted response times
    4. A – Act on it appropriately (we tend to forget this part)
      • Do the heavy lifting
      • Turn user ideas into reality
      • Small wins for community has a huge impact and builds trust
      • Document community experiences and ask for their feedback
    5. Y – YES!
      • Do all of the above and we are engaging our communities actively with trust building results

    A Nod to Online Tools

    Jason spend a few minutes talking about tools that can be used to help take what’s discovered online while S-P-R-A-Ying  and capture actionable items:

    • Evernote
    • OmniFocus
    • ReQall

    Regardless of the tools you use, the idea is to capture ideas and act quickly.

    • Reading blogs
      Write good headlines
      Thought leaders are writing about
      3-4 good pieces of content for Twitter (find & share)
      Get into consistency that audience is used to (set expectation & then deliver)
    Categories: Uncategorized

    It IS all about you

    February 8, 2010 4 comments

    I had the opportunity to attend PCMA Convening Leaders 2010 in Dallas last month. It was several days of new thinking and inspiration about the changing yet vital role of face to face meetings. While an entire month’s worth of blog posts could spill out of my observations from this event (I reserve the right even 1 month post), for this post I’ll focus in on the group that is playing a more important role in F2F meetings than every before.

    The attendee.

    Put your attendee hat on for a bit. We’ve all been to a trade show, corporate event or educational conference. In those hours of sessions, breakouts, networking events, boxed lunches & bar-hopping how many times have you thought to yourself:

    “They should do ____________!” (Sidebar: every idea should end in an exclamation point. We need to get back to the passion we had when we were younger about ideas.)

    • Did you turn that idea into a suggestion? An e-mail? A tweet? Facebook fan page posting? Smoke signal? Carrier pigeon note? (you should have)
    • Did you blog about it? (you should)
    • Did you reach out to your social network and share your idea? (I hope so)

    Now for the real question:

    • Did they listen?
    • Did they respond?
    • Did they sign you up to manage that part of the event next year?

    Wait…what was that last part again?

    Attendee as Contributor
    Imagine, feedback, posted transparently, discussed openly and turned on it’s head to engage the attendee in making the event better by owning a part of the event.

    Better yet, how do we turn our events into collaborative platforms and empower our attendees & exhibitors to take our event in completely different ways?

    How do we truly turn the event over to the attendee?
    I’m not sure the above question alone conveys the thought so I’ll add another thought to it. How do we turn our event into a platform on top of which the attendees can build the conference they want.

    Event as a platform. Or to geek it up, “Event as a Service” (EaaS). Attendee as a developer, free to build on the event to explore new and different directions that make the event relevant to them at a given point in time with a given group of people (both in person and virtually). I get excited by the opportunity to use a platform (theme, direction, tool set & community) to create an experience that will offer exactly what I need, when I need it surrounded by the people who can help me understand and digest it.

    And if I’m not getting that…I need only speak up and join in.

    Can Events Do This?
    I’d answer this with a quote from General Eric Shinseki (Ret. US Army)

    If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.

    Events are already doing this. Why? Because people are already doing this. Let’s not forget that the revolution that is causing this upheaval of top down everything is driven by people groping for new and different ways to connect and share.

    Hmmmm…isn’t that a working definition of an event?

    What’s so scary about this? (TRANSPARENT MOMENT: I really don’t understand)
    I’ve asked that question a lot and the answers I get really come back to the concern for loss of control and inhearant change in this model. Yes it’s scary, but isn’t it more frightening to think about your attendees and exhibitor finding your event is no longer relevant simply because you refused to turn it over to them?

    If we commit to combine the thought of looking from the outside in (customer vantage point) and support that view with a platform that encourages (can I say demands) social interactions on several levels, we’ve just created events that do more than inform or educate. We’ve created an infectious community.

    See you on the platform.

    Team is what the Leaders Are – Pshhht!

    November 21, 2009 Leave a comment

    The ______ of the Leader

    According to John Maxwell, “The speed of the leader is the speed of the team.” While that’s true, it is important to remember that the leader sets many agendas in addition to speed. Consider this phrase: The ______ of the leader is the ______ of the team. Now pick almost any word to fill in the blanks…

    Attitude.

    Enthusiasm.

    Focus.

    Service.

    Integrity.

    Passion.

    Rarely will team members rise higher than the standard set by the team leader. Team members pay more attention to what the leader does than what the leader says. Ideally, there is congruence between the words and the action of the leaders. Wherever there is misalignment, followers choose to believe actions.

    Are you giving team members something to live up to? Challenging them the a higher purpose? Are you a limiting factor?

    That may be the way of 20th century knowledge work. To those of you reading this who are inspired by the above I feel for you. If you’re one of these leaders who believe it’s about you, look around. While you’re reading this your people…your own community is getting it done. If you’re a follower who is waiting to be inspired by your own leader you’re in for quite the uninteresting career.

    So what type of leader inspires a team today? My thoughts move quickly to social networks to develop an answer to the question. The more I think about it the more I like it…

    Social leadership

    Imagine leadership that creates a platform for you to plant your passion and grow success through cultivating your dreams with the right relationships. A collaboration between parties that crosses well over the line of boss/employee to the muddy waters of partners on a journey of shared success.

    I know, this isn’t a new idea. Or is it? Have you ever been a part of a group that posts the goal(s) on the wall and then hierarchy is literally thrown aside in favor of a social approach? Where the leader merely guides the right relationships trusting that those relationships will create the synergies necessary to exceed the stated goal?

    Business guru to gurus Tom Peters talked about this type of team.

    “The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say ‘I’. They don’t think ‘I’. They think ‘we’; they think ‘team’.”

    I think we’ve all experienced this in some aspect of our lives. Unfortunately it’s probably very rarely at the place we hone our professional craft. Sad really.

    Social leaders – state (ambiguously) our vision, our mission, suck us in whole hog. Then connect their teams to those who can, together execute against that vision. Then…they get out of the way.

    Yes…they stop. They get out of the way and watch as this collaborative network far exceeds what they envisioned.

    This last part is the hardest part for most middle managers especially. They want to delegate the work but many attempt to keep the glory of planting the flag at the top of the hill all to themselves. As I compare this strategy of leadership with social networking it falls apart. Imagine a social network where I post an idea, gather feedback from those around me and then take all credit.

    That would be the last time I collaborate with that network and my whuffie would be forever damaged.

    For teamwork to work, it must be embraced–in principle and in practice–by everyone on the team.

    So those of us on teams – don’t wait for your leader to tell you how to team together. Get together with your colleagues and DIY. Collaborative teams are democratic. Talk amongst your team members and set out on a path of shared success. Announce to your leader(s) that there’s  a new social initiative on your team and you’ll like them to have a seat (not the seat) at the shared table. And, as you start on this journey remember this:

    1. In successful teams, team members are interdependent. They engage others for help early and offer help always
    2. Competition is healthy. There are three things you can use to create healthy competition: a competitor in the marketplace, a team goal to be achieved or a common problem to be solved.
    3. Team members are self-starters. Since they understand the big picture, they don’t need to be told what to do. Set the shared goal together, hold each other equally accountable and stay out of each other’s way
    4. Successful team members share both rewards and sacrifices. Don’t expect people to make sacrifices if they won’t get to share in the rewards later.
    5. The best thing you can strive for is not a team with a great leader. The highest goal is a team of leaders.

    Here’s to more leaders, followers and organizations that continue to learn, grow and prosper from the social networking concepts.

    Social rules!

    Categories: Uncategorized

    CRM and the Customer – Sharing Ideas

    It’s sad to say but I think we’re already taking transparency and collaborative idea sharing for granted. We love platforms like MyStarbucksIdeas, IdeaStorm, Crocs Ideas and other collaborative corners where we can, as consumer/customer and company, share thoughts, challenge the norm and make products better for all involved. I know I’ve logged a few ideas for Starbucks and Dell as well as for Salesforce.com on their Ideas site. I also know that my ideas are actively being vetted not only by product managers, but by other community members. Together we’ll make the products and services for those companies better.

    The thought of such collaboration intrigued me. I thought about how such a platform could be used for my business in the Tradeshow industry. Granted, the tradeshow/exhibition business is one of the last vestiges of 20th century communication (read: faxes, paper, phone, paper, maybe e-mail and of course paper), but certainly such a platform could bring together our product/service managers, salespeople, marketing teams and executives with customers.

    The next few posts will outline our experience selling the idea to our leadership and lessons learned along the way.

    Since all good stories (not including this post in that realm) end with a tease I’ll leave you with the most important questions to be asked when considering a roll-out of a collaborative idea sharing platform:

    “Do we want to know what our customers have to say?”

    While I’ve yet to run into a company/group who answered negatively to this question, many should have spent more time pondering the question before launching into a new project.

    Next up: What does it mean to listen and how do we show we are listening?

    Collaborating with Sales – Documenting the Saga

    Welcome to the Collaborative. This blog, which has morphed over time from a place to track the happenings of high tech collaboration to musings about collaborative communities in every day life to a quiet corner of the interwebs while I spent some time thinking about voids.

    There’s something missing in collaborative communities online. Something that the blogosphere has passed over (at least as far as my browser can tell). While there are many resources about how to solve specific technology problems (complete with working examples) there are few if any places where CRM related change management and change acceleration are discussed in detail.

    I’ve talked to a few readers and have heard what this space should not be: a place to simply pontificate about why change is important. Of COURSE it’s important. Those companies that change well thrive. Those that don’t or can’t, well they end up on the beach just as the tsunami of change rushes over them like a brick wall of energy and they are left to ask, “how did we miss this?”

    So armed with what this conversation community won’t be, I’m taking a stab at what it should be: A place to share my experiences with change and how the Technical Strategy coupled together with cultural strategy creates effectiveness every time. Real examples, WIP, successes, mistakes, customer marvels and malcontents. All cards face up on the table.

    Below is an introduction to such a conversation. I invite you to soak it in and join the journey with me. I’m not sure where this will end or how we’ll get there. Along the way we’ll debate, laugh call each other names and through the process, learn.

    I look forward to the journey. Both the journey of bringing more and better change management to organizations of all sizes and for the opportunity to collaborative with you to make this a place to share and to effect change in all that we do.

    Change and the Organization – A Match Made in Hell 2.0
    Note: names (both individuals and companies) are removed to protect all involved. What matters is not WHO specifically but who generally and why specifically.

    Picture a sales organization for a multi-billion dollar company. Exceptional industry knowledge, best of breed technologies to serve the customer, brand recognition to kill for.  Picture that same sales organization having revenue, cost center and incentive figures in giant silos separated by time and space. Picture a sales organization who’s idea of new business is growing current business next year by 5 points.

    Layer into that picture a culture void of goal setting for sales people. Of course there’s goal setting for the business. Budgets must be completed yearly…but nothing to track a sales person’s performance.

    Meanwhile, somewhere in the middle of the ocean a major techtonic shift occurs. Questions like, “shouldn’t we incent our sales people to sell?” arise from the murky depths and catch, because of changing leadership a current. The wave slowly grows in size, speed and force. Those caught up in it as it rolls quietly and quickly along ask similar questions. Those safely on shore start to hear reports of large, fast swells and want to protect themselves. They want to move inland and surround themselves with all the reasons that they need not change.

    This then is the story of a company. A real living breathing company who is right now in the middle of this coming tsunami. My job is that of surfing instructor. I won’t stop the wave (I’ll encourage it) but I’m all about getting you on a board and hanging ten together. This space will chronicle that journey, as well as, provide a place for us to collaborate on thoughts, suggestions and lessons along the way.

    Now it’s time for your feedback. Please find the poll below and let me know what you think. Hate it? Cool…we’ll scrap it and move on. Love it, we’ll find ways to get you and your change management successes and nightmares chronicled. Not convinced…tell me what we’re missing. My goal is simple: to share an experience that we can all study, learn from and add value to the collective pool of knowledge.

    I look forward to the journey.

    Categories: CRM Tags: , , ,
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