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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.

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    Categories: CRM, Events, 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.