Sunday, April 26, 2009

Making the Most of Your Tech Trade Show Experience

Odds are that you will be an attendee, exhibitor, speaker, or presenter for at least one major tech trade show this year. With many companies imposing restrictions on travel and budget, you will likely be attending fewer events and will seek the biggest-bang-for-the-buck from your tech trade show experience.

In order to determine how to make the most of your next event, consider first your targeted outcome. For example, if you are on the brink of a major purchase decision and need to weigh alternatives, you will prioritize your time differently than if you are attending to learn more about a particular area of technology or to gain insights from featured keynote speakers. Most likely, you will have multiple objectives.

To follow are some tips that will help you get the most out of your tech trade show participation.

1) Plan Ahead - To entice attendees to remain for the duration, may event managers schedule the capstone keynote for the last day. Review the event guide in advance and prioritize which speeches, sessions and exhibits you must not miss. If you require in-depth discussions with vendors—especially if you have pointed questions, set up on-site meetings in advance, and help ensure that you will receive the information you need by telling the vendors what you would like them to cover. These dedicated meetings are will align product demos to your specific needs vs the canned versions shown on the floor.

2) Work the Floor – Although you have pre-selected the exhibits you will visit as a first priority, try to squeeze in some time to roam the floor. This can be the best way to learn about new offerings. Don’t skip the small booths, which are often occupied by start-ups and are likely to be showing the latest innovations.

3) Network, Network, Network – Ideas can come from anywhere, and personal interaction is the main reason you attend an industry event live rather than participating virtually. Join the after-hours sponsored events and have breakfast/coffee/lunch with people other than those with whom you came. Compare notes with your colleagues. Meet with your partners and current vendors, even if you are not planning a new purchase in the near-term. Follow the bloggers and live Twitter streams from the event. Join the conversation by sharing your own observations.

4) Follow-Up – Keep in mind that many events now offer registered attendees the opportunity to download and view recorded sessions and keynotes. Take advantage of this, particularly for your second priority sessions and for those which you may have missed due to scheduling conflicts. While at the event, note on each business card you collect how you will follow-up and do so very soon upon your return. You may also elect to follow-up with live meetings, especially with those who are local to your area.

Even in today’s highly virtual world and despite budget cuts, on-site industry events remain a valuable means through which to gain new information and to learn about emerging industry trends. So make the most of these events – and don’t forget to bring home a couple of tsotchkes as souvenirs of your experience.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Want to Know What’s on Your Customers’ Minds? Ask Them.

As children, many of us were taught not to worry about what others think of us. In marketing, we practice the exact opposite. We place a great deal of importance on market perceptions, customer satisfaction, and brand image. How can we determine whether or not our offerings are on the right track?

1) Ongoing conversations with customers – This should be a continuous practice regardless of whether or not you have specific research questions. Social media is a great way to foster this input. Be sure to include non customers, as they are likely facing challenges that can become opportunities for your firm’s future development.
Note- Pay close attention in these discussions rather than seeking only answers to the questions you make explicit. The dialog could reveal an untapped market opportunity.

2) Secondary market research – At least some of the information you need may already exist. It is likely that others have asked a similar question and done the heavy-lifting for you.

3) Primary market research – Custom research is advisable when you need to take the pulse of the market for the purpose of making decisions about product or marketing strategy, sales promotions and campaigns, branding, market expansion, etc. and when secondary research does not exist to answer your specific questions. You can choose to conduct this in-house or to leverage the expertise of a market research agency.

If you decide to design and execute the research yourself, DIY tools such as those provided by Research Rockstar will come in handy. Be sure to leverage best practices in experiment and/or survey design and to hone in early on the research questions you need answered and your expected outcomes.

Regardless of how you pursue market input, remember that market dynamics change. The information you’re gathering today may no longer be relevant next year. We've experienced this recently with changes to the macroeconomic climate. Customers are applying different criteria to make decisions. Maintaining close ties with a smaller group of customers and prospects who have an interest in your success and can serve as advisors will help you determine when to refresh your research. Learning about—and from—your markets is an ongoing process.

So while our childhood lesson to disregard what others think does not carry over into marketing, we can definitely apply the advice that when someone picks on us (or gives us input into how we can improve our offerings or our brand), it is because they are interested.