Technology is ubiquitous and touches every part of our lives. We can no longer rely on “old” methods of planning and producing events. We need to rethink, retool and for many, change some day to day practices. This has to start with the tools we use daily to run our businesses, because digital disruption has already happened. Are you ahead of the curve? Or getting left behind?
A disruptive innovation is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leaders and alliances.
– Clayton M. Christensen (1995)
Digital Natives Come in All Ages
This quote was written in 1995, when the generation we refer to as digital natives were not yet born, so we know Mr. Christensen was not referring to the advent of digital and mobile, but this quote certainly applies to our new reality. We see it in our clients’ businesses as many of us have clients or work for organizations now which could not have existed without the advent of digital; cloud, gaming, cable and mobile – from digital marketing agencies to online and cloud solution providers, or social media behemoths and support services as examples of these new clients.
Like our existing (often Fortune 1,000) cross–industry clients, these new clients are planning internal sales meetings, user conferences, road shows, B2C and B2B experiences and incentive trips. Well you are thinking, this is what we have always done, indeed what we excel at. So why does it matter if we catch up digitally to them? Well… how are you connecting with these clients and responding to this new way of working in ways that benefit your business?
Recognizing some organizations are more sophisticated and using the systems available, we also need to recognize many large, medium and small businesses are still not. So how can we as event professionals model the behavior our clients are providing with their software and systems and use the new productivity, efficiency, analytic, marketing and sales tools to our benefit?
They Use Tech to Speed Things Up
A reality of event planning is the RFP, request for proposal. Often requiring intensive detail and “creative” ideas; often in a short time frame; during a busy time. Often you have to ask “Is it worth it to deliver a proposal?”
(Obvious) Advantage: a well written RFP may offer you access to a client you may not already be working with.
Disadvantages: There is a high cost to producing responses which typically require a balance of “typical” information plus thoughtful customization; often these are being used to cost-compare to an incumbent or because the organization has procurement policies which require multiple quotes and this is not transparent; you are often basing your ideas on a document and not a conversation.
There are times when you must respond to the request for a proposal. So how to make these responses simpler to deliver and less resource intensive to produce? By using technology, of course.
They Use Tech to Win Business
Every response takes the most precious of resources, time. Time to review the request, to bring together the team to generate the ideas that will make it a winning proposal and time to develop the eye-popping visuals that will ensure the client is left with only one choice – your company – to deliver the event of a lifetime, or to develop a long-term relationship with a client.
As video has become ubiquitous in our daily lives, streaming at us across all devices and as visual design and the tools to create it have become accessible, our client’s expectations of the responses received have naturally risen. While many remain reliant on the MS-Office suite to create the visuals, budgets and documents to support your ideas, the end result can feel a little old-fashioned, and it now runs the risk of you not getting the business.
Technology providers have now made it possible to offer cost-effective 2D and 3D renders, to manipulate illustrations and photos and even offer virtual reality tours of spaces, unique to their event. While clients still need the basic information around budget and logistics – we all know this is not what “sells” you, it is your ideas presented in an engaging format, backed up by good information, combined with your most recent events and your reputation that will win and retain business. In this digital age this reputation may come from past experience and referrals but is now also also built through other digital mediums they have researched your work on including your website, Instagram, Pinterest, Linkedin, for example. If you are not already active on these mediums it is time to consider which have the most relevance for you and your business.
They Track Their Time
In any service industry, time is our most precious commodity. You must have a way of tracking the time you spend on projects and tasks, particularly at the beginning of your business. While this may seem tedious, or for your team members, micro-managing, it is not. In a best case scenario it allows you to ensure you are spending time on the most profitable parts of your business. If you end up in a cancellation scenario you also will be in a stronger position if you are able to show your client exactly what you have already spent time on, and how much. Arming yourself with knowledge is the only way you can begin to reasonably charge fairly for your services, in your own competitive set (local or global).
They Know Their Customers
When I speak about technology being used in events I always start with tech in our business and ask the audience if they are using a Customer Relationship Management system, also known as the CRM. Statistically, less than 10% of the meeting and event professionals (producers, planners and supplier partners) in the room raise their hands – showing anecdotally that we are in businesses that are not acting like businesses in the digital age.
You need to know your numbers. If you are not currently using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, how do you know who your best clients are? By best, not just clients you like and enjoy working with, as their value is priceless, but the ones where you are making a reasonable amount of profit for resources spent which can only be gauged event-by-event by tracking your time, and the real expenses and revenues associated with your clients in an objective manner.
Do you always remember or know every client that your organization has written a proposal for or what was included in this? If you are an owner or operator, possibly, but if you want to scale your business at all you need to begin to capture these details and there are a number of excellent (cloud based) services to help you do this. While there was a time that an Excel spreadsheet was the tool of choice there are so many detail rich options it is time to move beyond this.
They Track Their Value
This same type of system should be used to keep track of the suppliers you are choosing to partner with and your ongoing spend, plus any concessions or complimentary items offered through the year. You want to be sure you are realistic when you ask for a needed concession, and also to understand the value you are bringing to the wide variety of relationships you will have in meeting and event planning. This can be pulled from an accounting system, or from an overarching event management system. HOW you do this is up to you, the point is to make sure you are doing it. Don’t guess, track your value.
They Are Mobile Optimized
In April 2015 Google began lowering the search ranking of websites which were not mobile optimized. For many businesses there are legacy websites, often highly customized which required a rethink and a reinvestment; not as simple as “enabling mobile” in your back end website. For small and medium size businesses the combination of resources including time and money for a developer can be valid stumbling blocks, but it is an issue that must be addressed.
For those able to respond more quickly, perhaps this was already in progress or they were already mobile-friendly, there is a distinct advantage. Why? As of Summer 2015 more google searches were initiated on mobile devices than desktops. You probably do this too. We want information when we want it – often NOW. If the search is “event planner X city” and you are not mobile enabled – you are no longer part of the search.
It is time to make sense of how you can use the many technology platforms and services that connect your real business value to the people you are serving – clients and team members - and make your business stronger. When you invest in a platform, take time to do the training offered, and attend user conferences if they are available. Most technology providers will tell you their platforms are woefully underutilized, with features they spend months creating often not explored by clients “too busy” to understand the full functionality, particularly on the reporting side. What may seem like a lot of time now may end up saving you time, money and effort as you grow your business. Dig in!