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Grow Up!: How To Transition Meetings To User Conferences

By Christina Green

If you’re a corporate event planner, you may already be planning customer meetings. But how do you know when it’s time to transition from meeting with customers on occasion to a full-blown user’s conference? This article will walk you through the steps and the questions to ask.

Transitioning from customer meetings to a user’s conference is a big step. There’s a lot more expense, time, and energy involved. You go from ordering lunch and drinks to creating an experience that they’ll (hopefully) be thinking about all year. It also requires an investment on your customers’ part too. Is your user base ready for that? Are you?

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Grow Up!: How To Transition Meetings To User Conferences

Questions to Ask Before Hosting a User’s Conference

There are a few things you need to map out prior to hosting a user’s conference. Most user’s conferences will require an investment/fee from your customers to attend. That’s why it’s critical to your success to answer a few questions before hosting one. A user’s conference is not something you just try once. It’s a commitment of time and resources and one that customers will expect to continue. It needn’t be on an annual basis but it should be on a consistent schedule. Decide:

  1. Why do you want to have one? What’s your goal? Knowing your why will help you get there. Are you doing it for exposure or because your product is complicated and you need more group time with customers to turn users into brand ambassadors? Your why will shape the kind of event you host. If you just want a platform to make a big company or product announcement, you can do that without a conference.
  2. Does your primary competition have one? What does it look like? Is it a big fan fest? Then maybe you need to consider it. If your primary target audience seems to be responding to it, it’s likely a good fit.
  3. Do you have a community of experts and loyal customers? Again, most user conferences are paid ticket events. You need to ensure someone will want to come. Poll your customers on their interest or reach out on social media.
  4. Do you have knowledge to share? If your product is exceptionally simple to understand and you have little brand following, a user’s conference may not be the right step. You want to create an event that educates, entertains, or inspires. Bonus if you do all three, but if your product doesn’t require a lot of explanation and it’s not the kind of thing people will get excited about (like toilet paper, for instance), you might want to consider other avenues of engagement.
  5. Have you held small community-building events as stepping stones to your user conference? If so, how were they received? If they’ve been a wash, difficult to get attendees to come, and then harder to get them to stay, and they’ve shown little interest, don’t feel pressure to host a conference. On the other hand, if the energy borders on explosive and the small customer meetings never seem long enough, go for it.
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The Benefits of a Successful User’s Conference

After you’ve asked yourself the previous questions, and the conference is still something you’re considering, you may want to think about the benefits. Even though there’s a lot of work that goes into a successful user’s conference, there are a few mutually beneficial things that may help you make up your mind.

Those Who Participate Feel Invested

One of the major reasons companies host user’s conferences isn’t for the massive amounts of revenue. These types of events when done well create a rally around the company effect. Users fall in love with your organization and become more loyal.

In addition to providing an amazing experience, which undoubtedly helps, asking for feedback makes them feel vested and more apt to support your efforts. They’ll want to see you succeed using ‘their’ idea (even if it was yours to begin with).

Collaboration Opportunities

User conferences help you make deeper connections with your customers and enable collaborative opportunities that are difficult online. Users will feel more comfortable sharing feedback and they’ll know that they were heard. In turn, you are free to ask deeper questions about what they’re sharing. You may even decide on some sort of collaborative undertaking outside of the user’s conference such as a task force or private online community.

Become an Industry Thought Leader

In addition to product support and collaboration, user’s conferences are excellent vehicles to provide needed industry education, trends discussions, or deeper dives on topics affecting your customers. Bring in good speakers but don’t feel like every thought leader must be from outside your organization. User’s conferences are excellent opportunities to show your customers that you know their challenges and you’re here to help.

Make Customers Feel Amazing

User’s conferences allow you to focus on your customers in a way that’s difficult to do every day. You are providing them with a unique opportunity to build a stronger relationship and engage with you. Having said that, a user’s conference should never be just a sales promo or a customer service forum. Both of those things could be included but you want this event to be about your customers’ needs, not a giant infomercial for your business. Jack Newton, CEO & Co-founder of Clio wrote in Entrepreneur, “If you truly want to capture the imagination and attention of your community, you need to make the event larger than your product and company. Yes, we had plenty of product-focused content but more broadly, we set out to build an event where the legal industry can gather each year to talk about the future of technology and how to run a better business.”

In Conclusion

There’s a big difference between a customer meeting and a user’s conference and you want to ensure you’re ready to make the jump. There are many benefits to hosting a conference but you need to be prepared to do so. While the revenue may benefit your organization, the focus must always be that of your customers and addressing their needs.

Have you made the leap? Share your experience in the comments below.

Additional Resources on User Conferences and Customer Meetings

6 Ways to Use Events to Grow Your Product User Base
30 Examples of Beautiful User Experience in Events
5 Events that Can Grow Your Customer Base
11 Steps for How to Handle a Customer Complaint at Your Event

about the author

Christina Green
Christina R. Green is a digital storyteller and writer for associations and businesses, including journals such as the Midwestern Society of Association Executive's magazine and industry blogs. She's a voracious reader but has been known to stop reading if there are too many exclamation points used.
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