The value of User Groups
With the decline of trade shows, and the reluctance of time-poor management to leave their precious office for a few days, there is a challenge to how best to engage with customers and prospects.
This problem is not new, and “User Groups” have done their best to provide an alternative or complementary approach (often running alongside a trade show).
It’s not that this is the demise of the traditional trade show, although the industry is certainly facing some challenges – maybe it is an opportunity for vendors and partners to engage with their user base in a more effective and customer-centric way.
From a vendors point of view – it allows for a laser-like approach as you know the audience is genuinely interested in what you have to say.
But there are always other opportunities with co-sponsors and partnerships at the events to see how add-on services can bolster and boost their business.
Scheduling User Groups can be more flexible and under the control of the organisation arranging the event, allowing “where and when” best suits their business and product roadmap timeframe – whereas Trade Shows are set in stone and immovable beasts. A User Group can be more portable too, allowing them to be more easily delivered as regional events.
Inspirational keynotes presentations need to provide some unique insight and not be passé, rehashed slide decks that have little or no relevance.
Other sessions need to provide a suitable mix for everyone, regardless of role or function within the business. It is important to provide choice and give people the options of multiple tracks to follow, whether they are looking for business development opportunity, technical (hands-on) training or deeper dives into the technology.
Sometimes the educational component is often overlooked, and it’s simply a showcase and ego trip for the vendor “look at us and what we can do”. However, most savvy businesses have learnt that that bland approach of preaching is not the most effective.
Therefore it is imperative to provide inspiration, demonstrate innovation and provide insights and a platform to learn.
User customer success stories can be evocative and thought-provoking but sharing generally (without disclosing trade secrets) has massive value to the audience who have common goals and challenges. Providing opportunities to learn how to get the best from their investment and add value to their offering will help ensure customers remain loyal.
Being part of a like-minded community, with similar issues and opportunities can be rewarded with some added- value by the vendors with product insight eg disclosing new upcoming features before the general market gets informed.
For some, it is simply a case of sense checking they are already on the right trajectory (paranoia is prevalent with people thinking their competitors may be doing something better than they are) or for many of the other its just good to know you are in good company.
But User Groups are not just valuable for users, it is fantastic for prospects too who can hear first hand from other users their (good and bad) experiences. Lessons learnt and things to plan for and avoid are crucial takeaways from event like these.
Be wary of familiarity fatigue. You cant’ be blasé and complacent. What’s the motivation for long-established users to return year on year? Keep the value of them attending, allowing them to be at least one step ahead of the game.
For most customers it is not the costs of travel, it’s far more the cost of being away from the business. So the event has to provide some genuine “value”, otherwise, User Groups will also decline to become virtual online forums, where there is no opportunity to network – which in my opinion is the most valuable element of any face-to-face event…
Networking is vital.
Use the time in breakout sessions wisely. So push yourself out of your comfort zone and “step-up” being proactive in starting a conversation. You never know what you will learn and discover if you keep yourself to yourself. Also, make the most from having the opportunity of interacting with key personnel is fantastic as its always easier to do business once you have met in person. But this greater value is something you can’t force – it just happens. Where peer to peer discussions evolve. User Group events only facilitate this by getting the delegates together the rest is organic and the spontaneity is really stimulating.
With that I’m very much looking forward to seeing prospects, customers and partners at their upcoming User Group events soon.