We recently ran a PleaseTech user group meeting for our life science customers in Cambridge, MA. It was the first that we’ve done for a while and was always going to be a learning curve, but which elements of the day did we get right and what would we do differently next time?
Given the number of times we’d been asked about a user meeting, we were surprised that our greatest challenge was getting people to sign up to the meeting. We have well over 100,000 PleaseReview users, a majority of which are in the Life Sciences area and therefore count as the target audience. However, we are typically not in touch with any more than a handful of key account contacts at each client. We expected that promoting the event to these key contacts would spread the word and that this approach would be adequate. But it wasn’t and we weren’t getting anything like the expected registrations. So the issue we faced was how to effectively mass mail hundreds of customer contacts.
Over the years, we’ve used a couple of different e-marketing tools, neither of which seem to have got round the problem of corporate firewalls rejecting the email, or allowing it through but recognising it as spam. That said, a few emails must have got through as a handful (and I do mean a handful) of people signed up this way. But as for everyone else, to say it was like pushing water uphill to get a commitment is an understatement.
So we had a massive push to get a critical mass of delegates. Personal emails, phone calls etc. We succeeded but it was a close run thing. On the positive side it did mean that a vast majority of the people who registered did turn up and we had a less than 10% ‘no show’ rate. It’s a challenge to know how to get a closer relationship with the actual end users as most clients just get on and use our software without the need for constant support or assistance.
As the meeting showed, nothing beats one on one interaction with customers and this is certainly an area of our business we’re paying close attention to – over the last 12 months we’ve expanded our account management team and are actively trying to engage more closely with clients. Although, again this is limited to key account contacts as a vast majority of users have no desire, or indeed time, to spend valuable minutes chatting with us.
With better engagement with key account contacts, if we were to repeat the same meeting in 18 months’ time, maybe we would have more success in attracting attendees. However, for this particular event it took hours and hours of one on one emails and telephone calls to drum up just 21 people in total. To say we were surprised and slightly disappointed in equal measure wouldn’t be too far from the truth.
There are still lots of questions we don’t have the answers to; do customers actually want to engage with us in this way? Are we using the right marketing tools? Are there any other formats which might work better?
In the end, we were 24 people strong, including our CEO, David Cornwell, our VP of Sales, Barry Lyne and myself. So what about the event itself?
Starting with the basics, feedback suggested that the venue was good and easy to get to, although a couple of attendees commented it would have been better nearer to public transport stops. Food wise, we opted for healthier options rather than lots of bread and cookies, which was definitely appreciated. There were complaints about the coffee, but as this was provided by the hotel, I’m not sure what we could have done about that, short of finding a Starbucks!
A key piece of advice I’d give is to investigate, before booking your venue, whether there’s a minimum banqueting spend, and what taxes, services charges and other costs they add onto the bill - we were shocked at just how much this added to the final bill.
As we had anticipated a higher number of attendees it transpired that the venue was not ideal especially from a ‘cost per head’ perspective. If we were to do this again, for the small number of attendees we succeeded in getting, I would look into a restaurant with a private dining room (intimate presentation and round table discussions followed by a nice meal). However, it’s a difficult decision as you really need to settle the venue before the invite.
What about the timings of the day? We opted for 9am-5pm, but in a busy city such as Boston, we should have taken into consideration peak traffic times – in retrospect 10am-4pm may have worked better for people. Of course, if you’re providing overnight accommodation, this gives you greater flexibility.
In terms of the content of the day, we gave a number of presentations – a business update, an overview of the latest version of PleaseReview (v5.2) and an insight into our next major release, PleaseReview v6, which is due out next year. We also ran a couple of ‘Over to the floor’ sessions, which proved hugely popular.
Giving customers the time and space to ask questions and to discuss product improvements was invaluable both to us and them. Attendees genuinely appreciated being listened to, and if we could go back and make just one change to the day, it would have been to allow more time for these sessions.
Lastly, we also filmed each of the presentations so others who couldn’t attend would benefit. We anticipated the need for microphones for the presenters to ensure that the recording duly captured the wise words of the presenters, but failed to anticipate the many questions and interactions from the floor. With even the relatively small hotel room we used, wandering floor microphones are a must if you want to hear the questions being asked, so my advice would be to always have microphones to hand. The resulting film of the presentations have been made available to users via our PleaseReview LinkedIn User Group. This is a private, members’ only approved group.
So looking back, do we think it was worth running the meeting? Being able to spend one on one time with customers is something we genuinely enjoy and find hugely useful. We’re very grateful to all those who attended for taking the time out of their busy schedules to come along and hope they found it beneficial – we’ve taken their feedback and ideas back to our development team, and some of it will inevitably shape how PleaseReview functions in the future.
On the flip side it was a very expensive day when you work out the total cost per head. Will we run another one? With the benefit of hindsight and lessons learnt, yes is probably the answer, potentially for our European customers next, so watch this space and please sign up…