How do you effectively engage with prospective clients? What can you do to stay relevant with current clients (other than delivering services as promised, of course). To software suppliers it's always a challenge to capture the attention of clients, current and future, long enough to get past the glitzy 30,000' level to discuss more seriously – about client needs, solution differentiators, success stories and best practices. You often don't get the air time to do this.
Buyers, on the other hand (already a cynical lot) have put up various "safeguards" around engaging with the suppliers: can't accept or participate in dinners, golf outings, and other pleasure-focused ways for suppliers to buy face time with buyers. In the world of software it's especially important to proactively engage buyers. You can't wait for RFPs – buyers rarely know the market well enough to write good RFPs and even if they do, the success rate for a cold RFP is horribly low. I'm stating the obvious here, but in case a buyer reads this article, I thought it should be mentioned.
What to do? Here's an idea – try running micro events. Over the past two days I have been to micro events hosted by solution providers. One was by BravoSolution and the other by Pool4Tool, both full suite procurement solution providers. Coincidentally, both are also headquartered in Europe – Italy and Austria, respectively.
The events were smaller than a ProcureCon or regional ISM activity, with around 15 participants at Bravo's dinner meeting and 30 attendees at Pool4Tool's daytime event. Bravo brought Mickey North Rizza (recently hired away from Gartner) and she delivered a captivating presentation around trends and direction for the industry, current challenges, and some metrics.
It was an informative and informal activity that let participants know that Bravo has both software and thought leadership talent, something that would have been hard to pull off for most sales managers, few of whom have Mickey's industry insights. Bravo runs these micro events on a regular basis and you can see when it comes to a town near you here. Check out their Dallas micro event next week if you're from the home of the ten-gallon hat!
I had to cut the Bravo activity short to catch a late flight to Detroit, where I spent the following day with Pool4Tool at their get-together (held at the Detroit Institute of Art, with post-event opportunities to tour the museum). This event featured the head of procurement for Bayer, the VP global purchasing for Modine, a senior analyst from the Center for Automotive Research and Pool4Tool executives. Other than Bayer, the event was largely focused on automotive, which is 40% of Pool4Tool's business. I found it an interesting vertical with complex multi-tier supply management issues, especially around supply risk and compliance.
I will cover some of the presentations in more detail in a separate story. The day came packed with great content that gave me lots of ideas, and what more can you ask for from an event? For those that haven't heard of Pool4Tool, you can read more about them here and here. Pool4Tool has a surprisingly broad sourcing suite that goes beyond indirect and reaches far into the direct side of manufacturing operations.
The Pool4Tool activity was well received, and gave the participants a low-pressure environment to take in the information, learn from the use cases, raise questions, and really dig into some of the challenges and learnings from Bayer and Modine. This was a great way for the Pool4Tool team to listen in and pick up on paint points discussed, go beyond features and really understand what would drive a successful business case for the participants – at least it would have delivered this for me in my previous solution sales and professional services positions.
The bigger and really big events such as ProcureCon and ISM are well worth attending, and if you're big enough to put on your own user conference, by all means, you should. Even if you do all of the above, I think there is still an important gap to fill with these micro events: you can really tailor the agenda, topics and speakers to the audience in a way that is not possible with the larger events. Not even your own user conference can likely be this tailored.
Granted, I'm a data junkie and I love digging into the details around why, how, when, where, etc., companies run their procurement activities and the challenges they run into and inevitably overcome (or else they wouldn't be presenting at the event in question). Still, I think the micro event model is underutilized and more solution providers should try this approach. It involves far less money and you can experiment with different formats, speakers, stories etc. to a far greater degree than would be possible in bigger activities.
Similarly, I urge practitioners to keep an eye out for the events – they're likely an effective use of time and a great way to learn. It is probably also easier to fit a few micro events into your schedule than a big 3-5 day traditional event – for practitioners and vendors alike.
I'll close with an open invite to vendors to keep Spend Matters informed of which events they have planned: we are planning a new feature around a consolidated event calendar, so don't forget to keep us informed!