10 Tips to Get the Most From Procurement and Supply Chain Conferences (Part 2)

Global Procurement Tech Summit pisotskii/Adobe Stock

The Spend Matters team is thrilled to be partnering with ISM to put together the Global Procurement Tech Summit, which we’re holding in Baltimore March 14–16. While we’ve done some small-scale events before on commodities, regulations and related topics, this is our first true Spend Matters conference. But we’re no strangers to procurement events. In fact, the Spend Matters team has collectively attended more than 500 conferences over our careers. So, to help folks heading out to spring conferences, we pulled together a list of our top 10 recommendations to get the most from events.

Let’s continue with tips six through 10.

6. You Get What You Pay For — Don’t Be That Girl in the Nightclub!

I should admit it upfront, but I really can’t stand events that are free for “those who spend” (and those who like to travel and play golf) in exchange for “speed networking” time spent with “those who sell.” Do you really want to be that girl at the nightclub who gets an admission and free drinks so that a bunch of men can hit on you?

If you’re looking for technology, solutions or partners, engage a trusted advisor (e.g., a consultancy, an analyst firm or colleagues) who knows the market and can make the right set of introductions. And go to regular events where you can wander around and determine how you spend your time investigating solutions (if at all) versus “scheduled” one-on-one meetings.

Events that focus on speed dating are the Tinder of the procurement world. Despite how they’re often positioned as “elite” get togethers of “senior executives,” these shows are not about getting smart and trading ideas. They're really a forced meat market, even when they’re held in beautiful venues and you’re given a “choice” of whom to talk to. When it comes to these, do yourself a favor and swipe left.

7. Business Ideas, not Just Business Cards

With apologies to SIG’s Dawn Tiura, who is probably the best networker in the business and urges those who attend her events to trade business cards, I would actually take a slightly introverted, contrarian view and say business cards are not what you should be after in meeting new people at events. Rather, the quality of conversation you have is what counts, even if that means you end up talking to fewer people. Focus on quality over quantity and test out of your ideas with those around you. Trade thoughts after sessions and engage folks with ideas you’ve learned.

This is your chance to test out hypotheses in a neutral setting outside of work and hone them without fear of being wrong with colleagues. At events, people are disarmed into trading ideas, especially at cocktail hour. (See tip No. 4: Go to the Bar.) In short: Come with the mindset of collecting (and testing) business ideas, not business cards.

8. Don’t be Afraid to Walk Out

Let’s face it, some sessions at events are just bad, and many more are not what you expected. I know it’s rude and that your mother would probably chide you for it, but don’t be afraid to walk out. I do it all the time. (Sorry, Mom.) That said, position yourself near the back of the room if you want the “option value” to walk out, so that you minimize disruption to the speakers and attendees.

But the sessions that really get me the most are the blatant advertorials in which a speaker really has nothing to say and is just a frontman for his company. Just walk away from these. U.S. Procurecon events used to be notorious for this in the select sessions that were “bought” by sponsors. (I can’t speak to recent shows if this is still the case.) At the other end of the spectrum, SIG places temporary bans on vendors who do this. (Yes, it has happened!) If your advertorial spidey-sense goes off, you’re doing a conference mitzvah to turn your back to the speaker and head for another session or a quiet corner to get some work done.

9. Wake up Early

Far too many people like to stay up late at events and miss the morning activities (e.g., a run on the beach, yoga, early morning breakfast roundtables). But these sunrise activities are a great time to informally see folks and trade ideas before the overwhelming aspect of the full-scale event kicks in during the day.

So do yourself a favor and live by a slightly modified version of Benjamin Franklin’s famous adage: “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise — especially at procurement conferences!”

10. Discretely Engage the Speakers

There’s something people forget about speakers that is completely obvious — that is, by presenting at the event, they have permission to speak, often about their organizations and the lessons they’ve learned, even if it is not for attribution. I’m often surprised by the paltry crowds that gather at the front of the room at procurement events after sessions that seek to engage speakers. It just doesn’t make sense to me. More folks should be proactive in discussion.

Engaging speakers is a great way to learn, and perhaps as important, knowing that you plan on doing so makes you more mentally aware during the session itself so you know what questions you want to ask discretely after the talk or later during the event in a more social setting. Also, make sure to get yourself into the line to talk to the speaker quickly. If you’re a practitioner, say what you feel was useful or interesting, ask an insightful question and then offer to do an informal “benchmarking” discussion call (and add that you have something unique and interesting to share back as well). If you’re a provider, do the same! And don’t commandeer the discussion, since speakers have places to go and the conference organizers likely want to set up the room.

Finally, do have some empathy for the organizers and the staff (and tip accordingly), but do make sure to give your feedback to them on what can be improved — they really do take it seriously.

If you want to “swipe right” on learning about the future of procurement technology (and pragmatic advice for getting more from solutions today), join us for the Spend Matters and ISM Global Procurement Tech Summit in Baltimore March 14–16.

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Voices (2)

  1. Peter Smith:

    “the girl in the nightclub”… love it! The only thing I would add is that some poor b***** of CPOs can’t get the cost of conferences etc signed off by their boss so prostituting themselves somewhat may be the only way to get a chance to get out and meet some folk / hear some decent presentations etc. I’m not a fan of those events but I have a bit more sympathy perhaps with some of the delegates at least! (However, in some cases, it gets dangerously close to infringing the Bribery Act, I’d suggest).

  2. Brian Gilead:

    Nice article, Jason. Related to #8, it would be nice if there was more openness to receive active feedback and audible a weak session. Often it seems like we should be able to crowdsource a way out of death by PPT (or situation with an inexperienced/rattled presenter). Ideally the job of the host/event coordinator but often the event coordinator is inexperienced and naive to the world of procurement.

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