Road to Microsoft WPC–5 Tips for Exhibitors

The Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference is a great place to interact with a wide variety of Microsoft partners of all different sizes. If you’re exhibiting at WPC here are a few ideas on how you may get more from your participation at the conference.

  1. Define your event objectives.  Some goals may be measurable – number of leads captured, sales closed, etc. Others may be less tangible – increasing awareness for your product or service, networking with attendees, building relationships, joining the WPC social media conversation, etc. Look at the goals in context with your company’s greater marketing strategy and think about how you can integrate the event’s various touch points with your other marketing efforts. Your event marketing efforts should not be done in a silo from your other programs.
    • How does your event activities fit into your sales efforts? Are the leads followed up once after the show and then discarded or do you have a CRM system to nurture potential leads over a longer period of time?
    • What are you doing for your existing customers at the event? The sales cycle does not end when your customer make the purchase. What can you do to extend the lifetime value of your customers at conferences like this?
  2. Develop a mobile strategy.As Web-enabled smartphones have become commonplace, the question should not be, “Do you have a mobile strategy?” but “Why are you not building your participation around your mobile strategy?” Almost everyone coming to your booth at WPC will have a smartphone – how can you get them to engage with you?
    • Mobile engagement is much different than PC engagement. Attention spans are even shorter. Few keys for mobile offers:
      • Valuable in their mind – a 10% discount may not be a big incentive but a free white paper that resonates with their business needs may be.
      • Make it brief – don’t make them jump through a ton of hurdles to get the offer, keep it simple
      • Make it immediate – the user needs to take action right now.
    • Does your company have a mobile strategy that you can leverage at the show? Can you build an in-person event mobile process that plugs into your greater marketing efforts?
  3. Be efficient at working your booth.Go back through your primary objectives for exhibiting at the show. Make sure your booth is setup well to accomplish your objectives.
    • Develop an elevator pitch. You’ve got one or two sentences to capture the attendee’s attention and pull them in your booth so you can engage with them deeper. What are your customers’ business pains? What does your product or service do to solve these pains.
    • Nurture your hot leads. When you have a great conversation with a hot lead grab their business card, write notes on the card about what you spoke about and stick it in your pocket to follow up. Don’t leave your hot leads to chance with all the bulk of leads you may capture via electronic systems or fish bowl giveaways.
    • Consider following up with your leads while still at the show. Thank them and summarize your discussion. How many vendors will do that?
  4. Network with a purpose.Have a plan for your show team for networking so that it’s something that’s at the top if their mind.
    • Conquer and divide. How many times do you see a group of people with the same colored shirts sitting together at lunch or on the shuttle. Your business does not end when the booth closes or when your staff is on break. Have them break up and sit with others at meals. Shuttles are great times to strike up conversations.
    • Networking is not about selling. I’ve heard that networking is like going on a first date – if you want them to be interested in you,  you have to let them talk about themselves. It’s about getting to know them and their business. If you spend more time talking about yourself and your business they can spot a sales pitch a mile away.
    • Treat your networking leads differently than your booth leads. If you had a great conversation you’re on your way to building a relationship if there’s mutual benefit. Lots of times the person may not be an obvious prospect for your business but if you pay attention they can tell you things that may help your business in other ways. Creativity is about connecting dots that may not have been obvious and I get some of my most valuable ideas while chatting with others.
    • Check out the WPC networking resources like WPC Connect to help you connect with other partners.
  5. Leverage the social fire hose.There will probably be tens of thousands of tweets coming from WPC. Come up with a plan to join the conversation. It’s not just about telling people to come to your booth – that’s advertising not social marketing.
    • Add value to the stream. Provide interesting and entertaining tidbits of information. Become a SME. If your company provides Exchange services – what value can you provide the the Exchange community to position yourself as a subject matter expert?
    • Find ways to link your company’s social media and community efforts with the WPC efforts. How can your communities benefit from your attendance at the conference?
    • If your company has a blog make a post every day providing highlights from the event. If prospects come to your site during the conference they can see that you’re providing rich content that may be valuable to them.
    • Provide unique points of view. It’s easy to tweet or retweet something that someone said but what is your POV on the topic? Do you have a unique twist on a topic that can spark different ways of viewing things?
    • Participate where the community is. Are there forums from the event site or 3rd part sites? Is there a vibrant LinkedIn community that you can share breaking news from WPC?

How we market at trade shows have been changing with the popularity of mobile, digital and social marketing tools. Start integrating these new tools with your event plans and other marketing efforts.

Do you have any other tips that have been helpful for you at events?

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Road to WPC – 10 Tips for Attending the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference

As the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference approaches, what are some of the things you can do to be prepared for attending the event? Here are a few ideas to make the most of your experience:

  1. Determine your goals for attending:What do you want to get the most from the conference? It’s good to map out your objectives ahead of time so that you can prioritize and spend your time wisely.
    1. Learning: What technologies do you most want to focus on? What sessions would be most helpful to run your business?
    2. Networking: There will be lots of formal and informal opportunities to meet other Microsoft partners. How can you make the most out of these connections?
    3. Supporting, maintaining and closing business – Set up meetings with other attendees who you have business relationships with to strengthen them.
  2. Listen for new ideas: There will be lots of opportunities to spark new ideas to help your business grow.
    1. Uncover the nuggets of thought –Sometimes it’s just a simple idea from a speaker that can make a big difference in your business. Don’t just take notes on what is being said; take notes on how you can use those ideas and make them actionable.
    2. What are the new technologies that are being presented by Microsoft and other partners? How can you leverage those announcements into new areas of business?
    3. Think disruptively. How can you use the ideas from the conference to push out the edges of creativity in your industry? How can you help your customers use technology to transform their business?
  3. Network with Microsoft resources. WPC will provide you with an opportunity to meet with a large number of Microsoft product and program subject matter experts, all in one place. Map out the exhibition floor ahead of time and make sure you meet with the teams that are high on your priority list. Walk the show floor with an open mind to new opportunities and make connections to your business.
  4. Network with fellow attendees.One of the key benefits to attend conferences in person is to make new business connections.
    1. Network with a purpose – how can other partners help your business?
    2. Be open to meeting new people – There will be lots of great opportunities to meet new people – before/after sessions, parties, meals, breaks, shuttle rides, hotel, flight in and out, etc.
    3. Engage on WPC Connect – This is great way to connect with other partners at the conference. If you’ve attended WPC in the past or have been active on social media it’s a good place to find people you may have connection with or have similar interests as you have.
    4. Take notes on the back of their business cards and follow up promptly with the more important connections you make. If it’s a hot connection, consider following up at the conference for a more in-depth talk. By making notes on the card, it will help you remember where you met the person and what you may have spoken about. The business value of your connection may not be obvious at first but you may think of something later.
  5. Leverage the social media fire hose– There will be a very active Twitter stream using with the #WPC12 hash tag. Create a strategy to join in on the conversation.
    1. Don’t just broadcast marketing messages – Add value to the Twitter stream. Tweet interesting/entertaining/current ideas that you’re getting at the conference.
    2. Use Twitter hashtags to connect communities – if you’re tweeting about great SharePoint information use the #wpc12 and #sharepoint hashtags so followers of both tags get the benefit. Make sure your followers get the benefit from your WPC attendance as well.
    3. Think about what’s working well and getting good response and adjust your participation to optimize your activity.
  6. Engage your online community – If your company has a community site where you may have blogs or forums, look for ways to get exciting and interesting content from WPC to your customers. Blog, podcast, post to forums so that your customers get the latest scoop from you. Don’t have your own community? Find communities where your audience could be hanging out and post your content there. It’s a great way to add value to the community and helps position you as a subject matter expert – it’s a great position to be in when customers start looking for partners with your capabilities.
  7. Focus on your customers – what is most important to them and what kind of ideas will resonate most with them? Ultimately the ideas you bring back with you will be for your customers and how your services and solutions will benefit them.
  8. Work the exhibit hall – Walk the hall with a purpose. Go back to your priorities and determine what types of products or services can help your business. Map out the exhibit hall and find the exhibitors that could provide the most value. Then go back and browse the exhibit hall for ideas for your business. Some opportunities may have obvious connections to your business but you may also see or hear something that sparks a new idea that you can use.
  9. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes – There are usually long walks between sessions and the exhibit hall. Wear shoes that you’ll be comfortable to walk in all day and make sure they’re broken in before the show. Also wear clothes that you’ll be comfortable with while sitting for hours. You may also consider bringing a light jacket since some conference halls can be set at a cooler temperature.
  10. Have a follow up strategy – Don’t let the end of WPC be the end of your learning and engagement. Review your notes and ideas immediately after the event while your thoughts are still fresh and your motivation is high. Look for ways to turn some of the ideas into actionable items when you return. Create a plan for following up on your networking leads throughout the year. Make sure you follow up with your hot connections and consider adding the more casual connections to your social networks.

WPC can be an important launching point for your business over the next year. There will be lots of great business ideas, lots of new product information and plenty of opportunities to make new business relationships. Work the conference with a purpose but also have fun while you’re there.

Thoughts? What tips have you found to make conferences like WPC beneficial for you?

[Updated for 2012]

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The Importance of In-Person and Online Events

BtoB Magazine wrote an article on the Importance of In-Person Events compared to Virtual and Hybrid Events. I agree that in-person events have many valuable strengths but I don’t think it needs to be an either/or decision. I like to look at in-person events and digital events as two different marketing channels much like radio and TV. Each channel has its own benefits and when you develop your marketing strategy it’s important to integrate both channels to drive your customers through the engagement process.

Some of the key benefits of in-person events:

  • Attendees’ ability focus on content and emotional experiences allow them to integrate it into long term memory Online attendees tend to multi-task & may not retain as much information
  • Positive emotions from in-person events make it easier to spread new thinking and build relationships (it’s easier to pass around the Kool Aid).
  • In-person relationships tend to be stronger face-to-face.
  • It’s easier to accelerate and close sales opportunities at in-person events.

Benefits of virtual/hybrid events:

  • Ability to reach a much wider audience
    • Many attendees are not able to attend in-person – budget, geography, travel limitations, being out of the office for too long, etc.
    • Convenience of consuming content online anytime/anywhere.
    • Matching audiences’ learning styles – Audiences have different learning preferences – by providing both in-person and online content users are able to choose which format is best for them.
  • Incremental reach at relatively low cost – The content, facilities and AV are already paid for by the in-person event. Adding the online components are relatively inexpensive and can potentially drive engagement many times that of the in-person event
  • Engagement through social media and networking tools – some virtual event platforms have networking tools for attendees built-in and you can use the networking effect of social media to extend your reach and the dialog.
  • Light up the Community: One of the most important components for creating and maintaining an active community is providing great content (content is still king). Live streaming your in-person events can keep your community engaged and could provide a steady flow of valuable content.
  • Extend the life of your content – Conference recordings can live on indefinitely for users to consume on-demand using the format of their choice – video, audio podcasts, PPT decks, etc. If you’re going to record the content for consumption later anyway, then adding a live component of a hybrid event will be an incremental cost.
  • Relatively low cost of creating a perpetual event: Once you’ve developed a platform and community for your digital events adding content into that channel can be relatively inexpensive.

Look for ways to drive your in-person attendees to join your broader reach online experiences throughout the year and find ways to convert your online audiences to your deeper-touch in-person events. Integrate your other social, digital and traditional marketing efforts as part of your strategy for customer engagement. If you look at the sales cycle as a circular process, instead of a linear funnel, you can on-board your prospects using a variety of marketing channels and provide them with a rich variety of engagement types throughout the their lifetime as your customer.

Let me hear your thoughts on how you have integrated both online and in-person events into your marketing process?

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Virtual Events are NOT In-Person Events

At the 2011 ECEF Conference(Exhibition & Conference Executive Forum) Gary Shapiro, CES President was quoted to say, “I have yet to hear about a virtual trade show that is successful.” Also, 44% of ECEF execs surveyed would NEVER do a hybrid event. Why do a large percentage of exhibition executives and many event marketing managers resist virtual and hybrid events?

I think the big challenge is that many in the industry think that a virtual event is the same thing as an in-person event – just online. That’s where the metaphors keep us hung up. The online event looks like an in-person event, acts like an event, is called an event – therefore it must be an event. If we’re going to break the mold, marketers will need to look at online events with new eyes much like newspaper, e-mail and web sites are different engagement types. They’re all written text but users interact with each channel differently and marketers need to adjust their strategies for each form factor.

The definition of ROI (or better yet, Return on Engagement) should be defined differently for each form factor as we do with all major marketing channels. For example, you may use online events to play a larger role earlier in the sales cycle at the awareness and consideration stage while the deeper engagements and relationships may be a key for your in-person events. How you use online and in-person events depends on your audience and a huge number of factors — but you just can’t think of the two as the same thing. Marketing managers need to smash the event paradigm and think outside the booth.

Online events are disruptive. As with most disruptive innovation, the traditional torch bearers feel threatened and want to maintain their turf. Much like the high cost of travel, a poor economy, bird flu and 911 have impacted convention travel, I think the conference industry feels threatened by digital and will build up their defenses to maintain their status quo as best they can. To them, new is not necessarily good.

It should not be one format or the other. Digital and in-person events can work well in synergy. Each form factor has its own strengths and weaknesses. We need to understand those differences, build upon the strengths and integrate the two together in a strategic marketing plan along with social media, customer support and community development.

A virtual/hybrid event is not an in-person event. Once we understand that, we can build our customer engagement throughout the spectrum of opportunities.

Thanks to Ben Chador, Heykel Aouriri, Samuel J. Smith and the others who have helped contribute thoughts from the LinkedIn Virtual Events discussion board. Join the conversation.

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Customer 2.0 – Engaging The Empowered Customer

The Internet and social media are changing how marketers engage our customers. When the Web was first launched it wasn’t unusual for most marketers to treat the new channel as a broadcast mechanism much like we have with most other marketing channels. Company Websites looked much like interactive company brochures. As the Web matured consumers started to take a more active voice in impacting company brands – word of mouth marketing became more scalable through product reviews at e-commerce sites. Blogs, YouTube and social media empowered consumers to share ideas about our products and take more active role in impacting our brands.

Earlier this month, Razorfish released their new report: “Liminal: Customer Engagement in Transition.” The report provides excellent insights on how customer engagement is changing as they become more empowered.

Some excerpts from Liminal:

  • With a sustained engagement, you can increase sales, decrease churn and most importantly, transform consumers into brand advocates through exceptional engagement experiences.
  • Engagement is a messy, complicated idea – yet a critical one – because it gets to the heart of the relationship between consumers and brands. We know that it is valuable, but the how, what and why of it is ambiguous at best.
  • Most definitions of engagement are from the marketers’ perspective instead of the consumers’ – focused on lighter measurements such as awareness and brand lift and not on customer lifetime value.
  • Engagement isn’t just about a channel. It’s about the consumer’s relationship with a  brand, their ability to choose how and when to engage and value each channel represents.

How can you better prepare your marketing to efforts to support the empowered customer:

  1. Are you encouraging a dialog with our customers? Look at your marketing efforts – are they broadcast in nature or do you have ways for your audience to engage in conversations with you and others in the community?
  2. Are your marketing channels built in silos or are they integrated? Your customers will choose if and how they want to engage with you. Integrating your various marketing channels with help create synergies and resonate with customers when they want to engage and how they want to engage.
  3. As you build your marketing strategy, are your marketing efforts more focused on your products and services or your customer base? Your brand is the sum total of the engagements and perceptions that our customers have with you and your products. Are you focused on optimizing customer experiences or on selling your product? There needs to be a fine balance of both.
  4. Who manages your social media strategy – Marketing? PR? Customer Service? Social media touches all parts of a company but the listening platform, CRM and engagement are optimal from Customer Service. Great customer service in social media give the Marketing and PR teams permission to engage.
  5. Are your social marketing efforts campaign based or longer term? Social Media is a commitment not a campaign. Creating a social media or customer engagement strategy should not end at each fiscal year. It should be the heartbeat of the company.
  6. Diagram your sales cycle – is it linear? The sale does not end with the customer buying your product or service. It should be just the start. How can you integrate the customer voice into your product development cycle? How can you use social media listening platforms to improve your services? What is their lifetime value and how can find ways to extend it through influencer strategies?
  7. If you were to optimize your marketing efforts to support a more empowered customer – what would it look like 2-years from now? 5-years?
    • It may be difficult to change a marketing strategy based on traditional methods around quickly but if you had a longer term vision you can start architecting what that looks like across the company.
    • Don’t focus on today’s tools like Twitter and Facebook. Look at the bigger picture of what an empowered customer means to you and how you engage with them.

This is an exciting time to be in marketing. Digital/Social/Mobile are changing how we engage our customers and how they want us to engage with them. It provides lots of opportunities for those who accept the challenges.

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Social Marketing Lessons from Dr. Seuss

Digital, mobile and social marketing can feel like an grand adventure with great vistas of unexplored territory. What better book to guide us on our adventure than, “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss. In tribute to Dr. Seuss’ 107th birthday today, here are some of his words of wisdom for digital and social marketers:

Today is your day. You’re off to great places! You’re off and away!Dr. Seuss. Our customers are empowered. As marketers we’re empowered. Our tools and how we use them keep changing. Strap on your seat belts we’re in for a ride.

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.Dr. Seuss. With new digital marketing channels there are so many directions we can go – Social marketing, mobile marketing, virtualized events, search marketing, analytics, rich web experiences, community management, etc.

You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.Dr. Seuss. Blazing new ground in a company may not be easy. In the early days you may be on your own and have to educate others on the value of these new digital and social tools. Or everyone may be attracted to the bright shiny objects which will require restraint and strategic thinking.

You’ll look up and down streets. Look ‘em over with care. About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there”…In that case of course you’ll head straight out of town. It’s opener there in the wide open air.Dr. Seuss. Our biggest opportunities may not have been discovered yet. Social marketers may be attracted to Twitter and Facebook today but the big opportunities may live beyond what’s popular today. Keep your focus on what’s important to your customers and your company and look for the wide open air.

And when things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew. Just go right along. You’ll start happening too.Dr. Seuss. As marketers we don’t own these channels – our customers do. They choose the tools that are valuable and how they want to use them. Don’t force things into the traditional marketing models. Pay attention to the new channels and start engaging in new ways to make things happen.

You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed. You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.Dr. Seuss. Digital/Social/Mobile marketing are fast and dynamic channels and you’ll have opportunities to blaze new ground in your company or industry.

I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you.Dr. Seuss. When we’re out there trying new things so dramatically different we’ll have to hypothesize and test and tweak. There’s bound to be challenges. Learn from them. Be fearless.

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted. But mostly are darked…Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?Dr. Seuss.  Wow, welcome to the new frontier. Sometimes this is a perpetual feeling as the tools, resources and customer behaviors seem to change on a regular basis.

I’m afraid that some times you’ll play lonely games too. Games you can’t win ‘cause you’ll play against you.Dr. Seuss. Love this. If you’re looking for extrinsic rewards they may be long coming. Bloggers may go years before they find success but they do it because of their passion for the topic. Challenge yourself, do it for you.

There are some, down the road between hither and yon, that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.Dr. Seuss. Many of the challenges will be big and scary. You’ll face challenges internally within the status quo and externally as many companies sometimes stumble to understand what’s acceptable behavior and what is not.

Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.Dr. Seuss. Maintain perspective. As a marketer, most of what we do ultimately must lead to our company’s goals. We don’t act in silos. Look for ways to build bridges between different groups in your organization. Balance the traditional with the new.

Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way!Dr. Seuss.

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Making Your Bad Ideas Great Ones

One of my favorite sources of good ideas is to create bad ones. Bad ideas, really bad ones, get the creative juices flowing. It helps me get in the flight or fight mode and do a better job exploring the challenge I’m being faced with.  Daniel Pink’s blog post: Why you should come up with at least 1 bad idea today features a Scott Adams article in the Wall Street Journal describing the concept of “the bad version.” From the Scott Adams article: “The first step in thinking of an idea that will work is to stop fixating on ideas that won’t. The bad version of an idea moves your mind to a new vantage point.”

Creating the bad version of a scenario helps push the thought process to the extremes. In my previous post, we looked at how disruptive thinking can be polarizing and threatening to those protecting the status quo. The bad idea can help provide clarity and a new perspective to the core insights of the situation.

How to find bad ideas:

  • Change. Change is a great source of bad ideas since it disrupts the status quo and startles us out of our comfort zone. Economic downturn? Bad idea. Got laid off? Bad idea. Budget cuts? Stifling process changes? Social Media changing our paradigm of traditional marketing?  Bad, bad and bad.
  • Opportunity. Big opportunities provide excellent sources of bad ideas. As you look for new ways of doing things – create bad versions and run through the story. It will help you understand and push the limits of what you’re exploring. It may help provide new insights which can lead to your breakthrough.
  • Stagnation. Stuck doing the same thing for too long? Create bad versions of the status quo. What can be the potential horrendous consequences of maintaining things as they are? Flip it and brainstorm ideas that can help you transcend your current way of thinking.

Process for transforming bad ideas (inspired by the “Big Bad Idea” brainstorming technique by Jake Breeden):

  • Make the bad version emotional. I like to push my bad ideas to be as crazy as they can be because it stirs up emotions which help make the great ideas become more visceral.
  • The scenarios could be/should be fiction. The badder the better. Pushing the bad idea scenario to the edges of silliness can help get to the core of the issues. Brainstorm a number of bad version stories.
  • Deconstruct the bad ideas. Examine why the idea was so bad. Get to the core insight of what the issues are. Flip the core issue to be potentially positive and brainstorm on ideas on how you can make the good idea a reality.

Next time you’re looking to solve a problem or come up with a creative idea try brainstorming the bad version. It may hold the key for your next great idea.

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