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Commentary & Analysis

The Role of Live Events in the Print Industry

Going to live industry events is a great opportunity on many levels – get out of working in your business and focus on working on your business. Building relationships with peers and vendors is critical to your future success, live events are where these relationships are cemented.

By Jennifer Matt
Published: August 17, 2016

With modern technology, we can be connected to our work 24/7, 365 days of the year.

Does that mean we should be?

What I love about “live events” the kind that force you to leave your business behind and physically “show up” in another place is that forced separation from our daily work lives. When you have your head down in your business for too long, you start to lose perspective. Diving into the details is often necessary; but during these tumultuous market conditions, your attention to the big picture direction of where your print business needs to go couldn’t be more critical.

Showing up to a live event isn’t enough because we all know you can physically be somewhere and mentally be back in your office. If you can’t leave your business for a planned day or two without constant communication and remote management it says a lot about how much you’re working in your business vs. on your business. I see it all the time, hundreds of people fly in from thousands of miles away, to all be in the same room looking at their mobile devices together! What a wasted opportunity.

As Dscoop last year my favorite part was a small corner of the show floor where we did a series called “collaboration station”, it wasn’t a lecture, it wasn’t a lame panel discussion, it was a lively conversation moderated between printers and software experts. These sessions were scheduled for thirty minutes; we could have had each topic go for hours – that’s how lively the conversation got. It was true collaboration, printers describing challenges, a group of experts not on a stage, not behind a lectern, just out amongst the audience in active dialog. We had no idea how these sessions would go and it was the best exchange of value I’ve experienced at a live event in years. I really believe the intimacy of the setting encouraged active engagement vs. half the audience drifting off into their digital lives.

Maybe we’re losing our ability to relate face to face because we always have the option to drop our attention out of our current surroundings and into our digital lives where there is always something to look at even if it’s totally unrelated and unimportant. When we gather face to face it’s an incredible opportunity to build a relationship with the people who are on the other end of the email, text, and voice calls. So many printers complain endlessly about the responsiveness of their vendors via customer service, yet I go to the vendor user conferences and those same printers are on the phone with their plant or buried in their email inboxes when the entire product team of the vendor is standing nearby.

A live event like Graph Expo, Drupa, Dscoop, EFI Connect, etc. is an opportunity for you to dive in and get to know your partners (stop thinking of them as vendors). Remember their success is completely dependent on YOU. Go beyond your sales representative and seek out the people who make the decisions about the products you use. Here’s the most important piece of advice and I know this will be a shocker to many of you. Think of what you can do for them before you start asking for things that benefit you! (Can you believe she just said that?)

Yes, I know you are the customer. Yes, I know you paid them a lot of money. Yes, I know you pay them maintenance that you feel you get nothing for. Yes, I know you are frustrated that you didn’t get exactly what you thought you were sold during the sales process. Yes, I know your people are always complaining about not getting the help they need. And, I’m still telling you the best way to approach building a relationship is to give first and ask later. No matter what the relationship structure “customer – vendor” both sides of this relationship involves HUMANS and humans react best when they see from the very beginning what’s in it for THEM.

What is the best thing to give people at the vendor? Start with telling them one thing that you really like about the product. This will floor them and differentiate you. Everyone else in their orbit is complaining and you walk up and sincerely describe a part of the solution that you really like – something that they potentially worked very hard on. Now you have their attention. Now they see a reason to remember you, it’s time to give them another bonus. Tell them about a business challenge you have right now that you would like their software to someday solve. This is a very important sentence. I didn’t say, describe a feature. I said describe a business challenge.

What software people want is for you to describe the challenge you are having because then they can think through the problem and based on their extensive context over their software product come up with an innovative solution. Conversely when you describe a feature you are trying to tell them how you think it should be fixed, yet you don’t have full context over the solution, the product roadmap, the integration points etc. When you describe a feature to a product manager, they start thinking of reasons why it won’t work. When you describe a business challenge (the “why?”) do you need to solve this problem, they start looking for innovative solutions. Some of those solutions might not involve new coding at all. Sometimes the solution is a configurable option in the current release of the software.

Live events are critical to building separation between you and your business, getting a bigger picture perspective, and  building relationships with the humans at your vendor. The final advantage, not to be overlooked is to build relationships with peers. The best resource for optimizing your use of print software is to collaborate with other printers who use that same software. Go to live events, really show up, it’s worth it.

Jennifer Matt is the managing editor of WhatTheyThink’s Print Software section as well as President of Web2Print Experts, Inc. a technology-independent print software consulting firm helping printers with web-to-print and print MIS solutions. You can reach her at jen@whattheythink.com.

 

Discussion

By Larry Vogel on Aug 17, 2016

Jennifer hit the nail on the head, and makes a very compelling case for industry events and the person-to-person communication they facilitate. They represent an enormous investment of time and money for vendors and, for print providers, they mean precious time away from the shop. But for business-critical purchases like these, could it really not be worth the trip?

 

By William Ray on Aug 17, 2016

Events like GraphExpo and DRUPA are very interesting and, at least in the past, have been very significant in terms of gear sales. The net technical information --at least for us in the print research area -- is limited, though.

Meetings like TAGA, the TAPPI meeting, IDTechEx and FlexTech are a bit more "meaty" if less glitzy. It has been clearly demonstrated that such meetings can greatly advance the state of the art through fostering collaboration and sharing knowledge -- not just in our field but in the general sense for technical areas.

 

By Paul Stead on Aug 18, 2016

Jennifer,
Great post on a great subject and as a long term supporter of ‘live events’ I really like a lot of what you have said, particularly around the senseless time spent staring at your mobile device in a live show environment. It’s just a wasted opportunity.
In my view, live events should be an opportunity for vendors to showcase their products/services and introduce visitors to their own particular take on what is new and how it might work. We all think differently, thankfully, so a different approach, even to the same subject, is often refreshing.
This means that live event should be about choice, giving visitors as much access to information as
possible.
With this in mind, I’d like to know what you and your readers think about anti-competitive activity in relation to the sale of floor space at a show?
Is it acceptable for the people running the show to sell floor space to Vendor A on the basis that Vendor A’s competitors are not allowed to take up a floor space as well, even if their competitors offer a different range of products/solutions?
For clarity, I am not talking about manufacturers. We are a multi-branded supplier of Xerox, Ricoh and Konica Minolta devices and have been blocked from booking floor-space at the Print Show by another Xerox dealer who signed an exclusivity clause with the show organisers. Whilst I do appreciate that their wishing to exclude us is a fantastic compliment for us, I’m not sure that it gives the visitors as much choice as they deserve.
What do we think?

 

By Gordon Pritchard on Aug 25, 2016

Vendors prefer to host live events where they have some control on the environment and conversations. Events like customer user associations and demo facilities.
While the same folks (engineers, sales, marketing, management) are present at trade shows or open conventions - like an IPEX or GraphExpo - on the other hand, enables customers and prospects to make direct comparisons between different vendor offerings by just walking a few feet. That's a great value to customers and prospects but not an attractive situation from a vendor point of view.

 

By Robert Godwin on Aug 30, 2016

RE: Gordon's comment "open conventions...enables customers and prospects to make direct comparisons between different vendor offerings..."
Indeed, and the customer is always right. Preparing for the inevitable comparison of your offering to the guy's in the booth next to yours is basic sales. And this happens on 'stand-alone' sales calls as well, especially if the buyer is product savvy. If you are unable to differentiate the value of your product over another, you are not a salesperson!

 

By Paul Stead on Aug 30, 2016

The point that I was raised was that of a closed-shop approach to floor space.
If a vendor is allowed to restrict the access of their competitors to a show, does this help the visitors, or even the vendors?
Hard to get a decision on the day if a visitor doesn't have an alternative to compare with.
In line with Roberts comment, what does it say about that Vendors belief in their own salespeople and their ability to differentiate?

 

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