What is the number one change that would benefit conferences and events? I think about this question all of the time. Awhile back, I posed some questions about things I didn’t get about the event industry. Why were industry suppliers so fragmented? Why were things so expensive? Why are so many conferences reinventing the wheel?
Beware the Meetings Industrial Complex
Now, the answer seems obvious. This industry employs too many people working in sales roles.
In 2009, MPI publicized a letter to congress highlighting the value of our industry. The number one value, according to them, was how many people we employ.
It was the least inspiring call to action that I’ve ever read. I don’t build products for this industry because I’m excited about supporting a giant make-work project. I build products for this industry because it is a powerful force for education and catalyst for new ideas. The meetings industry is the most critical piece of our society for pushing change forward.
Here’s my litmus test for whether you’re on the same page as me. All other things being equal, if the event industry could be 1% more profitable or 1% more educational, but employ 1% fewer people, would you consider this a good trade or a bad trade?
Pillars of our community
The meetings industry employs incredibly bright, honest, and helpful sales people. Many of the hardest working leaders in our industry work in sales roles for our suppliers. Our industry is built on the relationships that they help foster. No matter. THEY SHOULD BE REPLACED.
Sales people represent a scarcity of information. If ratings, rankings, honest assessments of features, pricing, and comparisons were available online, event organizers would never talk to sales people. But that information isn’t available online. There’s no Yelp reviews of event suppliers. There’s not even honest information on most supplier’s websites.
There are 190 online registration providers. Some conference is paying for the worst of those 190 registration providers. How did that happen? The registration market should be incredibly simple: EventBrite, RegOnline, ActiveEvents, and CVent in a desperate struggle to make sure they have the best product and services.
Sales people make everything more expensive. They spend most of their time talking to people who aren’t ever going to pay them. This is called the sales pipeline. They approach 100 people, 10 people agree to talk to them, one person agrees to buy. If you’re that one person, you’re paying for all the time that sales person spent on the 99 other people. Plus, it’s their job to jack up the prices through upselling and information hiding.
Why isn’t there more standardization? This one’s a little bit trickier, and I have a feeling I’m going to have to find some way to demonstrate this over time. People in this industry seem to think every event needs excessive customization. Clearly, sales people support this because customization is a really common upsell. But is it bad? I think, at least, that making more information public would move events to standardizing more often on well tested enhancements.
Goodbye dinosaurs, hello mammals
Here’s the thing, the only way sales jobs go away is if they are replaced by something better (or if the event industry fails to adapt, in which case all jobs go away). The way that other industries do this is that they encourage sources of independent, trustworthy information and then work to choose winning suppliers in each category.
Today, if you go to an event for event planners that’s showcasing the best new companies, there’s a very good chance that those companies are there simply because they were willing to pay a fee of several thousand dollars. That’s not independent, trustworthy information.
There’s starting to be easily accessible, trustworthy information online. If you join an #eventprofs twitter chat you can get your information directly from another event organizer. That’s a start, although you’d really prefer to get information from someone who could see the entire industry at once.
Suppliers too, could make a change. Probably the most successful software company in the event space right now is EventBrite. They process a few hundred million dollars in tickets each year with a relatively small staff and all of their information as public as possible. (although they do manage to charge twice as much as RegOnline for no real benefit–something they couldn’t do if comparison information were more available).
Finally, transparent pricing
I started CrowdVine to be the type of company I would want to work for. I also started it to be the type of company I would want to work with. In short, we want to be mammals. How are we doing? Are we all sales and hype?
Thankfully, we’ve always had good word of mouth business. If we do a good job for one conference we get more conferences. That makes it easy to make decisions that are aligned with the interests of our customers.
We have standardized prices and packages. That, combined with word-of-mouth incentives, means we’re pretty good at pushing what’s valuable rather than what we think you can afford. Inside a standard package our incentive is to do anything that does actually translate into a better experience.
Until today, we’ve had one glaring hole. We hid our most expensive packages behind a call-for-pricing policy. That means if you wanted to know the price you had to get on the phone with us. I think that policy works against us and gives the impression that we want to get you on the phone in order to work our high-pressure sales magic.
We’re done with that policy. All of our pricing is now available on our packages page. Plus we’ve added answers to our most frequently asked pricing questions. Are there hidden fees? Do we secretly have better deals for people who ask nicely? All of those questions are answered.
Now I want to know, can we go further? What other annoying vestiges of sales processes can we remove?