If you are searching for a technology solution to market and manage your events, you are not alone. Given the complexity and infrastructure needed, it makes good business sense to work with a technology provider for your event management system, instead of shouldering the expense of building a system in house.Download Whitepaper
Most organizations have found that it is not just the expense of building a custom system for event management that is prohibitive, but also the cost and resources needed to maintain the technology over the long term. In addition, custom-built systems are designed by people with limited event industry experience. Consequently, the features and product support for these systems typically pale in comparison to established providers.
There are several technology solutions for meeting and event management to help organizations drive attendance at events and effectively manage costs. When choosing an event management system provider, there are a number of key questions to ask to find the right solution for your needs:
- How does the provider compare to other systems on the market?
- How customizable is the attendee registration process?
- Does the provider offer a comprehensive contact management system?
- Does the provider support personalized and targeted communication?
- Is the provider's system CAN SPAM compliant? Do they have automated management of opt out requests?
- Does the provider have automatic campaign scheduling for emailing invitations, confirmations and reminders?
- Does the provider support sophisticated email marketing capabilities and deliverability reporting?
- Does the provider enable simple HTML email creation without knowledge of code?
- Is the provider's system user-friendly?
- Can you use the registration system to collect payments in an automated and secure manner?
- Does the provider offer mobile registration and payment processing capabilities?
- Does the provider have full featured and automated online payment refund capabilities?
- Does the provider have comprehensive standard reports and ad-hoc data analysis?
- Does the provider offer integration with travel and housing systems enabling consolidation of attendee data?
- Will the provider go the extra mile to make your events successful?
All event management systems are not created equal. Just like automobiles, there are entry-level solutions, mid-size solutions and high-end solutions. For most planners, an entry level and low cost system does not offer the amount of automation and customization needed to be effective. On the other hand, the high-end solutions can be expensive even for a Fortune 500 organization.
The right solution ultimately depends on the complexity of your events and the number of business processes that can be automated or streamlined. Although many events involve less than 100 attendees, automating administrative functions for simple events results in significant cost savings, conservation of staff time and the opportunity to focus resources on higher level tasks.
Creating the ideal event experience for your attendees requires customization. All communications, from invitation to the post event follow up, should have a personal touch. The registration process should identify each attendee, whether they are a VIP, existing customer, prospect or partner. Distinguishing your attendees from the masses is an essential and often overlooked aspect of event planning. You want your attendee to perceive your event as a personalized experience. In addition, it is beneficial to use personalized messaging to achieve the optimal response rate from each targeted group. Many organizations offer discounted event fees based on their relationship with the attendee or different event sessions to certain groups of attendees. A sophisticated event management tool enables planners to personalize the registration experience based on preset attendee criteria. Going hand in hand with customization, planners should make it as simple as possible for attendees to register by pre-populating contact information.
Address book management is an important component of an effective event management system. With a systematically managed address book, planners can implement segmented marketing campaigns, keep contact information updated, automatically cleanse bad data, comply with CAN SPAM laws and avoid the inadequacies of typical office desktop email programs. It is critical for your event management system to have fully automated capability. Surprisingly many systems lack the basic contact management functionality necessary to slice and dice your database.
Since the level of spam and email abuse has grown, a more refined approach is needed to replace the email blast techniques of years prior. Some event promoters believe that a response rate of a few percent on an email marketing campaign is acceptable. However, planners can achieve response rates of 75% when campaigns are executed properly. A core requirement of event technology systems includes a full featured communication module to reach contacts in a personalized and targeted manner. For example, a planner will want to send different communications to their customers, VIPs, partners, and potential clients. The event invitations and subsequent messages from an event management system should always be customized for the interests and needs of each group. Furthermore, a robust email marketing tool enables personalized mail merge fields in all emails, including but not limited to first name, organization information and other key event data. A more strategic approach than an impersonal email blast is essential to reach the desired response.
Although e-mail is the optimal communication medium, planners need to learn and follow rules and regulations with regard to spam. Specifically, if you send an email and the respondent asks you to not contact them again, you must comply with their request to "opt out." Trying to manage this process manually can be extremely tedious and time consuming. Many systems in today's market still require a manual opt out method, defeating the purpose behind their automated software system. Quality event management systems have fully automated opt out management functionality so planners can focus efforts on more pressing event responsibilities.
Does the provider have automatic campaign scheduling for emailing invitations, confirmations and reminders?
Your event management system should have functionality that automatically sends invitation reminders, registration confirmations, event reminders and post-event emails at pre-determined dates and times. Utilizing marketing best practices is integral for event success and achieving ideal response rates. Planners won't have to set reminders to email attendees - many systems will automate this process so emails are sent at favorable times. For example, if the planner sent an email on Friday afternoon it may not be read until Monday, buried in a large backlog of emails. You can avoid these marketing pitfalls and design a strategic event campaign with scheduled communications.
Sending event invitations, invitation reminders, registration confirmations, newsletters, surveys, and other messages to attendees is a critical function for event planners. The best way to manage communications and track delivery is through email. Email promotes immediate responses from registrants and is the most cost effective way to communicate with large groups. A good event management system will come equipped with sophisticated features like: automated email scheduling, text or HTML e-mail capability, delivery and open-rate tracking, reporting and automatic address book updates to name a few. If your systems lacks such basic email marketing features, your organization and events will suffer down the road.
Compelling and attractive event invitations can make a huge difference in response rates. A quality technology solution will provide the tools to create a great invitation. This can include an array of invitation templates and an HTML editor that allows you to create professional looking invitations of your own. A quality provider will also provide assistance and consulting to make your messaging as dynamic as possible.
The balance between functionality and accessibility of your chosen technology solution is important. Again, the right fit is a crucial component here. Many providers claim their system is easy to use but their limited functionality cannot satisfy the most common of event planning needs. Although more sophisticated systems require an initial investment to learn about the range of features, the accumulated time saved on automating administrative tasks can be staggering when you know how to use a capable system. In addition, the best providers offer event building support, taking you and your team through the process for the best results possible.
If you charge for events, it is important to have an automated and secure payment collection solution. Automated systems eliminate cash flow issues that arise with some organizations' disparate accounting and event departments. If you are collecting payments from your registrants, be sure to understand all costs and the flow of money before making a technology decision. In addition, many providers do not fully disclose the costs and fees associated with e-commerce. These unmentioned fees add up and exponentially affect your bottom line.
Offering secure mobile options to registrants is crucial to meetings success. Given the amazing growth of smartphone and tablet use, it is essential to provide your attendees with this alternative, and convenient, payment and registration option. This benefits the organization as well, giving you the ability to process payments and transactions from any location, at any time. This option should be as simple as taking payments and registrations over the phone or on the internet.
It is important for event planners to clearly communicate refund policies and procedures. There will come a time when money needs to be refunded and you don't want to spend a lot of your own money, time and effort to return payments to customers. An automated and streamlined refund process is crucial to handle these exceptions. Look for a provider that offers a pre-scheduled and tiered refund feature structure so if a registrant cancels within a certain time frame, you can determine how much they will receive in refunds without adding manual steps to your refund process.
After an event, performance measurement is critical. Your system could have the ability to calculate your return on investment and offer metrics to improve performance in the future while eliminating spreadsheet and reporting headaches. Ideally, planners need access to run standard reports and then create custom data analysis to answer pertinent business questions. Reports that aggregate and analyze data across events should be a must for every event planner. This will help to provide a complete picture of campaign and departmental performance. Choose a system that can deliver the metrics you need. A system with weak reporting capabilities will shape the return on investment from your events.
Does the provider offer integration with travel and housing systems enabling consolidation of attendee data?
In many cases, travel and room management has been rolled into event planning responsibilities. It is key to have the ability to manage room blocks, coordinate travel, and store all travel related data in the event management system. Integration with housing and travel management software is essential for events that are drawing attendees from out of town.
Your event technology provider should offer assistance in a wide variety of areas such as building events for you, proposing effective event marketing plans, designing impressive event invitations, and general consultation on how to make your events and meetings successful. Look for a system provider that wants to work with you to ensure improvement and long term success for your meetings and events.
If you trust your event management, payment collection, travel integration, and event performance reporting to a third party, it is essential to make sure the provider has a stable business model. A few critical questions to ask the prospective provider: how many full time employees are on staff, what is their credit rating and most importantly, are they profitable? Most meeting and event planners need to plan events several years in advance. To safeguard your success, hard-earned dollars and registrant data, be sure your system of choice will be around in the years to come.
When selecting a technology provider you need to find a provider who can work with you on a long-term basis. It is vital to understand the capacity in which the provider can and will support your organization. Do they have a skilled service team to answer the phone and provide assistance in a timely manner? How do they plan to improve their technology solution over time? It's important to know what an organization has done in the past and determine whether they have the aptitude to maintain their product and provide the assistance you need. Ask your provider how many people they have on their support staff, what is their ratio of support staff to number of customers, and if they charge extra for customer support.
An important ingredient of the client-provider relationship is service. It is essential to be a valued client and not just a number in the support queue. The buyer should be given a single point of contact and/or an account executive to work with on a long term basis. It is frustrating to have to explain who you are, the nature of your events and the issue at hand each time a problem arises. In today's business world, time is money. Make sure your provider has designed the proper channels for its clients to obtain immediate quality product support.
It is a common business model for a service provider to acquire clients by offering a price that seems low without requiring a contractual commitment. Buyers need to be aware of fees, surcharges, transactions, and additional hidden charges. Many buyers do not realize that when they set up an event management solution they enter into a long-term arrangement with the provider by default because the cost of switching systems includes significant time and money. So don't fall for the "we don't require contracts" line. At least with a contract, buyers can elude any surprise hidden charges. To avoid this hassle and waste of resources, buyers should be aware and well educated about the product. Although events can be simple to build, if a system does not have basic functionality it can create large problems and reflect poorly on your entire organization in front of customers, partners and prospects.
Furthermore, providers should always take considerable time to learn about your needs and requirements in advance of signing you on as a client. Providers who have a "one size fits all" pricing structure probably take the same approach to product development and do not have the features and solutions needed by many organizations.
It is critical to protect your organization against the ebbs and flows of business terms. If you do not receive a customized written commitment from a provider, keep in mind that they can change pricing terms or issue additional charges without notice in the future. With the inherent high costs and time investment needed in order to switch providers, it is imperative to have a defined relationship with your provider. Some providers try to spin "no contract required" as a benefit to the buyer, when in fact it is more of a benefit to the provider. If a dispute arises over fees, complications will arise without a clearly outlined agreement. Contracts are necessary to protect both buyers and providers. A significant time investment is required to learn any new technology. Consequently, switching your registration systems is an expensive endeavor so protect your organization with a contract.
Similar to how banks like to charge users a fee every time money is taken out of an ATM, many technology providers who offer payment processing for fee collection will charge event and meeting planners several percentage points on every dollar collected. They attract planners by offering a low price per registrant and/or transaction and then "forget" to mention the policy of adding on a percentage surcharge to each transaction. The industry secret is that these providers make more money on these percentages than if they were charging a flat fee for each transaction. The end result for the event planner is a much higher and unanticipated cost per attendee.