It’s March and while we’re not busy trying to figure out NCAA brackets here at Xythos, we’re reviewing our final plans for this year’s AIIM conference. It kind of seems just like last year and the year before that, but is it really? I’m not sure. Industry trade events appear somewhat less important amidst the economic chaos of 2009. Business travel and entertainment are almost taboo and TARP funded bonuses are the new personal finance plague.
Let me first avoid any confusion. I think the folks at AIIM are doing a great job representing the ECM industry and educating the rest of the world about the benefits of content management technology. However, I am worried about the continued relevance of AIIMExpo. As an industry who’s primary goal is to improve the efficiency with which we interact with information, I have to wonder if the traditional trade show forum continues to best serve that purpose?
Like any event, AIIMExpo still serves as a convenient meeting location for vendors and channel partners to get together. It helps us conduct product updates and training sessions in a more efficient few-to-many equation that can enhance relationships and save some money. However, I’m not sure that events like AIIMExpo any longer function effectively as a forum to develop new customer relationships, or even increase awareness about ECM products and services.
Our own CRM data demonstrates that we’re seeing more of the folks we know each year at AIIMExpo and fewer new prospects. This may not necessarily be bad and may speak to the maturing nature of our business and the industry itself. However, it is something we need to align our business plans and expectations with. We have already reduced our floor space at the event for the second year in a row. Partners, like Ricoh don’t have a floor show presence at all for 2009.
Discovery and learning is taking place in different places and in different ways than on the trade show floors these days. We’ve had to radically adapt our marketing plans at Xythos in response to this change. It’s not just about saving money. Customer behaviors have changed considerably too. No one has time to wander through events these days with the hope that they’ll stumble upon ideal solutions for their business.
ECM customers and prospects are a technologically sophisticated group. They know they can find the information they need when and where they want it. Increasingly that “place” is online where they can learn at their convenience and interact with vendors when they are ready. For Xythos, that’s required developing new methods for creating awareness, delivering content and engaging with the community.
In several ways, we’re migrating the introductory elements associated with traditional events to the web. For example, we’re relying more on social networks as a means by which prospects can casually be introduced to our products and services and like-minded peers. We’ve also become dependant upon the location-neutral benefits of web seminars to provide in-depth solution demonstrations. Recording these events also helps us respond to the 24x7 response expectations of our growing global market. (Having a super-scalable ECM system like Xythos EDMS helps a lot too!)
The benefits of this change aren’t limited to better serving the needs of our customers, although that should be enough justification. We’re saving money and becoming a little “greener” too. We are attending fewer events this year and that saving goes right to the bottom line. When we do attend events, we deliver brochures, data sheets, etc. electronically saving our clients some hassle and saving us printing and distribution costs. We’ve even begun sending ourselves (and customers) to events electronically – using web conferencing & video to include guests unable to participate in person at our presentations.
So if you haven’t guessed already, I won’t be at AIIM 2009 this year. It will seem strange, like not attending COMDEX anymore, and I will miss a real Philly cheese steak sandwich. However, we’ll have a great team from Xythos at the event and plenty of new ECM solutions to introduce. Of course, I’ll be participating virtually, while I try and continue to feed the content appetite of our growing online document management communities.
(OK – Truth be told, it is warming up nicely here in San Diego. We can already leave the windows open to the Pacific breeze at night again. Would you want to leave if you didn’t have too?)
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