In late winter and early spring, my schedule is usually jam-packed with IT industry analyst events and analyst tracks at customer events. But this year, my calendar is gradually thinning out as coronavirus takes its toll and more and more vendors decide to cancel or postpone their events.
From a public (and personal!) health perspective, this is clearly a good call. The virus continues to spread, and not even health experts can predict its path with certainty.
But, to a very large extent, the IT industry analyst business is a relationship business. Analysts and vendors rely on face-to-face events not only to disseminate and exchange information, but to develop and nurture relationships.
These relationships are invaluable in helping vendors determine how to work with different analysts and which ones are best-suited to help with different strategic, product and market goals. And of course, analysts pick up many insights from both structured and informal conversations that provide them with clearer perspectives on vendor strategy, products, and programs.
So, here are my thoughts on how vendors that have to cancel or postpone events can make the best of this less than ideal situation.
- If you have enough time from when you cancel to the scheduled date, substitute a shorter, “reimagined” virtual event. I say reimagined because you definitely don’t want to try to lift and shift physical event programming to a virtual agenda. The virtual event will probably need to be much shorter—who wants to go to a 2-day virtual event? And let’s face it, analysts will not be a captive audience as they are when you’re face to face. You’ll be competing with everything from kids to co-workers to laundry. Keep it short and sweet.
- Tailor and personalize content and interactions to the analysts attending. You’ll probably want to provide all the analysts with a corporate strategy update, year-over-year report card, and high-level announcements. But then you need to prioritize what’s most important for each individual analyst. You’ve probably already gotten some info from them on what they want to know more about, but email them to drill a little deeper to see what’s most important so you can create a personalized agenda for each. Bonus points for actually picking up the phone and talking to them about what they’d prefer!
- Figure out how to make the programming as interactive as possible. At an analyst event in the physical world, the words “please hold your questions until the end” have virtually no meaning and are hardly ever enforced. And truthfully, analyst questions and the ensuing dialogue often reveal the most interesting information. Take advantage of all the tools in the virtual conference platform that you use to make things as interactive as possible. If you’re concerned the analyst group is too large to do this effectively, conduct multiple sessions of the same content with smaller groups.
- Resist trying a new virtual conferencing/event platform if the time frame is tight. There are some new platforms such as INXPO that look like they might be great for this type of thing. But if you’ve got to do things quickly stick with the platforms you know for now so you don’t have to deal with glitches in the learning curve. (Remember the Iowa primary!) But start experimenting with some of the newer stuff so you have more options in the future.
- If you can’t substitute a virtual event, move the one-on-one schedule to virtual meetings. If the logistics of shifting from a physical event to a virtual one aren’t doable, keep the 1-1 meeting schedules you’ve already created in place as much as possible. After all, your execs already blocked out the time, and these are often the most valuable interactions as they zero in on key relationships and discussions.
- Think local. There are so many analysts in the Boston and Silicon Valley areas in particular. Ask execs that are based in these and other metro areas to host some smaller dinner or lunch events. I expect that many analysts will get cabin fever (and maybe even go into event withdrawal!) and will really appreciate the chance to engage on a smaller scale.
That’s it for my top of mind ideas, but I’m sure there are lots of other good ones I haven’t thought of, so please chime in if you do. And remember, this too shall pass and we’ll be back on the conference circuit soon.
©SMB Group 2020