Saturday, September 18, 2010

Doing Customer Touch Right

This past week I was blessed with an invite to attend the Compudyne TechFest - a gathering of customers of HTG member Compudyne in Duluth up on the frozen tundra by Lake Superior. My role was to deliever the keynote address about what is coming in the technology arena in the coming years. It was a 9 hour ride north, but a beautiful day and my bride and I thoroughly enjoyed the trip.

We arrived in time for the vendor dinner the evening before the event. There were a half dozen vendors who were sponsors and key providers of technology for the solutions that Compudyne implements to their SMB customers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. We gathered for dinner along with a dozen or so of the Compudyne team for a very nice Italian meal and lots of interaction. It set the tone for the following day - which was all about the importance of relationships. First thing done right - practice what you preach. Compudyne not only talks about the importance of vendor relationships - they live it and the event prior to the TechFest was a great way to reinforce that to their team and the vendors on hand to participate.

The event began at 7:45 AM for breakfast. I was a bit skeptical about how many folks would get up on a rather rainy and dreary morning to come to Clyde Iron Works recently restored into a nice event venue. Second thing done right - they worked within the community to help showcase a new business and expose the hundreds of attendees to some of the positive things happening in their community. The venue was really nice - a former Iron Works plant that has been completely remodeled for events and includes a bar, restaurant and other things.

We had arrived before 6:30 and the place was already busy with the entire Compudyne team putting finishing touches on the event. Another thing I wouldn't have believed if I hadn't seen it myself. Third thing done right - involve the team in the production of a customer facing event. From planning to detailed execution - everyone was there pitching in and taking orders from the few making decisions. There was no standing around and saying "this isn't in my job description" - everyone did what was needed to finish getting ready.

By 8 AM the place was buzzing with customers and I could hardly believe my eyes. This is almost an all day event and already folks were in the house ready for the day ahead. The vendor booths were busy and people were eating breakfast and engaging. Fourth thing done right - create an environment where the positive interaction between customers lights a fire in all who attend. It was a very interactive and alive place to be. I have been to plenty of events where people come, eat, take the trinkets and leave. Not at this event. No one left.

The event began at 8:30 and began with a vision casting session by Compudyne president Brad Schow. He talked about the importance of relationships - with customers, vendors, distribution, and staff - and how they go to market to serve the needs of all involved. He opened the komono on how they approach the SMB marketplace, and shared 5 things that they see as "game changers" in the coming years. It was a very engaging presentation and it ended with a live demo by one of the vendor sponsors - Quorum - around business continuity. Fifth thing done right - tell it like it is without all the marketing fluff and let customers see the insides of your company and heart. As the first part of the morning session came to a close - there was clear understanding of the Compudyne vision and mission and how they were engaging customers and vendors alike.

After the break, it was time for a short vendor presentation and then the keynote. My role was to follow up and build on the foundation that Brad had laid. It was pretty easy to do since our philosophy around relationships is identical in most ways. I shared some of my experience of 25 years in the industry, some crystal ball projections around the economy and business in general, and then my list of key industry changes that we will be working through the next few years. Feedback was good on the message I delivered, and no one through anything or walked out, so I believe it went well. Sixth thing done right - have alignment in the messaging and make sure it connects with the audience. One of the attendees is a power blogger from Duluth. You can see what he had to say about the keynote here. But in emails from attendees post event - the main comment I recieved was that it was genuine, simple and easy to understand. My delivery probably wouldn't play as well in Silicon Valley, but the folks here in the Midwest just want the story without all the marketing and that is what I deliver.

By now it was lunch time and no one has left 4 hours into the event. The reason - there was 30K+ of prizes sitting on the main stage behind the presenters to be given away over lunch. Hundreds of prizes from computers to monitors to printers to gift cards. It was a solid half hour of giving things away - one after another - just draw and deliver and move to the next winner. Seventh thing done right - don't cut corners on the drawings. There is no doubt that people were in their seats through lunch because they wanted to win something. But it kept people there and they heard the message that the Compudyne team wanted to deliver - so that is a very good motivation. So many events are filled with a few drawings of rather worthless stuff or one big item. Here the odds of winning were really high - not everyone won - but well over half the audience walked away with a gift that meant something.

I was sure that following lunch people would scatter. Wrong again. There were breakout sessions during the afternoon and people filed up to those areas and it was standing room only. After 5+ hours in the venue and still wanting information. Eighth thing done right - provide quality content around topics that are relevant and interesting to the crowd. The breakouts were not about products but solving pain points of their business customers. People will attend sessions that can help their business. Too often we put a vendor up front to sell some product and miss the opportunity to engage deeply with our customers around things that matter.

The event was finished around 3 PM and a good crowd was still on hand that had been their since before 8 that morning. Why? Because it was well done and targeted. It has a history of seven prior events hitting the mark. But the main reason - the ninth thing that was done right - was that it was all about relationships. People were personally invited. They were greeted and pampered and made to feel welcome. We are in the people business. The more we understand and execute at the relationship level - the better all aspects of our life will be. Are you focused on relationships?

Congrats to the Compudyne team for setting the bar high for the rest of the HTG member companies. We can all learn from this example and go deeper in every relationship we have!

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