Over the years, I have attended many user group conferences, some as a presenter and some as an attendee. Some were put on by the software vendor and some by user group committees. While they have all been different, they all had one thing in common: great business value. A user group conference, whether a multi-day event combining business and social activities or a single day meeting, is a unique opportunity to expand your business knowledge. There are several key elements to well-constructed user group events that provide these opportunities:
- Networking with other users. Whether sponsored by a user group or by software vendor(s), the time spent with other users is, I believe, the most valuable part of any conference. Users can share day-to-day challenges and successes in a way that vendors/keynote speakers simply cannot. Users are more open about both the positives and negatives of their experiences, and there is much to glean from both. Those connections can extend well beyond the conference itself and can provide valuable resources with which to discuss issues and share successes. Even when in very different industries, but sharing the commonality of the software platform, users can learn from each other while still maintaining their competitive advantages.
- Software roadmaps. A user conference is often highlighted by the vendor presenting their view of the future in terms of new modules and features in the package that are coming down the road. Often, these features are formally announced during these events, and it gives the user community the chance to see what is coming and make good business decisions regarding their use of the software as their business evolves.
- One-on-one time with vendor. Vendors are almost always available to spend some time with you, either during the day or after hours, to discuss specific issues/questions that you may have and assist ‘free of charge’. Take advantage of this time to get additional assistance that you may have been hesitant to get on a consulting basis.
- Topic specific breakouts. During these sessions, software vendors, users and partners will present specific elements and case studies. These can be used as training for areas you are not familiar with, or to get ideas on how to better take advantage of software features.
- Trade floor product previews. Yes, they are selling something here. But it can have value as you can see what add-ons and partnerships may exist that you can take advantage of to extend your enterprise’s capabilities.
- Leadership opportunities. User groups are always on the lookout for the next board members and users willing to share their experiences. A conference can be a great opportunity to gain experience as a speaker and serving on the board is a fantastic way to leverage and expand your leadership skills.
- Job opportunities. If you are looking to possibly make a move, a user conference can be a great place to be introduced to other companies in a similar industry using the same platform that you already know. By taking advantage of the networking opportunities, you can gain an advantage over other candidates for any open positions they may have.
As we move through the early parts of the year, you will be getting emails and calls about joining and attending user group conferences this year. While I am not saying that they are all necessarily great, I am saying that you should not just delete those emails. Take a little time to look at the group and conference and see what they have to offer. There are many articles about cost-justifying user group fees and conference attendance. The bottom line is that, providing the group and conference are done properly, they offer benefits for both the attendee and their employer.
But don’t just take my word for it. As the VP of Finance/CFO of a user group member firm related to me, “The value that a “true” user group provides is immeasurable. The sharing of experiences between different levels of users in different industries provides thoughtful opportunities for all users to explore. We have found value in networking, training and exposure to new uses of the product each time we go.”
To find out more about the user groups that we at ACUMEN are involved with, contact us at LetsTalk@ACUMENCorp.com