In this season of industry conferences, keep in mind the opportunity they provide for you to visit with technology exhibitors. This may sound simple, but you should have a thoughtful game plan to get the most out of these visits. This is particularly important if you work with a larger firm where your research and findings will be shared with others.
Ideally, do some homework before the conference. Start by identifying the technology companies exhibiting and then create a “shortlist” of the ones you definitely want to visit. Too often, many of us approach an exhibit hall like shopping at Costco. That is, you simply walk down the aisle wondering what you might see without any specific agenda. This is not always a bad idea because you might stumble upon an interesting technology solution. However, don’t make this your primary approach to the exhibit hall.
Chances are, you won’t decide to purchase a solution right on the spot while speaking to a vendor (although it can happen). However, be careful not to dismiss a vendor or solution too quickly, especially based on limited information. More appropriately, your goal should be to gather enough information to help you decide if you want a more extensive review of their product. It is important to keep this in mind especially as you navigate the conversation.
To really have a productive and more efficient conversation with a technology exhibitor, first provide them the background and details of your existing core technology systems.
Specifically, what are the solutions that are the technology foundation of your firm? For example, your CRM, reporting system, trading tools, custodian and/or BD systems, etc. In addition, provide some context on how you use each of the solutions on a regular basis, especially the features that are critical for your firm. Ultimately, give the technology exhibitor enough important details to help them understand how their product might specifically “plug into” your firm’s existing technology systems.
Beyond the actual features and tools offered by the technology exhibitor’s product, it’s also helpful to hear examples of other advisory firms that currently use that solution. What is the make-up of these firms, from technology systems to types of clients to overall business focus? Do they sound similar to your firm? As this conversation is occurring at a conference, try to briefly speak with one of their existing advisors who might be attending the conference. Often, we complete the “reference check” part of our evaluation of a solution at the end, but it can be more advantageous and efficient to start this step earlier in the process, especially when you are attending a conference.
Also, try to minimize the influence that direct cost for their product could have, especially in these early conversations. Whether you initially think it is too expensive, a fantastic deal or just the right value — you need to be aware of the impact of your opinion in this area and how it affects your evaluation and the questions you ask. I have written about this subject many times and how it can be all too easy to quickly “write off” a technology product simply because of the expected headline cost of the solution. This is often a bad idea. The conference exhibit hall is a great environment for you to learn about the technology solutions that perhaps haven’t got your attention due to the influence of their costs.
Finally, take the time to meet with some of your existing technology providers. Regardless if you are a novice or power user of their solution, it is the sales and support people who often staff the exhibit booths, and they frequently can provide the best updates on new features, future releases and other helpful information. Sometimes the best five to 10 minutes of your time at a conference is when you gain new information on products that you are already using.
Dan Skiles is the president of Shareholders Service Group in San Diego. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.