A floor sign at the T3 conference. (Photo: Jamie Green) A floor sign at the T3 conference. (Photo: Jamie Green)

As the summer is winding down and conference season is ramping up, it’s important to understand how to get the most out of the conferences you fit into your busy schedule.  Walking into the exhibitor hall can often be overwhelming, particularly for those advisors who “don’t know what they don’t know.”  With that in mind, here are four tips to help you make the most of your time.

1. Do your research.

If you’re like many advisors, you might find yourself with a little extra time on your hands over the summer. This is a great opportunity for some introspection and an objective view of your technology. Where is your staff spending the most time? Is there anything that is particularly labor intensive, such as billing or reporting? Spend a little time getting to know which technology vendors are able to provide a solution to the problem and read up a little on each.

Most conferences provide a list of sponsors and exhibitors well in advance of the actual show, so once you’ve figured out who you might like to evaluate, you can start to put together a list of booths to visit. You’ll be able to spend more quality time with the vendors of choice, and the up-front time you put in will avoid the “tell me what you do” introduction that is common at a conference. That time is better spent on sharing details about your business and the challenges you’re seeing.

Pro tip: If you have a quick chat with a vendor and really like what you hear, consider skipping out on a breakout session to visit with them in more depth. The conference hall is often empty during panels, so you’ll have space to breathe and have a more meaningful conversation.

2. Know your must-haves.

At this point, you’ve probably identified an area of your business with room for improvement. If it’s related to a particular technology, you’ll also want to consider that technology’s strengths and areas you and your team rely on heavily. In an increasingly saturated fintech space, it’s easy to have the “shiny and new” catch your eye, only to discover that your “must haves” aren’t covered. Compiling the list beforehand will help you ensure that the discussion stays focused on your business.

Now that you’ve covered the basics of your business, ask fintech providers what their product roadmaps look like. It’s more than fair to ask what has been added to their technology over the last year as well as what new features are to be expected in the near term. If they can’t point to much, consider it a red flag that they may not be keeping pace with the competition.

Be open and honest about any perceived hurdles and ask providers if/how they can work with you within your comfort level.

3. Don’t let price dictate your agenda

While it’s entirely appropriate to confirm if technology fits your budget early in the conversation, it’s beneficial to gain an understanding about the features and the potential value an application may bring to your business, even if it’s outside of the budget you initially set. Many firms fall into the trap of comparing the cost of an upgrade to the cost of the status quo and determine if all of the bells and whistles would be used and if they are worth it. All too frequently, what gets left out of the equation is the time you and your staff spend. Many new technologies can automate what were once manual processes and deliver similar or better results in a fraction of the time.

4. Know your timeline

By now you might be excited about implementing a new technology. That is, after all, how the salespeople make their living. The best salespeople, however, should be able to take off their “sales hat” for a moment and provide a realistic look at implementation and how things look post-sale. It’s important to understand key dates and milestones along the way.

Sometimes overlooked are the annual contracts that are common on most technology. It’s important to know if you have a contract in place with your incumbent technology, and when it expires. Of all advisor technologies, portfolio management and client reporting solutions will need the longest lead time to implement. It’s common to see a 3- to 4-month estimate to move from one system to another, so beginning your evaluation around six months out from contract expiration is ideal. You’ll also want to keep an eye on the details of the contract. Many require notice well in advance of expiration, and some even auto-renew a multi-year term.

Once you understand what implementation looks like, training on your new system is of equal importance. Is training conducted in a group setting? Is it a series of self-study? Will you have a dedicated resource when you need help? How long should you plan for? It’s critical to understand training and ongoing support; you’re investing in new technology and must ensure you’re maximizing the value it provides.

Conclusion

Evaluating new technology can, and really should, be a pleasant experience. At conferences, it’s not possible to be 100% thorough in your research. Understand that this is only a starting point, and doing some homework on the front end and being efficient in the exhibit hall will help you make the most of your time at any conference.

— Check out Protecting Against Data Portability Pitfalls on ThinkAdvisor.


John Mackowiak is chief business development officer at Advyzon, an industry-leading, cloud-based fintech platform that offers a comprehensive suite of solutions for advisory firms of all sizes.