What should CRM shows be about: CRM users or CRM vendors? (Hint: it’s the users)

By Chris Bucholtz

Vendor-organized shows and conferences have two ways to go: they can be educational, or they can be commercial. I think we’ve all been to the latter: the orgy of self-promotion in which attendees are bludgeoned by a barrage of logos, up-selling pitches and executive glad-handing. At a certain point, even the people selling stuff seem to get sick of their own schtick.

SugarCon always struck me as a different kind of animal. Yeah, Larry Augustine and Clint Oram, the CEO and CTO, always get a bit of stage time, as do some key partners, and there are plenty of sessions that talk about developing with the Sugar platform. But that comprises just a small sliver of the show’s content. The rest is not Sugar-centric – indeed, even if you use some other application for CRM, you can learn a ton about strategy, integration and coming trends that you can put to use.

In this day and age, what is the purpose of a live, in-person, flesh-and-blood conference? Is it meant to be about the vendor who threw it, or is it supposed to be about the people who attend it?

This is a CRM show. And here’s my new rule about CRM conferences: if they’re more about the people selling (vendors) than they are about the people buying (customers), you have a problem. If it’s being held mostly for the benefit of the vendor, the whole philosophical underpinning of the show is out of whack with the tenets of CRM. And why would you pay to hear about CRM from people who have a fundamental misunderstanding of what CRM is supposed to be?

I hate to break it to anyone who just emerged from a time capsule buried in 1986, but the allure of parties, free booze and your next year’s T-shirt wardrobe is no longer enough to get people to attend conferences. Not only is it hard to win approval from the people who hold the purse strings within the company, even ordinary employees seem much more cognizant of the impact of lost work time these days.

So, there’s the reality in which SugarCon exists. And so, we’re seeking to break the conference model and rebuild it on several levels.

Level one: we had the attendees submit ideas for sessions. This blog explains it; not only do we have a bunch of sessions in hand that discuss topics we’d never have thought of, we also allowed people to vote on these sessions – we know which ones are hot tickets. It’s not about SugarCRM – it’s about the attendees.

Level two: we’re building more time in for networking between sessions, so attendees can meet each other, exchange ideas, and explore partnerships. We heard last year there was a need for more time like this, and so we built it into our schedule. That’s not about SugarCRM – it’s about the attendees.

Level three: we’re holding our UnCon again, to be “un-chaired” by John Mertic, SugarCRM’s community manager. Walk up to the board, write your topic, and see how people vote – that’ll determine what’s in the UnCon. It’s not about SugarCRM – it’s about the attendees.

Now, don’t get me wrong – there’s going to be a party (at the Exploratorium), free booze, and T-shirts. Plus, perhaps, some other pleasant throwback surprises – you shouldn’t discard the past entirely. But whether it’s the same as last year or brand-spanking new, whatever it is, it should serve the attendees.

Take a peek at the site – we’re putting the show together on the fly. Responsiveness is going to be another hallmark of future conferences – so if you have any ideas for how we can create an event that’s even better attuned to your needs, send them our way.

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