Adjusting SharePoint Saturday’s Marketing Mix

Christian Buckley

Christian is a 7-time Office Servers and Services MVP, internationally-recognized technology evangelist and collaboration expert, and the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

  • Ruven Gotz

    Christian, this is an excellent post! As a SPS attendee, speaker and organizer (SPSToronto), I have seen events that are superbly organized with elaborate food, prizes and gifts, and I’ve seen events run on a shoestring. Ultimately, it’s what happens in the sessions that counts. I think this article should be made part of the ‘package’ that every SPS organizer needs to read when contemplating an event.

  • Christian,
    I don’t agree with the necessity of sponsors to bother attendees. These days, I see briefly names of most major SharePoint vendors just before I click ‘Delete all spam messages’. They end up there automatically, most of them. That means the sponsor because of their forced invasion of my inbox has lost any opportunity to talk to me.
    Sponsors need to realize that emailing unwilling recipients is not just wasteful but outright bad for business. When I don’t explicitly ask for information, then trying to force it on me means I think much less of you as a sponsor. In fact, I’ve held off recommending at least two major vendors to clients because they don’t respect my wishes and try to force their messaging on me.
    Why would I for a second trust a vendor who does not respect me and my privacy as a potential customer, to respect me and my privacy as a customer?
    Email marketing is fine, but make absolutely damn sure that attendees explicitly request information from sponsors. Have a checkbox that is by default turned off and have signups click that to request information.
    Sponsors aren’t getting 250 potential clients, they are getting 250 potential adversaries who start hating their guts the moment the vendor tries to cash in.

  • LOVE the article, Christian! As a fellow SPS organizer (Richmond, VA), we struggle with locating a venue that has the number of breakout rooms, vendor hall and opening/closing remarks. Even though we are in the capital city, there just isn’t a low cost venue that can accommodate us. We use the Greater Richmond Convention Center, but it makes our budget higher than we would like. However, our attendees and sponsors seem to like the location.
    We also try to keep things simple. We are not professional event planners. We all have full-time jobs. We do the best we can with what we have. Most attendees come for the content (as they should). We just strive to make it a great experience for them.
    My personal experience with SharePoint Saturdays is all about networking. I’ve gotten a job through my very own SPS Richmond and met incredible people that have helped me with numerous issues. When someone meets you face-to-face, they are more likely to respond to blog comments, emails and tweets. And, these are the people that WANT to help you.
    Such an awesome community!

  • Great article! Everything you said rings true.
    Because organizers have full time jobs, at SPS Twin Cities we break down the responsibilities into manageable groups. One person coordinates with the facilities and volunteers, one person handles communications with the speakers and attendees, one person orders and coordinates all the food and orders T-shirts and the like, another person works with sponsors, and we all work together on speaker selection.
    I think breaking down the roles and focusing on just one or two areas is what makes SPS Twin Cities manageable. Of course it really helps to have a great bunch of people to work/play with.

  • Super points, Mr. Buckley. Staying close to the community ensures a grass roots approach. Which is what I love about SPS. It also keeps sponsor rates manageable which also keeps things reasonable.
    In the end, its most important to bring the SharePoint message to places that have few chances at hosting SPC, SPTechCon, etc. That means Calgary, Providence, Wichita, Albany, Santa Fe – lets keep going. Smaller events, in the end, engage more people and help develop the entry-levels of the community.
    Also, keeping things small helps with sponsor expectations. At when we invest significantly in field events we do want to get something, in the long run on those investments. When things are smaller, the demands for data, for floor space, etc are all kept appropriate.
    Bjorn isn’t being fair – I think a few emails from consultants or ISVs is a fair price to pay for getting a day’s worth of free technical content. But creating bigger events also carries a heavier marketing presence.
    Stay small and nimble!

  • Ruven

    In case any attendees stumble across this post, I think that it goes nicely with Mark Rackley’s attendee advice:

  • Opt-in is key, and here in the US, the law. But your first line is very representative of your attitude toward sponsors through your other writings, Bjorn, so I’m not really surprised by your response. I guess you can put me on the glass-half-full end of the argument: I am thankful for the generous support of the sponsors that make these events free. If the cost of the event is that they email me, wow…what a small price, resulting in a quick delete. Ouch. How painful. So of course the handling of contact information needs to follow the law, first and foremost. But here’s something shocking: vendors are able to get your contact information through non-SPS events. I’ve received emails from vendors thanking me for stopping by their booth for an event I never attended. It’s a crazy world. Delete.

  • Christian,
    Excellent post, and I couldn’t agree more. As part of the SPS board it reminds me that we need to pulse sponsors to ensure they’re attaining their desired ROI. Also agree with Ruven’s comment to include your post with our (being revamped) organizer guide. Thanks for taking the time to write this and for your insight.

  • Wow, Christian, ad hominem? I hadn’t expected that from you.
    I’m curious, what particular ‘other writings’ you feel should affect the validity of the argument that emailing someone with a marketing message and without their explicit consent is a bad idea.

  • Interesting stuff, Christian. A thought about the speaker shirts: Why are there different speaker shirts for every event? It’s actually really useful, I think, to be able to identify speakers on sight at these events, but that doesn’t mean a new speaker shirt for every event. Plus, for first-time speakers, it’s sort of a badge of recognition to finally have had your talk accepted at an SPS, right?

  • For the three SharePoint Saturdays in San Antonio, we’ve followed a similar model to the events you’ve organized. In fact, it’s similar to the model of the very first few SPS. Low cost venue and food are a great way to reduce the sponsor cost. Opt-in only lists provide value to both the sponsors and the attendees. It’s all about the content!
    I’ve found letting sponsors directly pays the cost for items has very low risk. If you get a signed agreement from the sponsor stating their responsibility and know the company, why would they back out after being published as a sponsor? That would have the exact opposite of the effect they are looking for which is a more positive brand in the SharePoint community.
    On the other hand, a legal entity, like SQL PASS or INETA, would be a great benefit to the community if it could offer the opportunity to handle sponsorships in a more consistent manner across events.

  • Great Article Christian, very insightful.

  • I collected and elaborated on a number of my thoughts around this here:

  • Snarky-ness doesn’t translate well.
    I suppose I have an issue with your definition of “explicit consent.” I agree that there must be explicit consent, but my definition — and that of every other ethical marketer out there — is through the top-in process. As I stated before, and will state again here for clarification, for every event I help organize we provide a list of opt-in names to sponsors. When users register, we ask the question of whether we can share their name and emails with sponsors of the event. That, to me, is explicit consent. That’s it for SPS events in which I am involved. Not much to argue about here, in my book.
    Now, there are gray areas with other marketers and with other events which probably fit in more with the definition you seem to suggest. As I mentioned, I’ve received emails for events I have not attended. How did they get my info? Great question. Might have been through email exchanges, tweeting about it, last year’s event that I did attend (which I assume was the case). It wasn’t a huge deal for me — I just deleted the annoying and unwanted email.
    For anyone out there who feels like they are getting too many unwanted emails from sponsors of events, here are some suggestions (which will help you understand where marketers get their info):
    1) don’t opt in
    2) don’t register for major conferences (because with many large events, built into the registration language is consent for them to market to you. the opt-in allows them to share your info with other vendors, but the registration may imply/specifically include marketing by the event company)
    3) don’t fill out any registration forms for free whitepapers, on-demand (recorded) webinars, or live webinars or vendor conference calls.
    4) don’t buy any software or hardware or services from companies that sell software, hardware or services.
    You have to realize that all of these things may be in play when you get an email. Someone may opt-in at an event, get an email, and request to be removed from that vendor’s list — and then a couple days later, download a whitepaper that sits behind a registration page. In a perfect system, the CRM platform should catch that and restrict any additional contact. But its not a perfect system. Mistakes are sometimes made. Ethical companies work quickly to correct those mistakes.

  • Warren, I agree that they are nice…but not a necessity. If you have the budget, great. I’d rather keep costs low and go without, but that’s me.

  • I agree Tom, it is relatively low risk. It usually has more to do with planning than a vendor shirking responsibility. It happens (I have been guilty of it) because people get busy, stuff happens. But I like the model. Clean and simple. You just need to project manage the sponsors to make sure they are doing their part.

  • OK, by bad, I didn’t get the snarky-ness right. I might be a bit on edge for these kinds of things 🙂
    I agree with what you say, but I will still argue that with the practice done today, SharePoint vendors are wasting huge opportunities to build lasting and conversational relationships with their recipients. as I argued in the above post, even at best, they’re throwing a lot of money our the window, and at worst, they’re hurting their future prospects or losing business.

  • For the most part, I agree with Bjørn on this one. Axceler may be an exception, as there’s plenty of bad behavior out there.
    I try assiduously not to opt in – mainly because if I want to know about a vendor’s products I can ask the people I know there – yet I get the “thanks for stopping by our booth” emails every single time. In most cases, I haven’t stopped by the booth, requested anything, opted in intentionally, etc.
    Unlike Bjørn, I immediately unsubscribe, yet the cycle starts all over again with the next event. I have my mental list of the vendors that do this, and to be honest, they tend to fall to the bottom of the list of vendors I recommend to my clients. If they annoy me, they will annoy my clients, plus I consider it an indication of how they view their customers – potential or otherwise.
    As for the conferences that have the auto opt-in attitude, they aren’t doing the vendors any favors, either. By giving the vendors the contact info of people who don’t want info, they set the vendor up to annoy the attendee with the “thanks for requesting our information” emails.
    I’m fully aware that we’re all in this to make money and that someone has to pay the bills. Marketing poorly to people who don’t want it isn’t a winning strategy for anyone.

  • There are many ways to identify prospective customers and build out a marketing database. Opt-in lists are just one tool. The most successful marketers don’t just spam these folks, but use this data to inform, expand, and refine their existing prospect lists and marketing campaigns. I also don’t think much of a vendor that just blindly spams to the opt-in list from the last event I attended, but I don’t just add them to a blacklist, either. Good product and service companies sometimes have weak marketing organizations. Personally, I’ll err on the side of getting the emails if it means that I occasionally find a vendor or solution that I wasn’t looking for, but decide that I am interested in. Marketers need to collect data from different sources, try different methods to reach consumers, because you never know what marketing mix will evoke an emotional response.

  • The official response to follow on my blog