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Bridging Gaps in The Association World with Gretchen Steenstra, Strategic Consultant, DelCor.

In this episode of The Association Podcast, we welcome Gretchen Steenstra to speak about topics and themes exposed in the association market over the past year. Gretchen works as a strategic consultant for many associations and frequently serves in an interim CIO capacity helping associations of many sizes increase their digital maturity.

In this episode we cover:

  • Topics and themes exposed by the pandemic that associations should be thinking about but are not.
  • Virtual live events are not working for Sponsors and Vendors.
  • The need for truth in advertising is higher than ever.
  • Behavioral data is more valuable than demographic data.
  • Associations can differentiate and lead the pack with great consumer experiences.

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Edited Transcript

Jake Toohey 0:00
Welcome to Episode Three of The Association Podcast. Today we have a special guest, Gretchen Steenstra from Delcor. We talked with Gretchen about issues exposed in the association market over the past year. In particular, virtual events. We exchange ideas for improving virtual events from a data and user experience perspective. We discuss fixes for the vendor and sponsor experience. The lack of perceived value we see as the vendor have has probably been the most challenging thing to replicate. Enjoy.

Gretchen Steenstra 0:40
Welcome to The Association Podcast with your hosts and combined three decades in the association market Jake Toohey and Joe Post from Adage Technologies, and Ben Muscolino from Breezio.

Ben Muscolino 0:53
Hello, and welcome back to The Association Podcast. We’re joined here today by Gretchen Steenstra, a Strategic Consultant at Delcor. Gretchen, welcome. We’re happy to have you.

Gretchen Steenstra 1:05
I’m glad we finally got started. I’ve been at Delcor for 14 years, which seems like it is an eternity, doesn’t seem like it is. And I’m a technology matchmaker. So I’ve done everything and still do from helping people choose something like an AMS or a CMS or any Ms. I do a lot of CIO work to help break down where problems are, have leadership and the board and staff, and technology providers work better together.

This year, I helped set up a virtual technology strategy practice at Delcor, where we’re helping be some of the glue that holds together technology and the Events Team and the Education Team, and the Creative Team. So we’re part of that group. So it’s fun.

Ben Muscolino 2:12
That’s what’s interesting for me, as I see, you know, I think in a lot of ways, Delcor is really well known for doing that the MS match, right the management system match. The selections. But as I’ve run into you and senior of interim title at some of these organizations as to Chief Digital Strategy Officer and things like that, and that is where you sit there and kind of help quarterback, how a lot of these things are going to work together, not just picking systems, but helping them make sure they play nice and that there’s a real strategy behind those things.

Jake Toohey 2:41
And to get into that a little bit more, we were thinking about talking about, you know, the things exposed this past year due to COVID. And there are plenty of things to go around digital being one of them. Skill sets are one of them. Groups working together. But I know that we wanted to talk about the event space and how that has been, I hate to say, disrupted. Association events were exposed.

So, Gretchen, can you talk a little bit about that what you saw, could we be interested in your unique perspective?

Association Virtual & Hybrid Events Exposed

Gretchen Steenstra 3:15
Yeah. So there have been 1000 retrospectives about what do we learn how to associations have to catch up 10 years of being behind being only two years behind. And there’s been a lot of benefits around blowing up the event marketplace. And I think people know what those are. They’ve leveled the playing field so more people can attend. It’s been easier to deliver content. It’s been easier to record content so they can pack it and redistribute it like this. Those are all good things. And I think we know that.

But what’s been exposed some of the uncomfortable things that people are still not talking about, which I’d like to talk about with you gentlemen today. Everyone is talking about sponsors and exhibitors, what are we going to do for them they’re unhappy, we know that the transfer to digital and virtual space for exhibitors, and sponsors who are used to personal connections, literally like in person, finding someone did not translate well at all. And nobody figured it out. Like I didn’t even know why we’re here.

Ben Muscolino 4:16
I didn’t even know if I would survive without in-person events over the last year.

Gretchen Steenstra 4:20
And that’s where associations are losing their shirts. I mean, financially, that exhibitor sponsorship revenue is what kept them all the nice things. Events broke even when you’d like to produce in the event in the hotel space and speakers, those breakeven, but how not a piece that people talk about, but they’re talking around it, I guess.

Joe Post 5:00
I was just going to jump in. Obviously, from the vendor and partner point of view. There are many participants in live events. Some attend events just to be around the members. Some come to the event that may not be official participants in the conference, but they’re there. They might be in the hotels and trying to network and do business that way. And I’m curious when you say that, you know, there’s this unspoken need here, like, what are you seeing?

Vendors & Sponsors at Association Conferences

Gretchen Steenstra 5:19
Well, I think it’s the paradox. It’s funny. So Delcor exhibits at a lot of events. And we have been some of the people who complain about traffic, and I’m sure you have to with your company. So you’ll say, traffic wasn’t good. Yeah, we didn’t have good traffic on the floor. I don’t know if it’s worth the next year, then that’d be all these these negotiations, trying to make it better. We had food or entertainment on the floor. And now people are like, Oh, yeah, I gotta get back in person. But you were complaining about a year ago, how bad the traffic was.

But I think what we’ve exposed is like, you know, like funny exposing the COVID. Very funny, Jake. But is that the glue that holds it together that you didn’t think about. So yes, since having a pretty booth for Delcor, people try not to make eye contact with us as they went by, and I do a sideways to see if it’s worth stopping. But what we’re missing is like you were saying, Joe, you’re in a group of people, and you’re talking about something, and service comes up in conversation. You’re like, oh, I know who you need to talk to. And talk to Ben. Ben is here. I’m going to text him right now. I’m going to walk you over to his booth. That’s what we’re missing. Right, then, as a matchmaker, that’s what I’m missing. But that is my favorite thing to do at events is be the pollinator, and then in our famous for this, like buzzing around, and we know an inch, but we know a mile wide of people.

Ben Muscolino 6:48
Right? Right.

Jake Toohey 6:49
And it’s pretty impossible to replicate that in a virtual environment. You definitely can’t just, you know, grab Ben and walk over and meet somebody that he just talked to. But it’s pretty tough to even talk to people that enter your booth. And it’s kind of like this balance, like, do I hit them with the chat right away? Or is there some video thing that you spring on? It’s awkward, and it’s tough to balance. What’s the best way to approach it? I mean, if I don’t know if anybody’s got the answer right now.

Gretchen Steenstra 7:21
Right? What do you think is creepier Jake, trying to maintain eye contact with people as a fly by your booth? Or the chat? Hi, how are you? Yeah. Like, which ones worse?

Jake Toohey 7:33
I mean, I would much rather be in person. That’s for sure.

Ben Muscolino 7:36
I like to think that I’m delightfully confrontational.

The Sponsor Perspective on Association Conferences

It’s funny, though, because if I take that a layer deeper, that at best, I mean, we all represent companies that spend a lot of money at these events. and the value that we get, people can sit and say, as a vendor, are you you’re a digital agency, you’re a technology consultant, you’re a community software company. Yeah, we’re event experts. In a lot of ways, though, because we represent the cornerstone to a lot of events. We’re the ones that are attending all the events, and measuring against, you know, outcomes that we’re looking for, how many leads did you get? How many leads converted? How much traffic did we get? Right? How were we able to network with other partners, which actually in person is one of those things that happens pretty significantly.

I mean, right now, we’re very focused on who’s coming to our virtual booth and who checked in, and are we even tracking that traffic. Versus when I’m at an ASAE show, I’m in the CMS booth talking to them about how we’re in writing and doing things like that. We don’t get a chance to do that, which is probably why we’re all just putting together webinars and podcasts all the time, we’re trying to figure out a way to keep that connection going and keep the relationship cultivating instead of putting it on the shelf. But I also think that there’s this big differentiator between the types of events, right, there are events that do a better job of engaging socially, that do a terrible job of tracking leads for us, and the technologies that they use. And then vice versa, the most boring event you can think of, and yet it sends us the spreadsheet afterward. Everybody that even peeked into our booth clicked it on accident.

Technology Savior in 2020

Gretchen Steenstra 9:13
But who cares? Like, and I think the other irony of this whole thing is like 2020 was we invested in technology was our savior. We will finally dusted off the technology budgets and the board’s funded technology, but we’re the people who have it. And so I think there’s this great irony in this huge funding search for technology and people embracing technology. Everybody says that, like nobody would go on camera before everyone goes on camera, good to hair day, bad hair day, we’re on camera, whatever deal with my bad lighting. But trying to connect people to technology is the miss of 2020. Do you think that’s funny?

Ben Muscolino 9:52
Yes, yeah,

Gretchen Steenstra 9:53
I have money. Somebody take my money.

Jake Toohey 9:58
But it’s a it’s a big part of an associations business model is the money that we spend with them.

Gretchen Steenstra 10:05
Right. But I don’t think it’s just about money, Jake. I think it’s about like, partnership like, you have services that I need. I can’t do by myself. Like, I’m a fabulous CIO, I have to say, but I am not a web developer. I’m not a community expert. I need you guys. So it’s interesting.

Ben Muscolino 10:23
Yeah, I agree. I remember right near the beginning of the pandemic, we had slated to sponsor an event. And we had kind of done we had splurged, right. I was like, let’s step up our marketing game. And we went to kind of the higher sponsor level, and the group called us up and they said, Hey, we’re not having the in-person meeting. Good news. We’re going to give you some, you know, real estate, ads, or whatever, in our virtual conference, we’re just going to roll the money in there. And I was like, hold on a second. This is why I upgraded my sponsorship because nobody works a trade show like me like I was good. I don’t care how big your booth is, I was gonna drag tons of leads out of this thing.

Right. So my value is now changed significantly. And yeah, I think looking at both sides of that. It’s good for every association that’s listening to this. We are your sponsors, right.

What Do Association Event Sponsors Want?

Gretchen Steenstra 11:15
And we need to talk about it, Ben. Like what do we want, but the other before we talk about what we want because I think that’s why we’re here. But like we all right, we have a platform, what do we want, right, spit it out. But I think the other thing that was exposed is when people get into the matching software, what is your interest area? What would you like to learn at this conference? It’s on every registration page. We all check the box. But it’s not really what you’re shopping for, like when I go to events; I go to the things that are not part of my job. Because I want to, I know these eight things really well. But in my profile, it has technology, and it has management. It has, you know, AMS, FMS, all the MSs. But what I really want to learn about is what’s going on in marketing. And so then when you use technology to match me, you’re matching me with myself. And so I think that’s the other thing that’s been exposed is all of the hype and kind of weakness of some of the demographic data that associations have been grabbing onto for years and you to Ben and like, what’s the customer profile? I think that’s been blown up a little bit, too.

Joe Post 12:19
There’s a disconnect from the data collected and matching it to people’s actual behavior. But so much of what you’re describing is usability challenges kind of across the board, you know, and I remember populating the graphics on one of these virtual booths, and the little virtual booth was so small, you could not even read our tag line. Why even have this visualization of a booth. It’s so impractical.

Ben Muscolino 12:44
Mm hmm.

Jake Toohey 12:45
Have you heard of anything that’s worked particularly well, right? I mean, I think we’re all looking for answers. Does anybody have any bright ideas?

Low Utility Association Event Demographic Data

Joe Post 12:51
Well, I think I think Gretchen just proposed an idea, right? Stop gathering baseline demographic data, if it’s not useful for the user experience. I mean, that’s a rock-solid suggestion.

More Intimate Association Events

Gretchen Steenstra 13:03
And I think in 2021 like Terry Carden is going to do many meetings that are her thing that we’re gonna hear a lot about, like, I think 12 or 15 people, regionally, and it’s going to be membership organizations and partners, and they’re gonna meet for one day, like, No, you know, not sitting in a hotel, you come in the morning, you meet in a small group, following all the safety protocols, and you truly unpack what the association is looking for, and what the vendor has to offer, which I think is kind of cool. And I like that idea of like, let’s just get down to it like, and Jake you and I’ve had these conversations about potential opportunities. I’m like, I’m just going to tell you everything about it because you’re going to do a much better job. I’m not going to, you know, play around with like, I don’t really know their budget. You tell me first, and then I’ll tell you, I think that honesty is what we need to have in 2021.

Jake Toohey 13:56
Absolutely. I mean, I really like the idea of the the small conferences, or the small mini meats, and for people that want to match with their needs. So I do think that’s a great idea, too.

Gretchen Steenstra 14:11
Some people are spending a lot of money, like, like some of the projects, they’re expensive.

Jake Toohey 14:17
People would spend the money even more if they were getting something out of it, when people are like, invested in the solutions that are there. And they’re going there, you know, not only to learn something but to find out, you know, what they’re missing, or you know, where there’s some where there are some gaps that that can be filled. So I think that’s a great idea.

Ben Muscolino 14:33
Once the boxes got established this year, this year, though, people started checking the boxes, or I should say, last year, it’s like everybody that had anything that resembles a technology stack for events. They’re like, Hey, we’re a virtual event provider now, and they immediately built something. And some of them even got acquired, which if that’s what you want to do, fine, but, you know, it became really saturated really fast to the point where first it was, I don’t know where to find a virtual event provider. Like what approach we want, and then I think what’s cool is, it was like redefined with everybody doing that. Like there’s a million degrees of the virtual event, like, What flavor Do you want, but at the same time, then it’s hard to choose one. And all, most of them are half-baked.

Joe Post 15:14
A lot of them are half-baked.

Ben Muscolino 15:16
Yeah. Because they just created it as a response to, you know, what’s going on. And not everybody has the resources that like this event has, they have, you know, 27, making that number up, but as the event, technology, you know, pieces of the stack already, and some are competitive with each other. And they’re like, yeah, we’re gonna spend, you know, $20 million developing something this year. But everybody was like, Yeah, we do registrations. But now we’re going to do a whole virtual event, which, back to my point about, like, my goals are maybe different than other people’s. But you know, I spent a lot of money on some events that I thought were fun that I got nothing out of, and others that I thought were kind of boring that we got a lot of leads out of, and it’s a, it’s, it’s a challenge. And I don’t know that anybody’s asking us what we want. They just kind of pick one based on some narrow requirements they have for programming they want to put on. It’s been fascinating to kind of watch unfold, actually.

The Need for Truth in Advertising

Gretchen Steenstra 16:09
And I think that’s what you’re talking about fake models, right, then they sit? Well, truth in advertising is something to watch out for right now. So the other thing that’s been exposed is some shady marketing. Yeah. And we will not name names.

Ben Muscolino 16:23
No.

Gretchen Steenstra 16:24
But and, you know, that’s why Delcor stepped in. We’re like, okay, just because it says a virtual marketing virtual platform next to its name does not mean there’s any there. They’re like, that was another exposed thing that was very irritating to me. Like, come on. Here. They think we are not going to figure out that your chat is a piece of trash the minute I tried to chat, it blows up, come on,

Jake Toohey 16:47
but I don’t think anybody’s going to accept that anymore. You know, halfway through?

Gretchen Steenstra 16:53
Oh, they did!

Jake Toohey 16:54
Absolutely. Because it was like, What are you gonna do? We got to do something, right. So everybody showed up to them. But you know, the longer they went, the more virtual events everybody kind of suffered through? I don’t know, was that worth it?

Virtual Event Behavior Changing

Joe Post 17:05
The behavior changes pretty quickly, too, though, right? Early on, people were so eager to get some social something, right. So people attended, and they were active. And then later in the year, it was, you know, like, oh, I’m going to show up for the session, and they’re going to drop off. And then I’ll come back, and maybe other sessions are going to drop off. So the engagement started to dip towards the end there, too.

But I didn’t want to go back to this idea of honesty and truth in advertising. One question I have for you is, how do you balance honesty against aspiration? You know, because that’s something we see, it’s almost like the shopping while hungry phenomenon, right? It’s like, are everything in the cart and huge appetite? But maybe it’s not even the right fit for you? So how do you balance that?

Balancing Association Appetite with Actual Need

Gretchen Steenstra 17:48
How do I balance that? I think, well, I’ve my reputation is I’m a pretty straight shooter. And I can. I have a pretty good bullshit meter, to be honest. And so I call it, and I think that there are a couple of things that everyone needs to do is be honest with the people you’re talking to. Because if I tell you, I’m looking for these things, these are the experiences I want. And these are experiences I’m exploring, and I do want you to, like brainstorm with me because I don’t know as Jake said, You quickly can see if someone’s telling you the truth or not, or it’s a bunch of smoke and mirrors. The more you come armed with very specific, this is my audience, a non-starter, I know my members, I know that this is the education they have to have because they’re in the medical profession it has to be this many minutes. So they earn their credit. So the more you can tell somebody when this is an age-old conversation. I think it weeds it out.

I also think now people need to leave like 30%, for risk, to permit vendors to try new things. So when we talk about what we want as an industry, I think that’s what I want as a partner. Allow me to explore it with you, knowing that some of the ideas I have don’t pan out. Some are going to be amazing. Like, that’s what that’s that’s a want that I have.

Speed Dating at Association Virtual Event

Jake Toohey 19:05
I sit on a board for one of our partners, and we’re planning a future event. One of the ideas that I was kicking around a couple of weeks ago was speed dating, networking, you know, and I think I mean, it’s, I don’t know if it would be good. And this is where the kind of, let’s see what happens. Let’s try it out just because you don’t get the conversations you would get in person. And my thought was that if you’re going just to match up people and meet, talk for a minute. If it’s not a good fit, then you move on. If it is, here’s my information, and you keep going. I hate to say that it’s the idea of like forced networking. But from a vendor side, I mean, we do need that kind of whether it’s virtual face to face or not. We need something where we can have these conversations start because it’s not gonna have in the chat,

Networking within Association Industry

Gretchen Steenstra 20:00
But here’s something I need like for developer people, you know, the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, and we can play six degrees of Ben or six degrees of Gretchen. Wouldn’t it be cool if we had like a web? And it was all the people, and you try to figure out who you know through somebody else? Because that’s, that’s where you find the best people. It’s like, I got a buddy.

Ben Muscolino 20:22
Yeah, I agree.

Gretchen Steenstra 20:23
How do we make that like a digital experience? Because you like gaming has all these virtual reality. And people have talked about having the Oculus headset. And I think gamers have created their own world, and they don’t want corporate in there, or they would have showed us their secrets. But like, when that’d be cool. If you had like some kind of webby, where you could see it kind of coming into color. And the more you interacted with people, like you were saying, Jake, like speed dating or a scavenger hunt, But it’s Who do you know, that you can connect me with to help me answer my question? It would be fun.

Ben Muscolino 20:58
It’s kind of like, what are those DNA services? Right? What

Gretchen Steenstra 21:01
23andme?

Ben Muscolino 21:02
Yeah, right. Right. Yes. It’s like build the branches for me, like, this is who I am at this moment. Where does my branch go? Right? Where does my branch go?

Gretchen Steenstra 21:11
does that we need to stop recording so we can develop this jelly? Ben, that’s what vendor partners need, right? We need to figure out how to plant some roots. And then this grow in the virtual space. It’s that it’s, it’s easy, but it’s hard.

Ben Muscolino 21:29
I find it, not a relatively, and I and I hope it doesn’t come off the wrong way. But it’s not necessarily hard market to sell into. But there’s, there’s a lot of options. Because it does a lot of it does stem from you know, consultants, right? You go to a Delcor website. And to your credit, like you guys aren’t like a logo shop. You guys are in a NASCAR shop with like, logos everywhere.

Gretchen Steenstra 21:59
We have them though.

Ben Muscolino 22:00
You do. But there are a lot of you know. You go to the central points to say who have they worked with? This is why we go to communities to see who does our community work with? And then we judge based on the responses, like these five responses I trust these people are I know these people and these other people, I don’t know. And just personally right. And other people might know those. But that’s Yeah, the web is. We already do it in fragmented ways, I would say.

Providing Sponsors Visibility & Opportunity

Gretchen Steenstra 22:26
But the other thing I think we need to figure out of what how to give exhibitors and service providers and sponsors. exposure, I think would be people are going for education, and they are going for so what if we just took that model that works. And you know, you have the intros and the outros. But what would be interesting, if you were talking about a particular topic, you were talking about UX. And then at the end of that UX, you had five vendors who had 15 minutes each to do a mini demo or mini-pitch, like head to head because for me as a consumer, I went to that UX session to learn about UX. And now what I would do in a live setting is I would go try to find some.

Ben Muscolino 23:10
Right.

Jake Toohey 23:10
Yeah, and I think some places have done that better than others. I think that like demo days often get buried at the beginning, and nobody’s there for it. And it’s like, not necessarily officially a part of the conference. So I think that is a great idea just to have those kind of baked into the educational sessions,

Gretchen Steenstra 23:31
Because that’s what you’re there to learn about. Right? So instead of if you want to learn more, here’s my slide. On all the books and articles and your videos, you can watch what if you had like a lot, okay, now we’re gonna jump into a mini Demo Day on this project. And what maybe it was only five? Like, how much time would you need Jake to do that kind of pitch? Like what would feel good as an exhibitor? If you said there are three sessions about things you’re interested in?

Jake Toohey 23:57
We could probably do it in 10? The more, the better. But I think you’d probably lose people after 5 or 10 minutes. So we’d have to get tighter with that kind of presentation and figure out what gets across and what we want people to walk away from that with because, yeah, it’s in the virtual world. You don’t have a lot of time to keep people’s attention.

Joe Post 24:19
Can I say I want to play devil’s advocate a little bit on some of this because I feel like on the pitching and the quick demos, it sets you up for like, like, from my perspective, UX. Is pretty nuanced, right? And if I think bigger than that, agencies are pretty nuanced. And can tell you from experience, like some of the deals we’ve lost, or where you get a big global agency in the room, and they spin a yarn and tell a great big story. And people still buy the story, and they still buy emotion. And at the end of the day, I’m not sure if they really made a good evaluation, and that’s the trick for me with pitching is it can take you down that story and emotion route, but maybe I’m not really the right fit for you.

Gretchen Steenstra 25:00
How is that different from being an exhibit and having a prettier booth than you, or I have a nicer giveaway? What’s the difference? Everything

Joe Post 25:06
I think it is very similar. Having an awesome booth doesn’t mean they’ll be a great partner.

Gretchen Steenstra 25:08
I think you’ll do be just as unhappy in your feedback to the event planner. It’s like I had a, I had terrible booth traffic. But then I didn’t have good virtual traffic. I mean, you’re right.

Jake Toohey 25:20
We’re still trying to figure it out. Yeah. But I mean, I think if you were doing five-minute demos, 10-minute demos, I mean, you’re not selling anybody. In the five-minute demo, all you’re looking for is permission for a conversation. So then it’s up to you.

Ben Muscolino 25:35
It’s those leads, you want to take away. At the same time, and I think, too, with the breadth of what you guys do at Adage, for example, like, it’s hard, you know, you can spend four hours or eight hours, let me take you through this journey, and what we think is right for you, and all the services we’re going to offer, but in 10 minutes, it’s narrow to that session, I think it’s a fun format, to have everybody kind of get up and say, as it relates to this session, by giving an Adage, you know, pitch deck about everything we do, as it relates to this topic. This is where, you know, this is a little bit about us and the customer story. I really, I think it’s a fun format. Of course, I you know, revel in pitching in the moment. I think there’s many vendors that there’s a lot of vendors that we get outpitched to that might be better than the people that sell better than them to us. So there’s always that.

Jake Toohey 26:25
That’s what Joe is talking about,

Who Initiates Conversations

Joe Post 26:26
I kind of wonder, too, if maybe it’s like, you know, you think about like the dating app paradigm that’s like increasingly, like just part of how people live and some of those apps. It’s, it’s about who initiates. Right. And it’s like, and maybe that’s really the question here is like, maybe in some cases the people seeking should initiate and in other cases, the vendors are initiating, and that’s where it gets weird sometimes, too, right? If you’re standing in the booth, you know, like hawkishly tracking people coming through can get weird.

Associations as Experience Curators

Gretchen Steenstra 26:53
Yeah, yeah, but I think that’s where is I just think about it a little bit like associations putting on the event could do a better job handcrafting that experience. So it could be that instead of saying it’s like ‘A’ to ‘A’, you know if you’re talking about legal liability, and that’s the education session, and then there are three legal liability firms who are going to give their pitch. Maybe you don’t do what you say, here’s the topic, but here are some nuances. So it doesn’t as you said, Joe, it doesn’t get to brochure whare. But it’s one tiny piece. Like, maybe it’s curated to say in the association space, we’re going to talk about member engagement, and then our, our exhibitor moments are going to be on a community minute, a selection consultant, minute, e-commerce minute. And these are the components that would support that concept.

You know, what if associations really thought through what is they’ve thought about so much about the attendee experience, like Ben, and I’ve talked about what do attendees want? What do attendees want? Like maybe that would be better? That’s more of a package or a tangential comment that would force you to be very precise about what you’re saying? I know, it could be a horrible idea. But maybe.

Joe Post 28:12
It’s interesting makes me think that maybe maybe another scenario is like, maybe instead of, you know, a 10 minute pitch, it’s a 10 minute problem solve.

Gretchen Steenstra 28:20
Yeah, I like that.

Joe Post 28:21
And show me Show me how you think rather than Show me how you sell.

Gretchen Steenstra 28:25
I like that.

Ben Muscolino 28:25
Well, and it goes, you know, it’s interesting, because that’s so the way he said that reminded me of a conversation we had recently Gretchen about, what what do I need? versus what do I want.

Investing in the Customer Experience

Gretchen Steenstra 28:38
And I read a book on hiring recently that says, like, people only spent a couple of hours in an interview hiring a person, but you’re spending a lot of money on them over their lifetime. And you should really spend half an eight-hour interview with a new employee. And that’s like you said, Joe, like, how do you think how do you interact with each other instead of a one-hour review of your resume? You’re investing a lot. And so I think that’s the other thing we have to figure out: how do you open the door to have that bigger conversation? No,

Joe Post 29:11
I think that’s actually a really great analogy for some of this kind of shopping or research behavior. Right? It’s like, you’re interviewing, you know, like, we have several open roles right now. I mean, it’s a lot of research and analysis on the candidate’s end, and you can blow it as a hiring person in the first exchange, right? Like, if you don’t respond to their application quickly, it can be done right there. And the interview process is a tough one. It always is.

I like that a lot. That’s a good thought experiment.

Gretchen Steenstra 29:43
but and that’s, you know what, that’s that’s other things that exhibitors want. We’re looking for talent to like, you know, that lie. So if Delcor hiring somebody, the first place we’re going to go is the next event. We’re going to work the room and say, Yeah, who is looking for a job. Yeah.

Jake Toohey 29:56
Then where else can ask your friend to backfill?

Ben Muscolino 29:59
Oh, we’re Yeah, where else could they can go to AMS Jobs that could help them?

Oh, there you go. Another company.

Joe Post 30:05
Shameless.

Ben Muscolino 30:06
So here’s what’s funny. I did and my team was kind of making fun of me the other day I spent. I’m about to hire my first person outside of my network. Which for me.

Gretchen Steenstra 30:24

A stranger? Yes? Oh, no, that’s not gonna work at all. Stranger danger? No way. No Bueno.

Ben Muscolino 30:27
So I, for the first time in a long time, I’ve grown these companies around me with all of my trusted friends and advisors and, you know, former colleagues and peers, and for the first time about to hire a stranger. And I did a two-hour zoom interview yesterday, and everyone was like, Where were you? Where were you? Because we got stuff going on, right? Like I’m in, I was in the interview. And they’re like, what, for four hours? And I’m like, No, two hours. And they’re like, Really? You were in a Zoom? Yes! Because I wanted to. And usually, I do all the talking. You guys know me. I asked like these. For the first time in my life, I asked him open-ended questions like, tell me about yourself, because I can’t ask, there’s only certain things you can ask me, tell me about yourself, like, what are you into? And they start talking, and I shut up? I’m like, I want to hear not only how they deliver it, but what are they actually into? And, you know, taking that time to get to know them? And how they communicated? And what did they choose to tell me? And what do I think about them? Because I’m judging them, to be fair.

Gretchen Steenstra 31:28
And I and you have your search running in the background? Right? Is you are plugging in?

Ben Muscolino 31:32
Yeah, like, what do I think they’re not telling me that? I think it’s true that you know, like, why did they choose that to tell me instead of that, which I think that’s true, too. But yeah, that’s, that’s really interesting.

Gretchen Steenstra 31:45
Well, don’t assign that new person to my projects until they’re fully vetted, speaking of the interview process.

Ben Muscolino 31:50
We’ll make sure Craig Peak beats him up real good before he’s on any of your projects.

Gretchen Steenstra 31:55
But I do think that’s been Have you seen that? Like, it’s hard to hire people right now? Good people. It’s tough to find him.

Ben Muscolino 32:02
It is well, which is why you know, it’s, and I won’t plug the name again. But the job or that I have, it’s funny when we tell people like us this. And they’re like, what can we expect? Well, you’re not going to get in Indeed-style 50 resumes flying at you, you might get one or two applicants, but if you do, they’re going to be from people in my network, people that are on our list that I met at an event. And it’s coming from inside the space, though. So whether you know them or not, there’s a perfect chance you can pick up the phone and go to the Degrees of Kevin Bacon and figure out somebody that can tell you something about this person. It’s one of the things I love about this, this industry that we’re in, frankly.

Gretchen Steenstra 32:38
So Ben, you didn’t really talk about what you want as a exhibitor spot, you said, you have what you want you you want leads, you want to work the room, but in a virtual space, how can you Ben in your 55 companies— pick one? I like what do you want.

Ben Muscolino 32:53
I haven’t been given what I want yet. And I’ll tell you what there are and I and I brought up before lightly but there I want the networking and I want to be able to virtually I kind of like the avatar model, at least I think it scales up to a certain point, I couldn’t have imagined doing ASAE with 14,000 people in an avatar world. But at the end of the day, there are really engaging formats that I’ve really enjoyed.

Gretchen Steenstra 33:16
So what what are they like spit em. What do you want?

Ben Muscolino 33:19
Well, I want the data that the that I let’s call it like ASAE and what like Fonteva with Boomset did. Like, we got a lot of data out of those conferences, which I thought was really good. I thought the engagement was terrible. I didn’t really enjoy the experience at all. And, and yet, as a vendor, I didn’t have fun, but I feel like I got a little bit of value out of it. However, the engagement tools themselves were not very good data tracking, were a little better than the engagement. Whereas if you go and take a look at what they’ve done with like, AMS Fest and using like member suites, Echo write the kind of virtual avatar thing like for me, that’s way more fun. After every single one of those conferences, I got no list of who popped into my booth. How easy was it to pop into the booth. There aren’t logos out there, you have to do that go to in the top left. And right click it and it’s a little bit more cumbersome. There’s really no branding to it much you’re standing in front of their office or their booth. And so one’s more fun, and one is a little bit more data heavy. I feel like I love to hit the phones. So I give me the data. And I’ll make phone calls for the organization and generate leads. But I can’t get both. Like I’m been a little let down with the virtual experiences at least that we’ve had as sponsors in the market so far.

Joe Post 34:44
And it sounds like you’re kind of trading you know, it’s almost like the funnel is you’re entering the funnel at different places depending on the event right and some you get the more personal engagement more sales funnel, and then in the other ones, you’re getting the marketing funnel. Now that almost sounds like what you like the marketing funnel a little better, at least for virtual,

Ben Muscolino 35:03
Yeah, maybe, right, because this is why I’ve sponsored parties with partners and ASAE for years, because you know, we pull five or six of us together, everybody throw in five or 10 grand, we have a throwdown, five 600 people show up, and I get that data from that. And then I get to I, I cultivate that data in my CRM, my sales here, and I track what a MSG use what CMS use, what’s, you know, LMS, you use, like, I track all of that. So a lot of that I get to say, this person that’s involved with this organization that I already have. And I know the systems that they use was at my event recently, so I have this really good context, to reach out to these people and slice and dice my data and use that from a marketing perspective. I love being on the sales front. I like to say I’m a recovering sales addict, I guess now that I lead these organizations, I like to sell more, but I’m seeing the value in the marketing data now that I’m sitting over top of it. Because I need to take a look at the the net that we’re casting for the organization, not just the pipeline that I build for myself.

Joe Post 36:06
I was just gonna say it sounds like it sounds to me like an opportunity for an association, right? Like if an association can improve the quality of the marketing data, as we said, kind of at the top right, like if we can, for example, take the demographic include the interest, but also include the behavior, and maybe…

Gretchen Steenstra 36:26
ever you don’t want to interest or bullshit, you know, that they’re lying together, right?

Joe Post 36:31
If you’re being if if you’re an association, you’ve somehow mastered this data, that would be a huge differentiator. If you

Gretchen Steenstra 36:37
Here’s the problem, this the emails, you’re not allowed to give, I’m not allowed to give it to you. Like as an association, the privacy rules, which are tightening up more and more and more every day. So I can have it at the association. But I cannot give it to you. The exhibitor.

Ben Muscolino 36:54
if we’ve learned anything from Facebook isn’t that you just put whatever terms and conditions you want and expect people to click it right.

Gretchen Steenstra 37:02
That’s changing.

Joe Post 37:03
You opt-in. To me, that’s the fallacy of GDPR. Right? It’s like a lot of people still abuse it, because they say, well, you opt it in so I can do whatever I want. Right?

Ben Muscolino 37:12
Right.

Gretchen Steenstra 37:13
But I think that that’s what associations need to do, though. They need to be honest about Hey, attendee, you aren’t like you Jake was saying a seeker, you’re looking for stuff. And so I think we just need to kind of look at that whole, like you were saying, Joe, the input of like, don’t ask me these random, weird questions in the registration process, like, What problem are you trying to solve? What? Flip those questions around, so the data is more interesting for and then that would help me match better with vendors. And then vendors can find me.

Ben Muscolino 37:46
If someone’s attending a session to your point about this little pitch fest there at the end of it. That is, I mean, what better indicator than someone sitting through a session? Yeah, I would love 20 minutes at the you know, I sit in an hour session, or a 15 minute session, give me 30 minutes of the session, the thought leader, what are the right questions to ask what are strategies that are trending what’s happening, and then give me the, you know, four or five minute pitches at the end? I’m there I’m in the session, I’ve told you by my actions in my presence, that this is what I’m interested in, rather than trying to give someone a spreadsheet that says these people are interested in community and these people are interested in design. Right.

Gretchen Steenstra 38:27
But what about if I, if I’m an attendee now? So if I go to a session, what if instead of getting the 800 emails from vendors that I get at the end of every event, I delete them all? You know, that’s an other opportunity for the association to reach back out to the attendee and say, You seem to be interested in: this. And the based on your behavior, I think what you’re, I think what you’re really looking for is this, here are eight partners that went, you know, who, who you may want to contact? Or is it okay, if we share your name with these eight partners? Would that be cool?

Jake Toohey 39:04
I think that’s a great idea.

Joe Post 39:05
It’s almost like a personalization strategy out of an event.

Gretchen Steenstra 39:08
Oh, we’re back to the yentas to help you find your match, right? Like, taking matchmaking from an app to the… (laughs).

Ben Muscolino 39:17
I was talking to a State Bar Association just the other day though. And I was asking about how they do some of these things. And they actually take a cut on some of the legal work that they take it as referrals and send out to their members, which I had no idea existed and apparently a bunch of states do it. And some their emphasis now I’m very interested to ask her In fact, maybe we’ll have her on the podcast. I’m very interested to ask her like, how much time and energy Do you guys put on actually helping be a sales channel partner to your vendors or to your members, or to your sponsors in whichever direction that goes because I think it can go in any direction. point being is they take a cut. So they they have a vested interest in managing the feedback that they get from the people to curate that data, generate some leads, and then make sure they get passed out accordingly. Right. But no one in our industry does that.

Transcribed by otter.ai with additional human and AI edits.

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