Learning from Each Other: The Benefits of User Groups
As budgets for travel and attending conferences and trade shows continue to be reduced or eliminated, there are more events, conferences and shows to choose from. There are the large trade shows like PRINTING United, National Postal Forum, and drupa. A growing number of equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and major software companies sponsor user group conferences for learning and networking. There are many benefits in attending a smaller user group conference with a specific focus. Attendees will have the opportunity to network with colleagues using or considering acquiring the same technologies to enhance their business. User group conferences have a different vibe than large trade shows. Most attendees go with the mindset of sharing knowledge and intending to learn and take away new ideas.
I recently attended the Ricoh Interact and Canon thINK Ahead user group conferences. Both were well attended with 200-600 attendees, along with numerous partners showing their complementary products and services. A user group conference provides an exclusive gathering of customers and prospects in a smaller group and the opportunity for real-world learning. Attendees learn from colleagues and form relationships and partnerships while building a community beyond the event.
Access to senior leadership
The opportunity to deepen relationships with their vendor partners, including senior management and subject matter experts, is a distinct benefit of attending user conferences. Attendees have the advantage to meet one-on-one or in small groups with senior and executive leaders from the OEM or software provider. Often the senior leaders will provide an overview of strategic direction, a research and development roadmap, and information about new products in the pipeline. Access to subject matter experts who can’t visit every customer provides attendees with insight and knowledge that is the culmination of years of experience in a variety of print production environments.
A user group community often has a mix of early adopters and people considering new technologies. Many of the presentations and workshops are organized around best practices, new ideas and improvements. The OEMs and software companies have created an environment of collaboration and learning that provides real-world examples of successes, mistakes to learn from, and best practices in adopting new technologies and strategies for growth.
Dig deep on workflow
With a gathering of companies using similar technology, there were many examples of deep dive learning on workflow, change management and new applications. The ability to ask questions and get context at a deeper level enables attendees to take back nuggets of real learning they can apply in their organizations.
Strong partnerships are the foundation for successful growing companies. The user group conferences are sponsored by partners, which enable attendees to see and understand complementary, products, services, and solutions for their operations. Inkjet enhancements continue to drive new niche applications. User group attendees get firsthand knowledge from partners who enable sophisticated solutions. The partners provide significant funding for user group conferences and attendees can leverage the event to engage with partners to find new solutions for their environments.
The sense of community and commitment to partner and collaborate among attendees serving the same types of customers brought a level of connections and friendships beyond business. Through networking I saw people forge new connections and a commitment to the industry and a commitment to sharing for the benefit of others.
Make the case to attend relevant user group conferences. The investment of time to attend provides an abundant opportunity for learning and actionable information to support new ideas for your company.
Input for this piece was provided by Mark M. Fallon, president and CEO, The Berkshire Company:
Mark M. Fallon is president and CEO of The Berkshire Company, a consulting firm specializing in mail and document processing strategies. The company develops customized solutions integrating proven management concepts with emerging technologies to achieve total process management. He offers a vision of the document that integrates technology, data quality, process integrity, and electronic delivery. His successes are based upon using leadership to implement innovative solutions in the document process. You can contact Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lois Ritarossi is the President of High Rock Strategies, a consulting firm focused on sales and marketing strategies, and business growth for firms in the print, mail and communication sectors. Lois brings her clients a cross functional skill set and strategic thinking with disciplines in business strategy, sales process, sales training, marketing, software implementation, inkjet transformation and workflow optimization. Lois has enabled clients to successfully launch new products and services with integrated sales and marketing strategies, and enabled sales teams to effectively win new business. You can reach Lois at email@example.com.