It didn’t take long for us to get feedback from our customers about Sage Summit 2014 and the revamped website. Of course, you should probably take into account that I sent an e-mail the morning registration opened to two of our customers asking them to let me know what they thought.
Sage Summit had been a good topic of conversation the previous day during Tuesdays with Practical, our monthly user group meeting. Practical Software Solutions had 23 customers sign up during the early sign-ups and we’re bringing eight of our staff, too, so I was excited to let our people know that they could start registering. But there was one thing that caused me concern: Larry Hill from Metrolina Greenhouses mentioned that their CFO had reservations about them attending Sage Summit this year because it’s going to be in Las Vegas.
We’ve known for a while that there would be some companies that may feel this way, despite the fact that double the number of people signed up for Sage Summit during the early period than registered for all of last year. But Metrolina is our closest (both in proximity and in development) customer company on our ERP side — a company that attended Summit nearly every year for the past eight years. This is a company that knows the value of Sage Summit, and if they’re worried about it being just a big ol’ party, then it’s something that we and Sage have to take seriously.
With this in mind, I sent an e-mail out to Monica Stancik of Nashville Wire Products and Jann Guthridge of Triangle Suspensions Systems as soon as I got a chance to look at the new Sage Summit website. Reaching out to them was the obvious choice. Between them, they had signed up nine people for Summit and are both seasoned veterans of the conference. But more importantly, I knew I could rely on them to tell me what they really thought.
Their reaction: Meh. Completely underwhelmed. Mix that with a bit of fear, and that’s what I got from them. Their biggest complaint was that the session catalog wasn’t published. The celebrity lineup and the list of session tracks wasn’t enough for them to be assured that the educational sessions they had come to rely on were still going to be there.
“My CFO is coming to this conference,” Monica said in an e-mail. “He is not a big proponent about conferences in general. So it will not lend itself well if this conference does not have enough educational material.”
Jann also added: “I know it’s an impressive list of speakers, so I agree that it could turn into a show atmosphere too easily. Hope not. I am like some of your users that go to really get some good training or insight into products I’m not using, like the conversion path for (Sage ERP) X3.”
The irony of that was while they were giving me an honest earful, my last blog post about how Summit was going to be better than ever started going Sage Viral. The Sage community was retweeting it all over the place.
Whether it was warranted or not, I felt like my butt was on the line. I had promised our customers that Sage Summit was going to be better than ever, but they would have the same ROI, despite the fact that would be in Sin City. I was passing on what Sage had told us partners, and I was sure that they wouldn’t go back on their word.
Armed with the comments from Jann, Monica, and Larry, I e-mailed Danielle Cote, Sage’s vice president of event marketing. I wasn’t sure what kind of answer I was going to get, especially since it was the day after launch day and I knew she’d be extremely busy. But this was something that she needed to know. If Jann and Monica were this concerned, what if there were others who weren’t speaking up? Knowing Danielle, though, I knew I would get a response when she was available.
To my great surprise, I received two responses 90 minutes later. The first one was Danielle replying to me briefly to say that they were hearing this from others, and that although they hadn’t set the schedule for the sessions, they may go ahead and publish the full list to “stop the nervousness.” She also copied several other big names on the Sage Summit team and made a point to make sure they saw my original e-mail.
After I sent back a note of thanks for taking their customers’ and partners’ concerns seriously, Danielle wrote back to say that the bottom line was they didn’t reduce any session content, but added more high-level business content in addition to the usual product-specific sessions. These were the answers Monica and Jann needed, and I let my fellow members of Team Squeaky Wheel know. Right away I received relieved responses back from them.
We’re all human. We all make mistakes, or errors in judgement. It probably made sense for the Sage Summit team not to publish the list of sessions because they hadn’t mapped out the schedule yet. But the ramifications of that decision didn’t appear until people started giving feedback.
When I was hired at Practical Software Solutions, I didn’t know much about ERP systems, construction and real estate software, or any of the Sage titles we can sell, implement or develop. But there was always one thing I could feel confident in telling our customers from Day One: Speak up. We’re not mind-readers, and neither are the people at Sage. If we don’t hear feedback — positive or negative — we won’t know what’s working and what needs to be changed, fixed, or dropped entirely.
That’s why it’s so very important for Sage customers to fill out comment forms any time Sage provides one. Take Sage Summit for example: There’s no longer an awards night or a celebrity keynote speaker because customers filled out comment forms saying they would rather have more networking time than having to sit through a motivational speech. Thus, Sage City was born. Then over the past two years, customers let Sage (and us) know that Sage City was good in theory, but it wasn’t helping them like they thought. Sage City is not on the agenda this year. To Sage’s credit, they don’t just collect feedback to track attendance data. They really seem to listen and act upon their feedback.
My only caveat would be to say there’s a right and a wrong way to give negative feedback. It can be wrapped in compliments or blunt as a dull ax, but as long as it’s constructive, the message will get across:
- Right way: “Sage Summit was great this year! I learned so much about Sage HRMS and the way the healthcare laws will affect our company. I just wish that Sage City didn’t have the long introduction so we could network more.”
- Right way: “We did not find any benefits with Sage City. This time would be better used by having more educational sessions, especially ones that are hands-on.”
- Wrong way: “Sage City wasn’t good.”
- Wrong way: “You #(*$& morons! Sage City is #($&*#! We’re not coming back to this #(*$& conference if you paid us!”
So take it from Team Squeaky Wheel: Keep the conversation going. Ask questions and give feedback. Your comments can make a better product for everyone.