The final round of product sessions at the Sage Inspire Tour stop at the Charlotte Convention Center was over, and I returned to the main hall for the closing general session. The room was filling up again, but the table where I sat for lunch was still available. After a quick pit stop to speak with fellow Sage partner Dene Powell from Accupointe, I made my way back to that table.
Almost as if I had just gotten up from eating three hours earlier, two of our Sage Construction and Real Estate customers were in the same chairs they sat in during lunch at that same table. I had just met them for the first time earlier in the day, and we had a really good time chatting and getting to know each other. After we exchanged greetings, the next thing out of my mouth was, “How were your afternoon sessions?”
They were all right, was the consensus. There was a bit of repeat of material from the earlier sessions, they said, but they weren’t that bad. This was surprising, because the session I attended with them that morning was pretty good. Vic Turner from Sage discussed “How to protect yourself against non-compliant vendors and subcontractors,” and the different ways Sage 300 Construction and Real Estate and Sage 100 Contractor had built-in methods of assuring compliance.
There were quite a few “ahhhh” moments from the audience, and the discussion in the room between customers was lively and informative.
I was a bit disappointed because I was hoping they were going to tell me the Sage Construction and Real Estate product strategy session that they attended was as amazing as the Sage 500 ERP product strategy session I attended with six of our customers. “You wouldn’t believe the session I just attended,” I began. It didn’t matter that they didn’t know an ERP system from a hole in the ground. I knew they would appreciate learning about a well-run conference session.
Why the Sage 500 ERP session was so good
When Senior Product Manager Linda Cade speaks about Sage 500 ERP, it’s as if she’s talking about her best friend. She knows Sage 500 ERP so well, she could probably finish its sentences if it could talk. She’s also been around the block a few times when it comes to leading a conference session, so she knows what works and what doesn’t.
For her Sage 500 ERP product strategy session, she decided to ditch the stereotypical PowerPoint presentation (you know — the ones that have 10 pages of bullet points that the presenter reads verbatim) and told the customers in the audience she was going to ask them how they used Sage 500 ERP in their companies, and what tips and tricks she could give based on what they said.
This was an amazing stroke of brilliance on Linda’s part. Immediately, people sat a bit more upright in their chairs and a murmur of interest sounded through the room. After quickly presenting an imaginary company and how the people in said company use Sage 500 ERP, the audience participated in an activity in Linda’s handout that matched the business process with the employee.
Then it was on: That exercise alone started customers talking about how they used Sage 500 ERP and how the examples in the exercise related to them. That lead into people asking questions about other processes and upgrades. This spawned interaction between the attendees, giving advice about how they use Sage 500 ERP.
All of a sudden, 45 minutes were up. This may have been the first time I’ve ever attended a conference session that people weren’t racing for the door as soon as it was over. People lingered and chatted with each other. Others were lining up to speak with Linda. They weren’t just talking about the content. They were talking about how great the session format was.
Interaction is the key
This session reminded me so much of our Tuesdays with Practical user group series. We’ve always said to our customers that networking with other manufacturers and distributors — no matter what item you’re producing or distributing — can provide an enormous benefit. If you just look at our customers who attended that session alone, we had two of our growers (one a young plant grower and the other a finished grower), a company that manufactures drapery products, and a company that produces slip-form concrete paving equipment. And if they weren’t answering questions posed by other attendees, they were participating by asking questions.
I managed to catch up with a couple of customers who attended that session after the Inspire Tour stop ended, and they agreed that it was one the best sessions they’ve ever attended. The next day, when Linda made a stop to tour Metrolina Greenhouses, Larry Hill had a chance to tell her in person how much benefit he received from her session. This opened the conversation for Larry to give even more suggestions for future sessions at Sage Summit, like having industry-specific discussions (like horticulture or live goods).
I also had a chance to sit down with Linda a couple of times after that session. She said that was the type of session that she would love to give over and over again. She can learn so much about which direction they should be moving Sage 500 ERP by listening to how their customers use the product and find out what could be done to improve the product.
So the plea from the Sage Inspire Tour stop in Charlotte to Sage Summit was this: We want more sessions that focus more on discussion, and less on PowerPoint slides. We want to be asked questions, not just given information. We want to be able to help each other, not just be part of the same audience. We want to help Sage learn how we use their products as much as Sage wants to help us use their software.
Will we see this at Sage Summit?
The good news is that the folks at Sage Summit may have gotten wind of this already. A couple of weeks ago when I spoke with Danielle Cote, the vice president of event marketing for Sage, she gave me a heads-up of some of the way sessions were changing for the better. And I’m hopeful the people who praised Linda’s session will be pleased. I’ll be writing more about that later, but it goes to what I’ve said multiple times in the past: If enough people give feedback and suggestions to Sage, they will listen and change.