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Walking the tradeshow floor of the 125 or so exhibitors at the ASAE Technology Conference, I eavesdropped on the conversations of the association buyers and asked several of them, "What, specifically are you looking for?" Shopping for today's association-related technology tools is not exactly like walking into the Apple store asking for an iPad mini. In purchasing association management products and services, the pressure is on to make the right choice to achieve the desired results.
Many of the participants with whom I spoke told me they were there to network with their peers and explore what's new in technology. Some knew exactly what they wanted or needed while others had no idea. Exhibitors confirmed both kinds of shoppers visited their booths. In buying association-related technology the purchaser must realize one is entering into a new (long term) relationship with a (hopefully) technology expert.
As a behavioral and marketing psychologist, I applied the same principles of shopping to every exhibitor by visiting their websites. When most of us do our own personal online shopping, certain (emotional) behaviors kick in: We are impatient and immediately expect to find what we are seeking. If not, we move onto the next vendor. Technology is not cheap. An association is making a major investment in anticipation of long-term results from a relatively unfamiliar product or service and does not want to make a mistake. Shopping now becomes a time intensive process.
The bottom line
Of the 126 websites visited...
- 36 percent offered testimonials and/or a list of association-clients whom I could call for a reference.
- 31 percent had a demonstration available online or offered such a demo.
- 24 percent offered actual case studies giving me the opportunity to see if any were similar to the needs of our association.
- 9 percent had a webcast online or an offer to view an upcoming webinar.
- 21 percent sadly presented nothing to make me stay in their booths.
1. Recognize that shopping for technology is going to be a time-intensive process. Prepare to look at several, many, numerous (get the point?) vendors to make an intelligent decision. Plan on doing your homework and research. Engage in on-going discussions with potential vendors.
2. Ask yourself, your total staff, especially the people who will be using it, and, most importantly the vendor, the million dollar question: What do we really need? Warning: No two answers will be the same. It is not like asking, What color is an orange? You want to make the right decision rather than having buyer's remorse.
3. Determine if the tech or sales person really understands your objectives and needs. If in doubt, move on to the next vendor.
4. Create your own case studies: Ask your colleagues at other associations and even people you may not know to share their technology shopping successes and horror stories. Learn from their mistakes. Reach out via social media, networking, tradeshows, a telephone conversation, or even a face-to-face site visit (the road trip).
5. Never buy a yellow one. Just kidding. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. Happy shopping...and as Marcy Syms of Syms clothing chain would say, "An educated consumer is our best customer."
Jaffa writes “The Tradeshow Floor” for Association TRENDS, as well as other columns. He can be reached at email@example.com or 703-931-0040.