Conference Confidential – Networking, Information Sessions, and Conversations

Before webinars, podcasts and YouTube, in order to stay up to date in your profession you had to meet with actual people in an actual room at a conference or networking event. Crazy, right? You’re probably reaching for your hand sanitizer just thinking about all that human contact to avoid.

But even in 2018, trade shows and conferences are an important channel for many B2B vendors. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Marketing Profs, 75% of their respondents said they saw a positive future for trade show marketing.

I’ve just returned from the annual SLA Conference held in Baltimore this year. The conference was focused on information and knowledge management. As you can see from the picture of my name badge I’ve been pretty actively involved in SLA for some time now.

Why do I keep going year after year? In a word, (if you let acronyms slide by as a word), it’s because of FOMO (fear of missing out). I want to know what the current technologies are and learn strategies from my colleagues for becoming even more effective and insightful for my clients.

The key benefits of attending the conference this year were:

  • Conversations with exhibitors in the Info-Expo who were showing off their new products and services. I like hearing about new trends, what’s hot, what’s selling, and what customers are asking for. The vendors are usually very good about sharing.
  • Information sessions and panel discussions about business tactics and new strategies. Being a sole proprietor means you have to keep a lot of plates spinning – marketing, promotion, process improvements, new customer acquisition, and current customer maintenance. Its very beneficial to hear about how my colleagues have solved similar problems.
  • Networking events were particularly fun this year. I rotated from swinging a ping-pong paddle, to a Fellows gathering, and mentoring a new member. I’ve learned just as much about the industry from a casual conversations as in formal sessions.

Session Insight

One session I found interesting discussed a formula for creating more effective research queries for the health care industry. The heath care industry uses evidence-based research to guide diagnosis and treatment protocols. PICO is a template for preparing better queries of the evidence-based research databases. PICO stands for:

  • Population:     What is the population that the query relates to?
  • Intervention:  What intervention is being investigated or questioned?
  • Comparison:   What therapies are being compared?
  • Outcome:         What outcome is being investigated?

I think this the formula will be very useful for bringing rigor to the reference interview process. For example, an information query might be: “Is bariatric surgery recommended for my type 2 diabetes?” Restating this query using the PICO formula, we have:

  • P    The population is obese patients with Type 2 diabetes
  • I     The intervention is whether to use bariatric surgery
  • C    The comparison is to see if surgery is more effective than the patient’s current treatment
  • O    The outcome to investigate is whether the treatment positively effects the patient’s diabetes symtoms

The formula brings clarity to the information research process, which should save time and money. A follow on benefits of PICO is that the formula can be applied to querying many types of information databases.

The conference provides a myriad of professional insights and updates making it a worthwhile investment every time.

 

 

 

Stay on the Main Road

The local Trappist Abbey near McMinnville, Oregon is a peaceful retreat for contemplation, surrounded by a beautiful forest and some great hiking trails. Even though the Abbey is nearby, I had not gone there before, so my husband and I set off to explore the woods at mid-day.

Wouldn’t you know it, we had not gone a mile into the woods before we got lost. We dug out the map and turned it upside down and sideways trying to find our way. Yes, we had a map and still got lost! We were on a tiny side trail. We could not find the main road!

All the trails seemed to lead up the mountain, where a shrine is situated overlooking a bucolic valley, so we wandered on.

We slogged upward, through the muck that was a stream running down the middle of the path.

We trekked through the thicket where poison oak was lurking.

Finally, after traipsing up what was essentially a Billy goat trail, we found a spot that matched the map. We were only a third of the distance to our destination, and we had wasted time and energy. It was January, so the sunlight would not last long.

Do you remember in the movie The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy is advised to “follow the yellow brick road?” Or do you remember in The Hobbit when Frodo Baggins wanders off the main trail and is captured by giant spiders? In folklore, we are frequently admonished by the sages to “stay on the main path.” Why stay on the main road, though? Isn’t all the adventure in blazing your own path and being an iconoclast?

Of course, there is a business metaphor here. In the business world we frequently hear about the merits of blazing your own path—and I believe that advice is sound, because mistakes and mishaps help build business savvy.  To do something great and truly break through may require you to chart your own course.

But it’s useful to reflect on when you want to blaze you own trail and when you want to follow a proven path. Here’s my advice: When you want to differentiate your services and products from the competition, blaze. But in areas—such which office tools you use—that are not as critical, visible or of high-value to your customers, follow the main road.

After this hiking adventure, I can confirm that by staying on the main road, you can:

  • Get to your destination sooner. Oh, sure, there are shortcuts to quick riches offered daily, but, at least in my experience, you really do have to put in the hard work and long hours in order to gain real insight.
  • Ask for and receive assistance. This is because there are others who are on the main road. It’s reassuring to see fellow hikers coming down the hill as you come up. They’ll tell you “Just a little farther,” or “It’s worth the effort,” and you’ll re-double your efforts.
  • Avoid unnecessary dangers, like poison oak and washouts. When you get off the main path, there are unknown dangers that can slow you down. We came across someone out letting their dogs romp off the leash, eager to jump up on us.
  • Have the safety of guardrails, traffic signs and exit ramps. When you leave the main trail, you may be confronted by a fork where there are two equally bad options. On the main trail, you have the peace of mind of knowing where you are going. You can focus on the beautiful scenery, instead of worrying about if this fading trail is going to end at a cliff.
  • Continually orient yourself to the map. When you leave the trail, you are making it up as you go. On the main road you know where you are and you have less stress.

It’s true that simply doing what everyone else does is not always the best course. A fresh perspective, a new approach, or an alternative viewpoint is often valuable. On this adventure we had an enhanced feeling of accomplishment when we found the shrine at the top and drank in the view, knowing that we’d done things a little differently. We certainly gave ourselves a bigger challenge. But I’m not sure you could argue that we added value, and that’s the question that sparked this post.

 

The Power of Loose Connections in Networking

Do you every think –“I’m really not crazy about going to that networking event. I don’t know any one and don’t need any more cheese in my heavily cheese-dibbled diet?” Me, too!

But, every once in a while, I’m reminded that social media shouldn’t be the end of my introverted networking adventures. I recently attended a great networking event in Portland specifically geared to the athletic and outdoor industry, and came away thinking just the opposite of my usual response. This time I thought, “I should do that more often.”

Here’s the set up.

Prosper Portland is a city-sponsored organization focused on building the Outdoor and Athletic industry in Portland. The Portland metro area already has many legendary brands such as Nike, Adidas, Columbia, and now Under Armour, which just opened their footwear headquarters here. Other well-known brands such as Keen and Nau started in Portland as well. Added to that energy are loads of new and growing startups and dreamers, sometimes comprised of veterans who left the bigger campuses and launched their own endeavors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check this cool interactive graphic for a snapshot of the A & O ecosystem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The group recently hosted a celebration that brought together a group of young entrepreneurs who pitched their product, seeking funding for their dreams. You had to admire their passion and enthusiasm. It easily rubbed off on the 300 or so attendees.

Even with my 16 years at Nike, I was unsure if I would run into anyone I knew. But I was pleasantly surprised to see several familiar faces, and I ended up having a great time. I heard encouraging news from a couple of contacts about interesting work they are doing.

Loose connections in your network are the people that you know, but that you don’t necessarily deal with frequently. You probably have more people who are loose connections than tight connections. Hopefully, they have a positive impression of you and your work. These are the people that you worked with x-number of years ago or that you know from a professional association that you participate in. Loose connections are a great way of finding out about new projects, sharing job leads, and gaining insights you can only get from the inside.

For me, the Prosper A&O event turned out to be a great way to touch base with a few people I have loose connections with. All in all, it was a great chance to reconnect with people and forge some new friendships. Don’t discount the impact of loose networks! You can be a great resource for them and get up to speed on new activities in your industry.

“Gorge–ous” data analysis

Recently on a nature hike, I had an epiphany about data analysis while photographing the scenery. It occurred to me that there were metaphors galore out there that relate to data analysis. Searching for just the right picture in the natural world is very similar to telling our clients just the right story with their data.

Catherine Creek is a state park on the Washington State side of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. It’s well-known for its wonderful array of wildflowers in the spring, and the hiking trails are interesting without being exhausting. I highly recommend going there in the spring or even in the fall. But be forewarned, you won’t find large breath-taking flowers like you would at nursery or garden shop. Instead there is a vast ecosystem of very tiny flowers. To see them you have to look close—really close. You have to get down on your hands and knees in some places, and really zoom in. But if you just zoom in all the time, you miss the stunning vistas. So you have to have a balance. That’s when I realized the similarities between nature appreciation and data analysis.

Catherine Creek

FIRST: DON’T MISS THE BIG PICTURE
At Catherine Creek, if you look up from the meadows, you see the river below. It’s quite inspiring! This is the Columbia River National Scenic Gorge, after all, carved in part by historic Ice Age floods, and visited two centuries ago by Lewis & Clark. So this was my first lesson – don’t just zoom in and miss the big picture. The client company is counting on the research consultant to get into the details and slice and dice the data, with graphs, call-outs and highlights. But don’t start with the debris underfoot—zoom out to see the effort and impact of the whole organization. I’ve worked with many organizations whose impact I admire, even when they are having problems. They’re pretty smart to try to diagnosis the problem and make tough decisions.

straw

SECOND: EXAMINE THE SMALL DETAILS
While examining the low scrub at Catherine Creek, you’ll see a multitude of tiny flowers, patterned rocks, vivid moss and gnarled trees. On one trip we only hiked about 100 yards from the parking lot in the first 20 minutes. We were so caught up in the details of the tiny vegetation that we didn’t log a lot of steps. This gave me a new perspective on data analysis. Those small details are an essential element of the bigger story. For example, a first-person narrative, which has been collected directly from your client’s front lines, provides specific details that anchor the analysis and can be quite profound.

THIRmullinD: PATTERNS REINFORCE THE MAIN NARRATIVE
Once you see the details, you can re-focus slightly in order to see the patterns and connections that the details merge into. Those patterns provide examples you might use. Is this pattern representative of the whole picture? Can this information be extrapolated to complete the puzzle? In what way are the parts interdependent?

 

 

footprintFOURTH: LET THE DATA TALK
As in data analysis, an important picture or story can be ruined by your own impressions—in the case of nature photography, a simple boot print or paw print can wreck a shot. You need to get out of the way and let the data tell the story. That’s why in
win/loss analysis we recommend working with an unbiased outside consultant who can be a dispassionate observer. In one-on-one interviews with a third party, clients do not feel pressured to temper their remarks based on their business relationship with you. Their voice is heard and noted. No foot print.

 

pineconeFIFTH: ADJUST YOUR FOCUS
In photographing nature, sometimes you zoom in on a seed pod or a single leaf and blur the rest of the image. Other times, you zoom out and let the foreground get fuzzy in order to capture a far-off vista. That really resonates when we’re letting the data tell a story. In qualitative research, there are always contradictory stories. Your customers may complain about pricing, but what is it about your product or service where they feel the value is missing? The challenge is to do two things at once – to be immersed in the data AND see the whole story.

At Catherine Creek, I also tried to push myself to focus in on a single detail AND enjoy the grandeur all around me. It’s a tricky balance, but if you get it right it can really pay off. That’s when I realized the similarities between nature appreciation and data analysis.

 

Break Glass In Case of Emergency!

break-glass-1546171-639x618Many of my business relationships are built on long-term partnerships. They ebb and flow like the seasons, but they also endure through business cycles. Recently I got a note from a contact who told me she had saved one of my Linked In messages from a year and a half ago because she knew she’d need my win/loss analysis skills eventually. I liked that – she didn’t have budget in the current cycle, but she had a plan, and Romainiacs was in it.

She’d recently been promoted, and once the dust cleared and she got her arms around all the new challenges, she could plainly see that the path forward was going to require new customer feedback. Have you heard the saying: “In God we trust, all others must bring data?” Win/loss analysis will do just that, through one-on-one in-depth interviews with clients and prospects.

With business conditions changing constantly, it’s good to check in and get an up-to-date reading of your client’s issues—in their words. One of my favorite parts about conducting win/loss analysis for repeat customers is that you don’t just discover what’s happening with your customers at a particular point in time, you also gain insights into trends that play out over longer periods.

Whatever the case, how long has it been since you conducted a targeted exploration of your customers? How long has it been since you systematically examined, in a targeted way, what is causing you to lose accounts, or why you are able to hold on to clients for the long term? A periodic examination of what’s important to your clients is always enlightening. You don’t want to wait for a crisis, where you’re losing market share and need to move quickly. But rest assured that even if that’s the case, Romainiacs will be there to help.

Give Your Brain a Jolt

As an experienced information and market researcher I’m always on the lookout for new concepts that will help me keep pace with the quickly evolving marketing landscape. These are resources that I use to both inspire and inform Romainiacs’ efforts—because sometimes, as my mother-in-law says—you need “a jolt.”

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Barking Up the Wrong Tree: This site brings you science-based answers and expert insight on how to be awesome at life. I read the weekly blog posts from top to bottom. Sometimes I read it out loud and I frequently forward the email to others. Recent posts include these thought provoking topics:

  • How To Focus: 5 Research-Backed Secrets To Concentration
  • NYPD Hostage Negotiators On How To Persuade People: 4 New Secrets
  • A Navy SEAL Explains 8 Secrets To Grit And Resilience


Business Source: According to the research, people who read business books make more money — a lot more, and even in tough economic times. So, I’ve signed up for the premium version of Business Source, a business book summary site. Best of all, I can digest these summaries in on my phone, iPad, Kindle, or—well you get the idea—any device. For January’s installment, I watched an animated video on the book titled

  • The End of Jobs: Money, Meaning and Freedom without the 9-5.


Coursera: I just finished my first MOOC class and I can’t stop talking about it, as my colleagues will attest. I tried other open online courses before, but was disappointed. The class I just took was an Introduction to Marketing from the Wharton School of Business, which is the #1 business school in the world. The class was excellent because it was provocative, informative, and insightful. I’ve already signed up for another course. This one is on Design Thinking. If one of your New Year’s Resolutions is expand your knowledge base, you’ll want to sign up too. In an Information economy, we all have to be life-long learners and keep our skills sharp.


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Next Draft: Daniel Pink is one of my favorite authors, and he is a big fan of pushing yourself to keep current. He recently wrote that the NextDraft’s “Dave Pell scans what seems to be the entire Internet to find the most fascinating articles, which he then distills to a pithy, provocative, and punchline-packed read. I stop nearly every afternoon to give this newsletter a look.” I do, too—and I recommend that you add it your list of ‘can’t miss’ reads.

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