Sage Summit attendees told conference organizers they wanted more ways to connect — and not just more opportunities to network in the same old fashion. Convene was there this year for the debut of ‘Sage City.’
n July 2011, as Sage Summit — a customer-and-partner conference hosted annually by the global busi-
ness software company Sage North America — was winding down, Danielle Cote, Sage’s vice president for event marketing, was feeling pretty good. She and her team, Cote said in a recent interview, had produced what she considered to be their finest confer- ence ever. For the first time, organizers had
embedded RFID chips in conference badges — the chips were activated by readers as attendees moved in and out of meeting rooms, and collected data about who attended what sessions and how long they stayed. And once the RFID results were delivered to Cote, her satisfaction with the conference evaporated. The data, she said, was
“gut-wrenching.” For example, while the opening
keynote visually had looked as if it had played to a full room, Cote said, the RFID data revealed that “the people that we wanted to be in the room weren’t there.” In fact, only about 30 percent of conference participants had attended the session. “We were spending an exorbitant
amount on keynotes, and only a third of our audience was there to hear it,” Cote said. The obvious question was, “Why are we spending all of the money if people aren’t listening to our messages, and we aren’t building a community?” For Cote, as team leader, it repre-
sented both a personal and a profes- sional crossroads. There was a real question whether Sage Summit would survive. If it did, it would have to be completely reinvented. “I thought, wow,
38 PCMA CONVENE OCTOBER 2012
Multitasker Sarah Michel was a keynote speaker and emcee at Sage City and also led the training of nearly 500 facilitators for small-group discussions.
things have got to change,” Cote said.
“It was either find a new path, or the company would find one for me.”
MAKING THE CONNECTION Cote’s first move was to dig into feed- back from Sage Summit participants. She had consistently heard from mem- bers of a customer advisory board that attendees wanted more networking
— but in her view, the meeting already offered many opportunities. Special- interest badge ribbons and “Birds of a Feather” luncheons, along with meet- and-greets and receptions, brought like-minded attendees together, Cote reminded the advisory board. “They told me that wasn’t enough,” Cote said,
“but they couldn’t articulate exactly what they wanted.” Just as Cote was wrestling with how to redesign Sage Summit, she happened
to attend a meetings-industry–related conference. It would be an opportunity, she thought, to connect with event planners who faced similar problems — new contacts who might help her figure out her own dilemma. But although the conference’s organizers did many of the same things Cote had done to facilitate networking at Sage Summit, none of them really worked well. “Just put- ting us together assumes that you will connect, but it wasn’t enough for me, either,” Cote said. “I wanted some way to deal with my exact challenges.” Something clicked for Cote. “I real-
ized that this was exactly what our cus- tomers were struggling with,” she said.
“They wanted to connect not only by [software] products and industry, but by specific challenges and resolutions.” At that point, she didn’t really have a strategy about how she could make that