Maximize Your Vendor Conference Experience: Page 2

Posted November 10, 2004

Eric Spiegel

Eric Spiegel

(Page 2 of 2)

Examine your prioritized list and settle on an overall goal that must be fulfilled at the conference. If the list is mainly targeted at overcoming difficulties with the vendor's products, then your overall goal should be to determine the stability of the product line. You may find out other peer customers are not having similar issues and you will have to reevaluate your own implementation. Or you may discover deeper product issues. Better to find out now rather than be blindsided later.

Based on these newly minted priorities, you can now begin piecing together a schedule.

General sessions are the bulk of the conference and are routinely divided into multiple tracks or themes. The tracks are meant to help you decide which sessions best match your interests. A systems administration track might have a session on configuring a wireless environment, whereas a technical management track would have a session on calculating total cost of ownership of a wireless implementation.

Technical workshops are becoming more common. This is your chance to participate in a training-like atmosphere where you can perform hands-on activities with existing or new products. Use this opportunity to obtain more detailed information about how to code and configure the product with regard to your organization's environment. Workshops can have multiple vendor engineers available to answer your questions (which you smartly wrote down prior to the conference). Dealing directly with the vendor experts beats calling their help desk and talking to a new employee who was just trained last week!

Understanding the Ecosystem

The exhibit hall is where vendor partners have paid for a booth to display their products. Think of the conference vendor as the whale shark and the partners as the tiny fish who feed off them. The tiny fish (partners) drive bigger fish (more business) to the whale shark (vendor). It is worthwhile for you to explore this ecosystem, usually during an opening-night session or during lunch. There are many ancillary products that enhance or fill gaps in a vendor's product features. You just may discover a partner product that resolves a problem from your prioritized list.

The potentially biggest benefit to be gained from a conference is networking. You are not doing yourself any favors if you do not interact with fellow attendees. These people are your peers who are most likely dealing with similar issues with the vendor's products. Make it a goal to return from the conference with at least three new contacts. These contacts will become alternative problem-solving resources as issues arise in the future.

Which leads me to the final-night party. This is meant to be a networking event. Sure you can blow off some steam and have a good time, but your primary focus should be to meet folks. Everyone there has some common experiences so conversations should not be hard to come by. Just lead with "What did you get out of this conference?" or "Wasn't the keynote great (or boring)?" If all else fails, try "Can I get you another drink?" After all, it is free, right?

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