MassTLC Innovation unConference 2015: Sharing, Collaborating and Networking
Events, High Technology, Innovation Posted Oct 27, 2015 by Liza Vilnits
On October 23 I attended my first Innovation unConference (#unConf15), a MassTLC annual event that brings together people from all corners of the Massachusetts tech community to create their own agenda for the day with idea-sharing, collaboration and networking. That said, with no specific sessions on the agenda, I certainly didn’t know what to expect of the day.
The “unAgenda” set time aside for a brief overview of the event, speed networking, and a 90-minute breakout session to kick the day off. UnConference tracks included: CEOs, Technology/Development, Product Management, Customer Success, Marketing, and Sales, a nice breakdown and mix of interesting topics that apply to all levels of professionals within various markets. I’m far from having a CEO title, so the tracks that sparked my curiosity most were Marketing and Customer Success. As a PR professional, one of the most important things in helping us successfully pitch and understand our clients is to have a clear picture of where and how they win with their customers. What makes them stand out against their competitors; what does the customer need and how is the product or service helping them fulfill that need; why are those customers loyal to your brand? That said, the Customer Success session is where I ended up!
In an open discussion facilitated by four moderators from various Boston-based tech companies, participants were able to speak up about their most burning questions in regard to customer success. Questions came from startup owners, customer advisory board members, marketers, and more. After identifying 13 discussion points, we voted, narrowed it down to the top three and broke up into small groups to discuss.
Discussing how to “Make Customer Feedback Actionable” was particularly thought-provoking. Some questions to get the gears turning: what’s in it for the customer; how do you build a relationship and timeline; how do you get your co-workers to take ownership over their customer-feedback projects? While some large companies have customer advisory boards, small startups may only have a two or three-person team with hardly any bandwidth for customer follow-up and engagement. That said, no matter the size of the company, it’s important to identify the problems your customers are having and why they’re choosing your solution. Sharing the competitive landscape with your customers can also be enlightening; by having them compare specific areas of your business/product in relation to your competitors, it helps identify areas of improvement and tests if your interpretation of the market is in line with theirs. While valuing both the product and company vision, keeping a continued conversation going with your customers is essential, and if you’re having a tough time keeping the customers engaged, there’s always value in bringing together individuals from non-competitive fields to share ideas and give advice.
My second break-out session about “Nurturing Client Relationships” served as a perfect follow-up to the first. Some key take-a-ways: listening is key; use customer success references to help you set the scene for the outcome; walking in the shoes of the customer is extremely valuable; be honest about your inabilities and understanding where you can and can’t help (honesty builds a lot of trust) – if you can’t help, point them in the direction of someone who can; break through the “that’s not how we do it here” culture.
Once our time was up, the new connections and ideas from the morning were translated into pitches during the agenda creation session. Facilitated by Jay Batson, an unconference co-chair and founder of Acquia, individuals including Bobbie Carlton, the Founder of Innovation Women, and Karen Spilka, Massachusetts State Senator, approached the mic to pitch their ideas for sessions. Chosen sessions included topics surrounding tech policy, startup funding, women in tech, ask a VC, B2B sales, security vs. convenience—shouldn’t be a trade-off, developing patents, and a whole bunch more.
As an event that turns the mic to the attendees to set the stage for the conversation, it’s a conference that people value, year after year. What I love about the premise of unconference is that it sets a collaborative environment that allows people to give help as well as get help. It brings together entrepreneurs, policy makers and those just looking to learn – between tech segments, between industries, and between geographies – facilitating connections that otherwise might not happen, an idea and practice that CHEN is honored to be a part of.