How Thinking Backward Helps Events Leap Forward

boy-rock-leapingPost authored by Jeff Fugate, Senior VP, Sales & Marketing

Thinking “inside-out” is the most common way to think. Generally speaking, when we begin an event cycle, we start with what feels like the obvious questions:

  • What are our event goals and objectives?
  • What can we do with what we already have?
  • How can we improve our operations, processes and deliverables?
  • How can we stretch our budget further?

As each new cycle begins, event organizers often take an inside-out approach. Of course we do… it’s what we know and it’s how we were taught to think.

But the problem with inside-out thinking is that the most important component becomes an afterthought. Our customers’ needs are identified and addressed later in our thinking process. With inside-out thinking, we tend to design event guest experiences AFTER we’ve checked off all the internal boxes.

When we look at it through that lens, it seems really wrong, doesn’t it? But what if we started thinking OUTSIDE-IN, where our customers’ needs and their event experience is the first thing we think about? First, focus on understanding more clearly why they choose to attend our events. Then, draft a plan to meet their needs. If we do that, our first questions would look more like this:

  • What problems are they tackling and looking to solve?
  • What new opportunities would they like to seize?
  • How has this changed since our last event? How will it change in the future?

Time to Flip Your Thinking?
outside-in-modelThis outside-in approach is hardly new—it’s a mainstay in tech circles. User Experience (UX) designers begin with the end in mind and they’ll test assumptions thoroughly before they start mapping out a plan. They start with the WHAT and the WHY for their end user, because if they’re going to invest time to solve a problem, they want to make sure it’s the right one.

This same outside-in model can be applied to speed up and enhance conference and trade show improvement initiatives.

Strategy-from-Outside-In bookIn the book, Strategy from the Outside In: Profiting from Customer Value, two business school professors build a strong case for outside-in thinking and why it’s crucial to compete in today’s more customer-centric business environment. Here are a few comparisons that underscore the differences:

Inside-Out: We’ll sell to whoever will buy.
Outside-In: All decisions start with the market.

Inside-Out: Profits are gained through cost cutting and efficiency improvements.
Outside-In: Profits are gained through a superior value proposition, leveraging the brand and customer assets.

Inside-Out: Protect the cash flow stream.
Outside-In: No sacred cows – cannibalize yourself.

Inside-Out: How can we sell more? How can we gain more market share?
Outside-In: How can we deliver new value to our customers?

Inside-Out: What can the market do for us?
Outside-In: What can we do for the market?

You’ll notice a core premise running through the outside-in statements: How can we help our customers be more successful? Because when your customers win, the organizational wins follow… and multiply.

Many organizations have a mix of inside-out and outside-in thinkers. Still, inside-out tends to prevail, especially in a fragile economy where the future is less certain. The trouble is, for outside-in to work, you’ve got to be all in… top down, bottom up and everywhere in between.

Mastering the Leap from Inside-Out to Outside-In

This transition can’t be accomplished overnight, but through a series of steps, starting with your customer. The most successful outside-in organizations are laser focused on knowing and serving their customers better and they’re less inclined to rest on past successes.

Does that sound like your organization?

  • Are you regularly collecting customer insight to know what your customers want now and anticipate what they’ll need in the future?
  • Do you have a good handle on who your most loyal customers are and what’s driving their loyalty? Conversely, if a customer leaves, do you truly understand what prompted that decision?
    [This Seth Godin post explores why customers usually give fake reasons.]
  • Are you capturing and analyzing data on their interactions with you, especially behavioral data on what they do at your event?

Beyond the metrics, are you having regular conversations with your most important customers? Surveys can be helpful, but they’re hardly enough to learn what’s top of mind for your customers and how that’s changing.

By now, some of you may be thinking, “But we ask our customers for their feedback and suggestions.” That reminds me of the classic quote from Henry Ford:

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses!” [/perfectpullquote]

What might hinder your efforts to champion outside-in thinking for your organization? Is there a smaller event where you might pilot this concept to gain the necessary support to go all in?

PS: If I’ve piqued your curiosity, let’s continue this conversation offline:


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