The Inside Track: 5 Tips for Trying Event Tech Before You Buy It
Now more than ever, event professionals have a vast ecosystem of tech solutions at their disposal. And while this is a good thing (i.e., there are an array of tools that can help increase attendee engagement and planner productivity), it can also be a real head-scratcher (i.e., how do you make the best choice when each tool comes with its own set of pros and cons?).
That’s why savvy event pros and marketers look for ways to try before they buy. They know that test driving an event tech platform allows you to ensure the solution fits your distinct needs — from a user-friendly experience to personalized branding options — before fully committing.
Below, I’ve listed five ways to give event tech solutions a whirl, risk free. While this list won’t be a shocker for those of you who have been in the business for more than a hot minute, I’m also adding behind-the-scenes advice. Look to the “Pro tips” for the inside track from a seasoned event tech sales professional on how to get the most from your trial experience.
1. Look for a free trial; test with your own data set
In today’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)-based marketplace, signing up for a free trial is one of the most well-known ways to examine technology. Unfortunately, event tech often presents a bit of a free-trial challenge: How exactly do you test a tool’s functionality without actually using it for a real event?
That’s why it’s essential to look for vendors who are putting the humanity back into event tech by offering a free “builder” version of their platform. Doing so allows you to access the admin portion of the technology and create, preview and test the system’s major components. Combine that with access to live examples of how other events are leveraging the technology, and you’ll have accurate insights into whether the tool is a good fit.
Pro tip: First of all, make sure that you can test a tool with your very own data. Whether this is via a Proof of Concept (POC) with the vendor or being able to import your data right into the actual trial environment, doing so allows you to tell if the solution is a product fit for your organization.
Another housekeeping note? Be wary of free trials that require a credit card. Surprise charges can appear if you aren’t clear about the terms, and any vendor worth their salt won’t hold your financial information hostage while you’re evaluating the solution.
2. Schedule a live demo; expect a personalized consultation
The second most common way to kick some event-tech tires is to sign up for a live demo. While some people dread what they fear will be a high-pressure sales spiel, there’s no better method of diving into the deep end of a product than a one-to-one consultation with an expert. To gain the most value from your demo experience, make sure to provide the rep with a clear set of requirements, expectations and time constraints before your scheduled appointment. Then follow up your live demo with a free trial so you can evaluate the product’s fit through the lens of both knowledge and experience.
Pro tip: Your account executive should be able to show you how other companies in your industry or with similar business challenges are getting value from the platform — not just sleep-walk you through a scripted conversation. Live demos should never feel like cookie-cutter experiences. If the agenda hasn’t been personalized to meet the unique needs of your organization/event or feels too much like a hard sales pitch, it’s time to hit the reset button.
3. View video tutorials; look for self-service support resources
A video tutorial is created by product experts to serve as a helpful “how-to” guide for the product. It’s not always going to show the full breadth of the solution in a single video, but should provide insights as to ease of use, functionality and specific use cases.
Pro tip: Many vendors will aggressively oversell, then go dark when you need support after signing the contract. Checking out a provider’s resource library is a great way to see if they’re giving you all the tools you need for self-sufficient success when it’s warranted. In addition, don’t forget to read the fine print in your sales contract to suss out all the support channels that are included as part of your agreement. Doing your due diligence and demanding vendor transparency will help you avoid frustration (and extra charges) down the line.
4. Stop by the Help Center; watch out for gated support
An event tech vendor’s Help Center, sometimes also referred to as a Knowledge Base, is often a great place to evaluate their product and the level of support they offer clients. These online articles and videos are a source for expert tips, step-by-step instructions and detailed use cases. They’re especially helpful when left open to the public (allowing you to self-service your own questions during your free trial).
Pro tip: Some technology vendors gate their Help Centers so only paid accounts can access them. If given a choice, look for providers who don’t. After all, locking down Help Center articles to only the contract holder means your sponsors, speakers and attendees won’t have access to this info if they need support to interact with the platform. This kind of nickel-and-diming results in one thing: More work for event organizers.
5. Check out user reviews and videos; take note of their recency
Expert users will often give their two-cents worth via online reviews, with some even creating their own product videos as a way of sharing observations. While these materials don’t always show the full breadth of a solution, they usually provide objective insights on the user experience and features.
Pro tip: Be aware that these reviews can quickly become dated as event tech vendors release new features and functionality. Always check the date of the publication and question the vendor if product capabilities seem unclear.