Organizing a Great Customer Summit: 5 More Lessons from Socrata

Tips for Hosting a Customer Summit | OpenView Blog

Companies taking on the bold mission of creating a new category or operating in new, emerging markets face significant challenges, not the least of which being the need to educate, energize, and rally customers around a compelling vision. Customer summits are quickly becoming a popular format for pioneering companies to stake themselves as true market leaders, going beyond the typical conference to infuse energy and raise awareness around an entire market.

Cloud-based software company Socrata is an example of a business taking particular advantage. I previously wrote about five things that worked really well for their own Customer Summit. In this post, I want to share five more tips that companies can learn from the Socrata team to make their own customer summits a success.

5 More Lessons in Hosting a Customer Summit

1) Location, Location, Location (Yes, it Matters)

The success of any customer event is dependent on location and venue. While it is common for tech companies to host their customer conferences at or near their offices, Seattle-based Socrata made the decision to locate theirs in Washington D.C., thousands of miles from its headquarters. The reason? The company’s customers are public sector organizations, and Washington D.C. was more accessible to many customers in the Federal Agencies.

The Summit was held in the arts performance space “Artisphere,” which was very convenient to get to, located in the heart of Rosslyn, Arlington, just about a 10-minute drive from Ronald Reagan National Airport. The venue, itself, was also ideal for the event — it was spacious enough to accomodate the attendees without being too massive and corporate-looking to give the feeling attendees were at an impersonal convention. Moreover, what can beat attending keynote speeches in an IMAX-like domed theater with great sound and visuals!

2) Running a Smooth Operation Takes Planning & Coordination

All of Socrata’s efforts in assembling a great group of attendees and creating a great agenda would not have been sufficient if the event itself had been marred by hiccups and logistical issues. Yet, thanks to proper planning and coordination, Socrata’s 3-day event was run as smoothly as could be, without a single noticeable hiccup. That alone was a great achievement, given the packed schedule and the numerous breakout sessions that were all going on at the same time. But what is truly amazing is that the core event team was made up of just three people, headed by the indefatigable Amy Winner. Of course, they were also able to count on significant contributions from many other Socrata employees throughout the event, but that is also a testament to how well the event was coordinated and how smoothly the logistical details were handled.

3) A Diverse Agenda is a Good Agenda

Another factor contributing to the palpable level of engagement and enthusiasm I saw throughout the conference was the diverse presentation styles and formats. There were very polished presentations delivered by speakers who enthralled the audience, but there are also humorous presentations that kept the audience glued to their seats with good-natured laughter. There were interactive sessions full of lively Q&A, and there were also conceptual, aspirational TEDTalk-style presentations that got everyone talking afterwards.

Some of the best interactions were on stage, such as CEO Kevin Merritt’s closing remarks and the unveiling of the first “One Month to Make an Open Data Difference” project to be headed up by Marcus Louie. Both were more spontaneous and unscripted, and — perhaps as a result — they were two of the highlights of the summit.

4) Don’t Forget to Have Fun!

The agenda was packed with informative sessions, but it also wasn’t solely about buttoned-down business issues or high-powered networking. The Socrata team added many light-hearted touches to the event such as the tongue-in-cheek “Speed Data” lightning talks during the reception dinner, the Lego blocks Socrata provided for customers to write their feedback and questions on, and the on-going Twitter hashtag conversations that were going on throughout the event.

5) Don’t Underestimate the Power of a Unifying Theme

What made the Socrata Customer Summit especially great — even for a non-customer like myself — was that the aspirational theme underlying the entire event. There was a clear, unifying sense of purpose that brought all the customers, industry experts, services providers, and company employees together — that we were all there to play our part in making public institutions the most forward-looking, transparent, and agile organizations in the world.

That theme was integrated throughout all of the great topics around new exciting technologies, the presentations around Socrata’s ambitious new product roadmap, the impressive customer showcases, and the lively discussion panels, etc. It infused each of them with enthusiasm and a sense of purpose.

Congratulations to Socrata for hosting such a great event. For more tips on how you can host a successful customer summit, see my previous post here.

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