SCT Global Energy's recent Global Paragon Award win was far from an accident. Its planning began six years ago, when Laura Taylor Goodrich, CMM, manager of client programs, attended her first MPI (Meeting Professionals International) conference.
“It was held in Baltimore,” recalls Goodrich. “MPI's Global Paragon Award was presented to that year's winners, and I said to myself, ‘Someday, I want SCT to win that award. The team that puts our conference together is just phenomenal, and I know we can do it.’”
SCT Global Energy, Utilities and Communications (www.stccorp.com/utilities.htm) is a Columbia, S.C.-based software maker that provides service solutions to manufacturing and other industries. The company's sales in 2000 reached $90 million. And SCT's Paragon-winning meeting was its 22nd annual users conference, the SCT Summit, with the theme “The Next Step.” Held at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers from April 1 through April 5, 2000, it attracted 415 people, including SCT employees and vendors, to 98 education sessions.
What made it any different from the 21 previous user conferences the company had held — and what made it a meeting industry award winner?
“We went that extra mile with this one,” says Goodrich, “The company focused on special details, such as better measurements to track the.”
How It Worked
SCT started out by setting a number of goals for the meeting, but its most important aim was to increase communication. The company knew that making industry contacts was top priority for customers. “One of our clients told us, ‘We come to Summit because 60 percent of it is networking, and 40 percent of it is education,’” says Goodrich.
To accomplish this, SCT built manyevents and networking opportunities into the schedule. One stellar venue for sharing information was a session called “Ask the President,” at which clients were able to ask SCT's president any question, which was a daring proposition. “Sometimes the questions were very pointed,” admits Goodrich, “but they really opened up communication. I think that's why our customers are so loyal to us — because of the honesty and integrity that we've built with them.”
SCT also created the Showcase Room, which became the networking hub and served as the setting for breakfast and breaks. Around the room's perimeter, SCT and its vendors set up booths offering services and product solutions. Café tables and food stations were clustered in the center. “Showcase became the hot spot,” says Goodrich. “To encourage traffic, we had bingo cards to ensure that people visited the booths. Plus, we raffled off all kinds of fabulous prizes and had vendor-sponsored giveaways.”
Another meeting goal was to educate SCT's customers about its new products and services. Who better to lead some of these how-to sessions than SCT employees? Other sessions focused on the bigger picture, such as an industry focus on the “Big Five in the Utility Industry,” which discussed SCT's partnership with the five major consulting firms, and a session on the state of deregulation in Europe.
Other how-to's were led by some of SCT's clients. “We also wanted customers' input on the product needs of utilities 10 years down the road,” explains Goodrich. “And we took responsibility for reporting back to clients at next year's Summit about what we're doing with their ideas.”
Summit 2001 was a model for its use of technology. As just one example, 90 percent of the meeting's registration occurred on the Web. “Also, 100 percent of our PCs operated in a Windows environment at this conference, as opposed to being networked,” notes Goodrich. “By running in an NT environment, our setup time decreased by a day.” Then there were the three Web-enabled message boards — two at Showcase and another at registration.
The organizers were scrupulous in their ROI follow-up. “At our client account management booth, we took a survey of what products and services clients were interested in for the next 12 to 18 months,” recalls Goodrich. “After the conference, we sent that data to our salespeople for sales contacts. At nine months, we measured the ROI, and it was $3.9 million. That means we made $3.9 million from customers who learned about our products and services at Summit and then purchased something within nine months.”
Beyond the formal sessions, SCT used social events to bring people together. After the opening general session on Sunday evening, participants gathered for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. On Monday night, the festivities took on a more formal atmosphere.
“We took attendees on a dinner cruise, for a black-tie event called ‘Celebrate 2000,’” recalls Goodrich. “Many of them [attendees] wound up working on New Year's Eve, so we gave them another chance to celebrate. We had a full-blown dinner and a fabulous band, and they were all screaming for more.”
On its attendee evaluations, SCT received its highest scores for total satisfaction. In the outstanding category, its overall rating was 36.92 percent, which was up significantly from 30 percent the previous year. The overall value of topics was 23.43 percent, up dramatically from 14 percent in 1999. The conference was so successful, Goodrich believes, because SCT delivered more than its customers expected.
In the end, the meeting was as exciting for those who put it together as it was for those who participated. “The high that employees walked out with last year can't be compared to anything else we've experienced,” she says. “I had team members call me at home because they missed fellow attendees. People went through a mourning stage because it was over. And I did too.”
Margery Stein is a freelance writer living in New York City. She is a frequent contributor to CMI.