JetForm Corp.'s customer conference plays its part in the push to reinvent the document company as an e-company. "I feel like the planets are aligning for JetForm," says Andrew Jackson, senior vice president offor the Ottawa, Ontario-based company, and conference chair of JetForum '99, the company's third annual customer conference.
In his 10 years with the business documents company, Jackson has been responsible for key product development and strategic marketing initiatives. "At this third annual user meeting," he says, "the vibe we're getting from attendees, particularly from those who've attended in previous years, is that they are really seeing the company mature in its strategies. They tell us that the quality of this year's conference is a reflection of that evolution."
That vibe is no accident.
JetForm started life in 1982 as a maker of forms-printing software. As e-mail began to take off a decade ago, it evolved client-server documentation solutions. Now, with the boom of the Internet, the company has just reinvented itself again. In February, the company rolled out its strategy to help customers move their processes to the Web.
As JetForm's strategies have evolved, its biggest meeting of the year, JetForum '99, needed to reflect the new Internet focus. The company coined the meeting theme, e-venture, to represent a its shift into e-business. But the change could not be just symbolic. The meeting itself needed to be a concrete demonstration of the company's transition to the e-world.
"We knew that this was the opportunity," says Marketing Events Manager Sydney Sloan of the September meeting that would bring 500 JetForm customers from around the world to the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers. "We showcased our technologies with several first-time programs, including a pre-conference Web seminar, self-service information kiosks, and the use of our software to build a registration system and a survey form designed for personal digital assistants."
Sneak Preview If JetForm wanted its customers to think of it as an e-company, it knew it would have to be an e-company. So, eight weeks before the conference, it hosted an interactive Web seminar, or "Webinar" as they called it, to allow potential attendees to get a glimpse of the conference content.
Company salespeople e-mailed teasers to customers (including the promise of a drawing for free conference registration) and lined up 80 people for the 45-minute online show. Customers participated by going to a Web site and calling an 800 number. Using webcasting technology from Placeware, the show rolled by like a PowerPoint presentation, with the audio portion coming over the telephone line. Attendees could key in comments online (as in a chat room) or ask questions on the phone. Real-time polling provided immediate responses to surveys designed for yes or no answers. Sloan says, "We polled our users to ensure that our communication was on target, and it gave us a chance to revise conference content based on their input. Information collected from the polls resulted in scheduling changes. We cut some sessions we had planned as repeats, and we added sessions on products that had elicited substantial interest, as well as introducing pertinent keynote topics."
After the Webinar, 90 percent of the participants said they would register for the September conference in Chicago.
JetForm has been using Web seminars since early 1999, when it launched its Internet strategy, but never to promote a meeting. "This was the first confer- ence-related Webinar. We've used them internally and also for customer recruitment. We used to do road shows, going out for two weeks in North America and in Europe. Now we realize remarkable cost savings in keeping our customers updated via the Web."
JetForm is currently broadcasting post-conference Webinars of the meeting's most popular sessions for partners and internal clients who weren't able to be in Chicago. A customer Webinar is scheduled for mid-November, eight weeks after the event, to update attendees on promises made during the meeting and to unveil information about the November 2000 conference.
Enter and Sign In, Please JetForm made another tech-savvy first impression, by developing an online registration system on JetForm software. The 1998 meeting had had a conference registration site, but there was no e-commerce element (credit cards weren't accepted), and only about 10 percent of attendees used the site. Customers registered by telephone or fax.
The telephone registration option was still available this year, but the online system had improved, and perhaps attendees were just ready for it: After receiving e-mail encouraging them to register online, 50 percent of the 500 attendees used the system and the remainder registered via an 800 number.
When users began the online registration process, they were asked for their customer identification number. With that, the system automatically brought up the correct registration form (there were different forms for partners and customers) and automatically populated the registration fields with information previously collected by sales representatives. (The registration system was tied in to the customer relationship software pro- gram from Onxy of Seattle, Wash., used by the company's sales department.) Registrants simply had to update the fields if their contact information had changed.
While the site did not allow attendees to create their agendas or book hotel accommodations (maybe next year, Sloan says), users could download brochures or register for the four hands-on sessions that had limited seating. And as soon as those sessions were full, the system noted it in real time. "It allowed us to manage the process," Sloan says.
Paper on Demand For this third annual JetForum conference, the company completely rethought the way it distributes collateral materials. The first year, it printed the classic conference binder, a 300-page monolith. In 1998, it put its handouts on CD-ROM, but quickly ran into limitations. There was a lot of missing material because presenters neglected the deadline. This year, the company solved that problem and reinforced its new Web focus by installing a cluster of 10 self-service Internet kiosks at the conference.
The kiosks, running on an ISDN line, provided session handouts and customized attendee agendas from a company intranet site. When users keyed in their session preferences, the system could build a personalized agenda and alert the user of any scheduling conflicts.The kiosks, which were free to attendees, could also be used to access the Web or check e-mail, which was especially useful for the international contingent (16.5 percent of attendees). Customers could also fill out a client relations survey.
"Computers were provided by JetForm, and the intranet site was developed by Digit Interactive, a local Web developer in Ottawa," Sloan says. "We presented the idea of self-service kiosks to our business partners Hewlett-Packard and Xerox, where we have strong alliances on print and documentation management, and they provided the printers."
Sloan said comments from users were so positive that next year she plans to double the number of kiosks. Her advice for anyone trying this approach: Have one printer for every four kiosks and make sure you've got high-production printers that can keep up with the pace.
PDAs Work the Rooms As another way to demonstrate JetForm's software and give the meeting a cutting-edge feel, JetForm approached business partner Sharp Electronics Corp. with a proposal to use 30 Sharp Personal Digital Assistants to survey attendees at the show. Using its PocketForm software on Windows CE PDAs, JetForm programmers designed a client relations questionnaire to get information from attendees on such things as maintenanceand customer/company communications. JetForm employees worked the conference halls and exhibit floor with the handheld computers. They downloaded data each night and sent thank-you e-mail messages to interviewees right away.
This relatively unusual way to collect evaluations will be refined for next year's event. Surveys, keyed in by staff, took 10 to 15 minutes to complete. Sloan reported that although the program worked well, allowing the company to collect 100 surveys, next year, questions will be pared from 30 to 12.
What's next for JetForum 2000? Sloan and Jackson haven't decided yet on the site of the 2000 conference, but they're looking for a venue that will accommodate double this year's attendance. As JetForm continues to retool its products and its identity to fit into an Internet world, Sloan expects to ratchet up what she's already doing--more kiosks, more functionality on the registration site, more PDAs--and continue to search for meeting tools that will allow her to design an event that reinforces the company's new Internet marketing messages.
JetForm, the Ottawa, Ontario-based company, has grown into a $114 million ($75 million U.S.) company since its launch in 1982. Public since 1993, the company is listed on NASDAQ and the Toronto Stock Exchange. While it started in the forms software business, its main mission now is to help companies evolve their client-server processes to e-processes. Major partners include Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard, Xerox Corp., Sharp Electronics Corp., and Star Information Technology.
"Forms are what it's all about and what it's always been about." That's the catch phrase of a company that represents some 7,000 customer organizations and approximately 8 million users. The company's strongest customer base is in financial services and government. JetForm employs 650 people in 11 countries.
E-business guru Patricia Seybold, author of Customers.com: How to Create a Profitable Business Strategy, delivered a fast-paced keynote at JetForum '99, with up-to-the-minute commentary on
e-commerce. Seybold, who speaks at about 50 meetings each year, also took a moment to observe the JetForum event itself.
"It is incredible to see the amount of really vital networking here and the buzz in the halls," she said. "It's clear the company has put in a lot of time and effort, and this is definitely aevent.
"I like the [kiosks] in the hallway. The users are giving each other demonstrations of their own applications. And connecting printers was a good idea."
"It's important to have your customers make presentations as they're doing here. My advice to planners of similar conferences is to treat them as your customers' events, and as your most important events."
JetForm's Meeting Partners * CRW, Canada (subcontracting CRCA), computer rentals, Chris Whiting,
* Digit Interactive Inc., Ottawa, Ontario,
Canada, built intranet site for kiosks,
* G/M! Productions Inc., Chicago, meeting producer, Marcy Manley,
* Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, Chicago,
* Verio Inc., Chicago, Internet service provider,