German software company SAP AG has discovered that its most effective source of new ideas for its annual Sapphire Now customer conference is also the most obvious: the attendees. By implementing suggestions offered through surveys and from a new customer advisory board, the company redesigned this year’s event in June at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, leading to what SAP’s vice president of global events, Mike Trovalli, called “by far the most successful Sapphire Now we’ve ever had.”
The surveys from this year prove his point: the number of respondents who said they would recommend the event to others increased 27 percent compared to 2013, while the number of detractors dropped by 31 percent.
The primary changes this year created more space for networking and meetings and reduced the amount of offered content. Organizers dedicated a huge section of the show floor—almost the size of two football fields—to the new networking space. Named the “downtown,” it was filled with a variety of seating areas, natural materials such as leather and wood, live greenery, food stations, and presentation theaters. It also served as the central place for the more than 20,000 attendees to gather throughout the three-day event. Trovalli said the “downtown” was most highly cited as a drastic improvement to the event in the survey respondents’ comments.
Along with the dedicated space for networking, organizers gave attendees more time to connect by reducing the amount of content offered and revising the way it was presented. “Last year we divided [content] based on things like mobile or cloud or analytics. But our customers think in terms of ‘I’m a retail customer’ or ‘I’m a human resources officer,’” Trovalli said. “So we’ve reorganized the content much more in the terms and worlds they think in as opposed to how we like to think of ourselves.”
For 2015, the company will restructure the content again to focus on the top three things customers say they want to learn about. One of the most interesting things Trovalli said they learned from the event’s new customer advisory board, a select group of volunteers that participated in focus groups before, during, and after the event, was that many attendees are sharing their experiences at Sapphire Now in real time with colleagues that are not at the conference. New for next year, Trovalli said organizers will facilitate sharing by helping customers create microsites using SAP Jam, the company’s social networking system.