Nuggets of Knowledge

By Jason Rohlf

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During the first two weeks of March, I was fortunate enough to represent Onspring as an exhibitor at two excellent industry conferences: RSA Conference in San Francisco and the Institute of Internal Auditors General Audit Management Conference in Dallas. To be sure, these conferences had two completely different vibes to them—the RSA Conference was held in the Moscone Center with two massive exhibit halls that seemed to go on and on and on. Upwards of 40,000 attendees made the trek to San Francisco to learn about the latest and greatest in the world of information security, risk and compliance. On the other hand, the IIA GAM conference was held in a much more intimate hotel/resort setting and featured approximately 1,200 attendees who were there to discuss the strategic direction of the internal audit profession. Regardless of the size and demographic differences, both conferences afforded us a great opportunity to raise awareness about the Onspring platform and solutions, as well as our company’s philosophy of solving problems by providing high quality solutions and services.

If you’ve never worked a conference like RSA or GAM as an exhibitor, allow me to pull back the curtain and give you some insight on the overall experience. Being a small shop, Onspring employees must be ready to adopt the “here’s a shovel, there’s a pile that needs to be moved” mentality. We all pitch in to make it a great experience. Whether it’s building our booth (yes, we build it ourselves), preparing marketing materials, educating interested parties about Onspring by answering questions and performing demonstrations, or following up with those who express interest, we all take responsibility to make sure every critical aspect is covered. Being a relatively young company, we find these conferences to be a great opportunity to get our name out there and raise awareness of our product and solutions. Working the floor requires a friendly demeanor, quick thinking and comfortable shoes, but it’s all worth it in the name of moving our product and company forward.

I know many professionals who have attended one (or many) of these conferences either as a participant or speaker, and I was lucky enough to run into some friendly faces while out on the road. I was having a conversation at GAM with an Audit executive friend of mine and asked him how he was finding the conference. He was generally pleased with the content and the topics that were being discussed, and then he said something that resonated with me (paraphrased slightly):

The main goal I have at these conferences, other than the great networking that can be done, is to walk away with at least three nuggets of knowledge that I can take back with me to my day job and use to better myself.

Now there’s a mindset I can get behind. When I look back at all of the conferences of this nature that I’ve attended and/or worked, I’ve been truly assaulted on all sides with information, and trying to retain and/or apply it all can seem very daunting. I can attest that adopting this focused learning approach has worked well for me in the past because it makes the experience seem worthwhile from a personal standpoint. If you’re really savvy with this approach, it can also help you demonstrate the value of attending these conferences to your management and the broader organization, so that it is perceived not as a cost, but rather as an investment.

To say I gathered a few nuggets of knowledge during my journey would be putting it lightly. I think of all of the conversations I had (there were too many to count), all of the demonstrations I performed, all of the questions answered, all of the happy reunions with old friends, and I can honestly say that I came away with more than I had when I left. It was a whirlwind two weeks, but I decided to take my friend’s advice and identify the three key takeaways that stayed with me:

  1. The market that Onspring could potentially serve is vast and varied. I found myself amazed at the sheer quantity of different products, services and associations that inhabit the exhibitor hall landscape, not to mention the variety of marketing approaches and techniques (or tactics) that seem to be in play. This led me to conclude that we need to have a very keen understanding of who we are as a company, who we are truly looking to help and how we go about solving their problems. In order to succeed, we need to understand this need and channel our energy into focus; our marketing approach, our demonstrations, our interactions with prospects and customers and our own internal operations stand to benefit from this focus. This is the only way we can help those who stand to benefit from working with us to eliminate the noise and improve the way they do their work.
  2. Our platform, solutions, and to a larger extent, our overall philosophy are not for everyone… and that’s OK. Looking back on the multitude of conversations that I had in the last two weeks, I can conclude that a vast majority of them were very professional, congenial, productive and enlightening. But if I’m being completely honest (and why should we be anything less), a very small subset of these conversations took a bit more of an unprofessional and in some cases unpleasant turn (let’s just say being loudly booed while trying to answer someone’s question during a demonstration isn’t a pleasant experience). I won’t go into any more specifics as to the nature and extent of these conversations, but the takeaway for me is that trying to please everyone all of the time is a no-win proposition, and that’s not a game we’re willing to play. If that means walking away from an opportunity, so be it.
  3. I have and continue to work with excellent people, and I am a better person for it. Living in the worlds of Internal Audit and Enterprise Software has afforded me the opportunity to meet and work with some very bright, talented and dedicated individuals, and my current situation is no exception. Onspring is a small company, and we all had the opportunity to travel to San Francisco together to experience the conference and bond as a team, which to me represented everything that’s great about working for a small company. And while I know that Onspring isn’t for everyone, the folks who we are fortunate to call our clients are among some of the best I’ve ever worked with, and it motivates me to make sure that everything I do is with their best interests in mind. What solidified this for me was the moment I watched one of our clients step in and do an Onspring demonstration for a prospect. It was completely unsolicited, and what it taught me was that our clients understand our approach, they believe in what we’re doing and they want to be a positive contributor to it. When something like this happens, you start to believe that you may be on to something.

My two week conference excursion was many things—exciting, challenging, joyous, exhausting and educational. If the sum total of all of this is becoming more aware of myself and my own strengths and limitations, understanding where we stand in the markets we serve, and strengthening the bond with coworkers, customers and friends, new and old, then there’s one more adjective I’d use to sum it all up: successful.

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