Events and conferences have never been as important for associations as they are today. You visit an association’s premises these days and chances are you’ll find yourself in a modern (often trendy) office block with high tech conference suites and meeting spaces. Their annual conferences are highly complex affairs that attract numerous speakers, sponsors, exhibitors, as well as thousands of attendees at a time. The events they run are important because they give associations the opportunity to showcase their expertise, while allowing members to network, learn and invest in their Continual Professional Development (CPD). They’re also important because they have such an impact on an association’s bottom line.
The revenue associations raise from these events represents a significant proportion of their annual income (usually more than membership fees). Aside from ticket sales for conferences and awards dinners, there is also the money that comes in from sponsorship deals, publishing titles and new memberships that are acquired through these activities. Running financially successful events however is not the only reason these events are so important. Associations today are under increasing pressure to provide members with a greater return on their membership fees. And one of the most effective ways of doing this is through the delivery of high quality, informative, educational events.
As the significance of events continues to grow for associations, so does the importance of managing the data around these events. The information that an association gets on its attendees is incredibly valuable and the more it makes of that data, the more valuable it becomes. Associations are doing some great things by integrating their event data with payment gateways, badge printing tools and mobile event apps. But what is really starting to gain ground with a lot of the associations we’re working with these days is the integration of event data with other business systems – from membership and CRM to abstracts and finance solutions.
The Importance of Data Integration for Associations
Associations have different databases to capture different types of information around their events– whether it’s membership, events, finance, abstracts and so on. Pooling this data together to create a data ecosystem where all the different systems are talking to each other is where data integration comes in.
Let’s look at the benefits of doing this for an association. Having the ability to automatically share information between different systems means that you can reduce the endless hours you spend replicating data from one system to another. So it saves time. It also helps cut down costs and improve your team’s productivity. More importantly, it helps you make better use of your event data. Integration between your event management and membership systems, for example, can provide automatic delegate membership checks as part of your event registration process. Integration with your finance system can significantly cut down the time spent chasing attendee payments. While integration with your CRM can help drive attendance and bring on new members to your association.
Let’s have a look at the most common types of integrations for associations and their events today:
1. Membership Integration
It’s fair to say that most associations use some form of membership system which helps them capture and manage all the data around their members. Integration between events and membership means that any changes to records in one system is automatically updated in the other. This means that if a member provides a new contact number in their registration form, that change is automatically recorded in the membership system and vice versa. It also means associations are able to more easily track which members have attended which event and provide adequate CPD accreditation.
Another functionality of membership integration is the ability to incorporate automatic membership checks as part of the event registration process. The Liberal Democrats have a good way of doing this for their annual party conferences. By integrating the Eventsforce event management platform with their membership system, the political party knows that members are going through the right registration channels and non-members are not paying discounted member fees. It has also helped them address queries around memberships a lot more quickly.
Many associations are also now using sophisticated CRM solutions to manage the data for both members and non-members. Integration with a CRM system ensures that all the information you have around the people attending your events is automatically being fed back to the CRM. This way, your CRM management team can always have a clear view on which of the delegates were non-members, what sessions they attended and any other data captured within your event management system. This valuable information can then be used to drive new memberships or registrations for your next event. Remember, the cost of generating a new lead for a membership organisation is almost always offset by the first conference fee, so it makes sense to keep track of their activities.
An integrated CRM system has other advantages too. In order to provide members with the relevant CPD accreditation and attendance certificates, associations tend to use their event management solutions to store and retrieve information on the attendance history of each member. However, there are many other sources of acquiring CPD points. As well as attending certain events, members may be required to watch webinar content, sign up to magazine subscriptions, publish papers and so on. By having your CRM integrated within one ecosystem, you can have one place that automatically captures all the information you need for tracking members’ CPD activities. This not only saves time but gives associations clear insight on the net worth of each member. Imagine opening up your CRM database and seeing the exact number of times a member engaged with the association over the past year – from membership and conference fees, to an annual awards dinner, subscription to the association’s magazine, content contribution for the website and a speaking session on a webinar. By integrating all your systems together, you will see how your members are worth a lot more than their annual membership fees.
3. Abstract (Call for Papers) Integration
Association conferences deal with a lot more data than standard corporate events – especially those that have to manage abstracts (call for papers) too. As well as keeping on top of attendees, speakers and sponsors, they also need to manage and track data around their submitters, authors, reviewers and presenters. These associations will almost always process their call for papers using a specialised abstract system, which helps them co-ordinate submissions and reviewers, assign topics, create agendas and manage communications.
Some of these systems like Eventsforce Abstracts provide both registration and abstracts management on one platform. However, if you are using two separate systems, it makes sense to have these integrated. This way, any changes in speakers and sessions within the abstract solution will automatically be reflected in the event website and registration system. The integration will also facilitate checks such as ensuring speakers have registered before submitting an abstract.
4. Finance Integration
Having the ability to track funds around events is hugely important for an association’s cash flow. Integration between your event management system and finance package will ensure all conference attendee payment details are always automatically up-to-date in both systems. Event invoices, credit notes and received payments can all be quickly generated and sent from either system – don’t forget that the quicker that invoice gets out, the quicker the money will be coming in. It provides the event manager access to important and accurate financial information without having the need to contact the finance team directly. It can also reduce the time your association spends chasing payments from hours to minutes. By creating a report on your event management system, for example, you can follow up with all your unpaid invoices that are over 30 days through one single email.
5. Event App Integration
Over the last few years, event apps have become prevalent across many association events. Integration between your event planning software and your app provider ensures that when an attendee comes to the conference and logs on to their device, the app already knows who they are. It knows exactly what sessions they will be attending and can help tailor their event experience through personalised content and agendas. What is behind every successful app however is ensuring that the data on the app is always kept up to date and this can only be done through good integration between the two systems. Most app vendors will tell you they integrate with your core system but it’s the quality of these integrations that is most important. You want to make sure you work with an app that has an open-architecture and can integrate from the ground up, not one that started as a stand-alone app.
Many event planners feel that dealing with integration projects may be somewhat technically challenging. But don’t let that worry you. As long as you understand the top level concept and what you want to achieve, then your event technology provider(s) should be able to help you with the details. Many event management systems like Eventsforce use simple development tools that make the whole process a lot simpler and a lot cheaper than before. If this is something you’re considering doing in the near future, then have a read through these top considerations when integrating your event data with other business systems. Following these steps will ensure your integration projects work and more importantly, bring real value to your events.
Written by Paul Harris, Event Technologist & Client Services Manager, Eventsforce