Recently I attended QAD’s Explore customer conference in San Antonio, Texas and had the pleasure to sit down with Gordon Fleming, executive vice president and CMO at QAD. With keynote speakers, track learning, seminars and special events, customer conferences can be a wealth of information for a manufacturer as they peek into the future of the systems keeping their company running. So why are customer conferences important and what is the purpose behind an event like this?
“The big thing for us, for our existing customers, is to give them a snapshot, to give them an update on the next step of innovation at QAD,” says Fleming. “We want to make sure they understand that we’re moving forward. To indicate to them that the parts that we’re moving forward on and how they can get there.”
Customer conferences can help create a corporate culture for a software company and relay that message to customers. It also helps manufacturers get a sense of where their software vendor is headed. There’s no ERP company in the world that says they’re not customer-focused, but QAD feels they genuinely are customer-focused.
“You’ll see at QAD, for example, our customer engagement methodology,” explains Fleming. “Once a year, with every single customer, everywhere on the planet, we conduct what we call, ‘a discovery and vision process.’ So we go to every customer and say, ‘Since we last spoke to you a year ago, what’s changed in the business, how well aligned is your business system to that right now.’ Then we look mutually for opportunities to generate business enhancement and business improvement.”
In about 70 percent of the cases, this methodology QAD exercises results in a business improvement opportunity for customers. QAD has been using this technique since 2003 and it’s now what customers expect and appreciate about the company.
“What’s important is that we want customers to know the latest in all of those initiatives,” adds Fleming. “Something we think is more important at these conferences than almost anything else is that our customer community communicates with us and each other quite well.
“There’s a lot of innovation that comes into our product line through customers saying, ‘Listen, we’ve talked to a few other customers, we’re interested in this. Can we all work together on doing this?’ It helps drive our product direction and also best practices. Companies come along here and share some amazing insights into what’s happening, so the networking dimension of the conference is very important.”
A key message QAD promoted at this year’s conference to customers is the product release cycle. The company has two product releases featuring additional functional components a year. This is why attending these customer conferences can be very important for manufacturers and the software companies organizing these events. The challenge for all ERP companies is getting customers to understand how they can embrace that new functionality.
“For the last 12 months, a big focus in our business has been trying to figure out how to crack this problem,” says Fleming. “How are we going do it? What are the impediments that make it hard for customers to upgrade? We’ve been working on methods, tools and re-architecting the product. I would say that we audaciously have simplest way to upgrade the architecture—but part of it is explaining that to customers here.”
Communication is key to customer conferences. It’s a forum for software vendors to talk about and show the next big thing to come out. Customers can interact and talk to other manufacturers about their processes. It also gives them a listening ear to the company, where they can express what they’re lacking and help drive innovation. If given the chance, I highly recommend attending your next user conference.
To learn more about QAD, please visit www.qad.com.