International Meetings Go Virtual
By Alex Palmer and Photography by David Pahl
October 1, 2012
It takes a solid three hours for Micromine, a
mining software maker, to demonstrate its complex product to an
internationally based clientele. That presents a big challenge
for the company's sales staff when they try to generate leads
at the industry's most important trade show, the three-day
MINExpo International, and later convert them into face-to-face
sales calls during post-show follow-up.
But at this year's event, which took place at the Las Vegas
Convention Center at the end of September, Micromine's staff
had a new tool in their follow-up arsenal: a virtual component
that helped make their case - and seal some deals.
Live trade shows remain one of the most effective places for
sales teams to get leads and reconnect with current customers.
By incorporating virtual elements into these events, exhibitors
and attendees are beginning to build relationships and even
close deals more efficiently during the post-show follow-up
Throughout MINExpo, the Micromine sales staff ran demos and
held meetings in private rooms to conduct more in-depth
discussions, where they showed off their program's ability to
manage data, control mine production, and create 3D mine
But even in-depth discussions rarely cover as much ground as a
client would need before making a purchase decision. And with a
packed trade show schedule, it would have been less than
efficient for the company to spend its time at MINExpo on just
a handful of full-length demos.
"Our strategy was to get [prospects] to do a short 'sampler,'
then schedule a post-show meeting to get it in front of them,
be it virtually or in person, to give them the full-blown
demo," says Lori Freemire, marketing executive for Micromine.
"Shows are crazy, and every attendee has a hit-list of things
to get to."
Freemire gives the example of a demo that the company offered
in Elko, NV, earlier this year in which the Micromine sales
team flew to meet with 18 professional mining engineers and run
them through a three-hour virtual meeting.
In addition to the members of Micromine's U.S. sales team, who
were there in person, the company also had a pair of their geo-
logical and mining engineers at the company headquarters in
Perth, Australia attending the meeting virtually.
"Being able to have a sales manager in one location, conducting
a presentation to a prospective client in another location, and
backed up by a consultant providing a demonstration from a
third location, is critical in enabling us to bring the most
appropriate personnel together for meetings, without the cost
and logistical issues of having to get them physically there,
especially when that involves traveling internationally," says
Colin Smith, Micromine's regional manager for North America.
"This is even more pertinent when you consider that the
locations can often be spread out across the globe, as our
regional offices are."
The company also recently sold a system in Mexico via a live
virtual demo and many conference calls in Spanish. They conduct
software trainings from Vancouver, B.C. and Santiago, Chile
virtually, walking clients through all the nuances of the
"We had a customer a few months ago who literally patched in
three different international locations because their people
were spread out in several countries, and they wanted to make
sure everybody was receiving the same information at the same
time," says Freemire.
Extending the Reach
Micromine's use of virtual technology to bring engineers on the
other side of the world into a client's office is one of the
greatest strategic benefits of adding a virtual element to
international meetings - whether it takes the form of a private
sales demo or a keynote speech to a 10,000-person conference.
Virtual meeting offerings that cross borders allow companies to
incorporate a wider range of people and resources than would be
possible at a live-only event.
For example, EPiC Measures
, a business-to-business consultancy,
has held a series of marketing showcases that were conducted
live but that incorporated virtual elements that allowed it to
take its programming to a global level.
Last year, the company hosted a one-day marketing conference in
its headquarter city of Atlanta, featuring speakers from the
Coca-Cola Company who discussed branding and marketing
development. EPiC used virtual meeting technology to broadcast
the discussions to business owners and marketers based in
Trinidad and Cape Town, South Africa.
"In the environment that we're living in, where people are
trying to grow their business and build awareness, it really is
a huge expense to fly out to the States, and book a three-day
conference to hear maybe one or two people you are interested
in," says Isha Edwards, brand marketing consultant and business
instructor for EPiC. "So why not have a virtual aspect to the
meeting? All we need is an internet connection and a video
At the end of September, EPiC held its third such event, at
Atlanta's Microsoft Store, where marketers in attendance not
only heard from a live panel of marketers, but also from a
business and culture expert patched in from Johannesburg, South
Africa, as well as professors dialed in from the United
While only the speakers have been incorporated into the
meetings virtually, Edwards hopes to add virtual audiences in
the future as well.
"Our goal is to be able to work with a tech sponsor in some
capacity so we can have that virtual audience and in-person
audience," says Edwards. "Globally, you're leveling the playing
field - you're taking away any limit to someone saying, 'I
can't get access to that particular market.'"
Participants in the event agree. "The cost of flying speakers
in is eliminated, so money can be fueled in other directions -
like marketing to attract more participants," says Keevan
Lewis, vice president of BLAC Sheep Barber Salon, based in
Trinidad and Tobago, who partnered with EPiC for last year's
mixer. "The virtual conference allows you to interact with
speakers who have a wider range of expertise and advice, which
could impact a growing business group."
But Lewis cautions that a successful virtual meeting requires a
fast and reliable connection, or else the entire event may have
its value impacted. Also, time zone challenges must be taken
into account when scheduling speakers, especially those on the
other side of the world.
"Business is more global than it's ever been before," says Sean
O'Brien, executive vice president of strategy and
communications for PGi, which produces iMeet, the virtual
meeting software platform that EPiC uses for its events.
"Technology and mobility have leveled the playing field across
He sees this, along with greater workplace mobility, as the two
"macro trends" that have encouraged wider adoption of the
company's offerings and others like them. As more organizations
seek to reach international clients and leverage global
resources, he expects demand to rise further and for the
technology to be there.
"Tools like HD video, cell phone technology where you can talk
through your internet connection, and the advent of cloud-based
file storage, all help drive adoption at the user level," says
O'Brien. "Small businesses in the U.S. can compete for
customers in small towns of Indonesia. The trend toward the
globalization of virtual meetings is real."
In-Person Still Irreplaceable
With virtual meetings technology steadily improving and the
savings so attractive, concerns naturally arise that virtual
meetings might eat into attendance at in-person events, if not
replace them completely.
Carol McGury, executive director of the Independent Oracle
Users Group (IOUG), as well as the senior vice president of
education and learning services for event planning company
SmithBucklin, (the management partner for IOUG, has run into
these questions as she has begun making sessions at the IOUG's
annual conference available online. She describes speaking to
her board of directors, who were concerned that registrations
might drop as more individuals prefer to just watch the
sessions from the comfort of their home or office. She feels
these concerns are overblown.
"You can't replace the networking, the drinking a beer in a
bar, the chatting with the speaker afterward and walking down
the hallway with this virtual experience," says McGury.
Her assertion is backed up by a study by the Virtual Edge
Institute, which looked at whether offering virtual meetings
would cannibalize live attendance. Participants in the Virtual
Edge Summit hybrid meeting were asked whether they would attend
virtually if the live option were not available, and 78 percent
said they would. When the virtual attendees were asked if they
would attend the live event if the online option were not
available, 93 percent said they would not. This reflects that
the virtual audience was an additional attendee base, not the
same group that would attend the live event.
Additionally, virtual events require different skill sets than
what works in a live setting. When McGury is deciding which
sessions to make available virtually, she seeks out prominent
speakers who have presented sessions before.
"It's not easy to present in a virtual environment," says
McGury. "You may have a physical audience in front of you, but
you also have to make sure that you are managing the virtual
Nick Morgan, communications coach at Public Words and author of
Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma, agrees that,
at least where the technology is currently, many aspects about
the in-person experience simply don't translate over video.
"Humans rely unconsciously on human presence to read each
others' intentions and body language - it lets us know how
confident or nervous they are, who's up or who's down, who's
authoritative," says Morgan. "Charisma is not something that
comes as clearly in virtual as it does in person."
He adds that virtual events are best as one component of a
broader meetings offering. He believes that while virtual might
be able to enhance a meeting where work needs to get done
efficiently, when there is a more emotional component (whether
for teambuilding or engaging through a presentation), the
technology still creates a distance that can take away from
providing a serious long-term impact.
"What I tell people is: use virtual stuff for the regular
routine parts of your meetings, but go face-to-face for the
important, emotional milestones, the big deals, the hiring and
firing," he says.
Freemire agrees that in-person events remain a vital part of
the company's offerings. In particular, the live MINExpo show
serves as an irreplaceable opportunity for an in-person
connection between the company's more far-flung members,
including CEO Kevin Fitzpatrick, based in the company's Perth
headquarters. It is an ideal time for Fitzpatrick to fly in and
get face time with prominent members of the mining industry.
"He spends quite a bit of time here in the States getting to
know our clients, 'glad- handing' as it were," says Freemire.
"You still need that in person."
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