Remote data collection presents a unique set of challenges. You have to manage the people who are in the field collecting the data, you have to manage the event logistics and the processes for collecting the data, and finally, you have to manage the data itself once it has been collected.
If you’re using a different platform for each of those activities you might use a calendaring system like Outlook or Google Calendars to schedule and keep track of personnel, plus something like Survey Monkey, Type Form or Google Forms to collect data in the field, plus Excel or Google Sheets to consolidate, manipulate, and chart the data. Then you might add on Dropbox or Box to collect and share files and images. If you’re doing sales calls or using email to follow up with participants (and we hope you are) then you might dump all the data into a CRM or email aggregator such as Mailchimp, Marketo or Hubspot.
The good news is that all of those solutions are free, or at least relatively cheap. The bad news is that going that route will not only hit your bottom line in unexpected ways, it can rack up significant opportunity costs as well.
SaaS Solutions – All-in-One vs. Best-of-Breed
This argument may seem to fall under that old debate category, but really we can’t apply that logic to generic platforms designed to meet a wide range of requirements at the lowest possible cost. None of these solutions were created to compete as “best-of-breed” but rather to attract large numbers of generic subscribers whose business use case is neither complex nor specific.
Even if you could argue that the solutions you’ve chosen are, in fact, the best available, close examination would probably reveal some hidden costs. Each of these tools was designed to do one thing, and that thing is not related to event program management or experiential marketing. Which means that you are either adapting a generic solution to a specific requirement or you’re compromising your requirements to match the solution’s capabilities. It’s doubtful that any one of the platforms you’re using is ideal for your use case, and that doesn’t even take into account the challenges of trying to build a workflow on multiple platforms that were never designed to work together.
Lack of efficiency and scalability always comes at a cost, but let’s get more specific. Here are 10 areas where you’re losing money and opportunity if you’re using multiple platforms to collect, collate, and control your event data.
#1 Data Fields Aren’t Standardized
In order to be analyzed data must be organized into a consistent, meaningful structure. Without that standardization your data might be qualitative but it cannot be quantitative. If you’re collecting data in one platform then uploading it into another platform you’ll have to manually standardize your data fields for every location and every event. We’ll let you compute how much time that takes and the likelihood of costly errors, but we’re betting that both factors are significant.
#2 Vulnerability of Historical Data
Data analysis depends on more than access to data from a single event. Ideally you will be able to compare data across multiple events and against previous years. Not only is this impossible without a standardized set of fields, it means you have to be able to access, collate, and segregate data from every location, event, and year that you want to use for comparative analysis. When data is passed from platform to platform it’s at risk of being corrupted or lost completely because most applications aren’t designed to store the necessary information that you’ll need to compare all those factors.
#3 Sustainability and Support
Speaking of passing data from platform to platform, you may find yourself being passed from one help desk to another if you have a technical problem. The more platforms involved in your workflow the more potential for glitches and human error. Since most free or low-cost data solutions aren’t famous for their support, your team will need to be savvy about troubleshooting all of the different platforms you’re using. While a best-of-breed solution can produce some benefit, a solution offering a “single butt to kick” when things go wrong can save hours of support and integration costs.
#4 Lack of Integration Means No Automation
Unless you pay to build a custom integration (and we’ll talk about that later on) you won’t be able to automate any of your event data collection workflow. That means every step of the process must be manually initiated and completed.
The cost of the inevitable errors and missed opportunities is an unknown variable, but you can approximate the cost of this level of inefficiency by factoring in the number of times data has to be downloaded, uploaded, shared, and sorted. Take that times the amount of time those tasks usually take, the number of people who will have to complete those tasks for every event, and the average pay rate for each of those people. Makes your head hurt doesn’t it? That’s why okapi built a workflow process directly into the system (a simple, no-code-required process.) Next steps are then automated so your processes are consistent regardless of the event or the team working that event.
#5 Compounded Training Costs
Training costs fall into three categories – the cost of the person(s) being trained, the cost of the person(s) providing the training, and the errors and inefficiencies that are an inevitable part of having someone learning on the job.
If you have a software solution for every activity you’re probably training all personnel, from Brand Ambassadors and Field Reps to Event Managers and Marketing Specialists, on anywhere from three to six different platforms. Not only must they have a working knowledge of each platform, they must be trained on the workflow of collecting the data, transferring the data, sorting the data, and so on. That’s a lot of extra expense to train people on solutions that are already less than ideal and only providing a generic set of features that don’t’ really meet your true business goals.
#6 Compromised Participant Experience
Whether you’re an agency, a conference organizer, a recognized presenter, or a brand using experiential marketing and events to promote your products, you care about the impression you make. You know that the ease with which your team collects information and follows up with participants makes a difference in how your brand and product will be perceived. You want your brand ambassadors and field reps to be confident and relaxed and able to interact positively with attendees. You want your data to be immediately accessible for teams and management to review and approve. You want every piece of the process to be consistent, smooth, and to represent the brand well. And that kind of experience is extremely difficult to engineer when the process depends on multiple pieces of disconnected software.
#7 Security Management is a Nightmare
Your data is valuable. Even if you are not collecting highly sensitive, personally identifiable information you’d probably prefer that no one outside your company, especially your competitors, had unauthorized access to it. One ex-employee with an axe to grind whose access to your Google Docs or Survey Monkey account was not revoked could cost you millions in revenue or even a lawsuit. Yet, every person who requires access to any of your data management solutions must have a user name and password, or have shared access through their email account.
Onboarding every employee, whether a fulltime hire or a one-time contract, means granting each person access to all of the required software platforms and hoping that they keep their passwords secure and at the same time that they don’t forget those passwords and get locked out of the software at a crucial time. Security means keeping a record of who has been granted access and revoking that access when appropriate. Sometimes that means changing a shared password on six or more platforms and communicating that to the remaining team. The more platforms you use, the greater the risk. Managing that risk is expensive, but not managing it could be disastrous.
#8 It Takes Too Long to Get Actionable Results
Because working with multiple platforms requires exporting and importing data, then sorting it and analyzing it in a separate application, it might take hours to aggregate the data from a single event. If you need to compare it to data from past events it will take exponentially longer.
That means every function you might want to use that data for is delayed. If you want to create a presentation showing the results of your event you’ll have to wait. If you want to send follow up emails segregated by any data grouping you’ll have to wait. More importantly, if you want to analyze the data in order to make adjustments to your strategy for upcoming events you’ll have to wait to do that too.
When data is collected into a system that will sort it and display it in a format that you can use for the level of detailed reporting and analysis that any of those actions would require you can immediately display graphs, complete your follow up email campaign, even pivot your strategy for the next day of the event.
#9 Custom Integration is Usually Cost-Prohibitive (and Always Less than Ideal)
Even if you could overcome all of the above concerns by building a custom integration (you can’t) you’d be buying into a whole new set of problems. Not only are integration projects unpredictable and costly due to the number of players and variables that must be managed, they’re never really finished. Every time one of the programs that make up part of your suite of integrated solutions goes through an upgrade (or worst case, is phased out completely) your integration is at risk. A minor change in one platform’s code can cause a crucial error in your workflow and an unpredictable custom development budget.
Direct costs of building and maintaining custom integrations aside, you still won’t have the seamless, dependable workflow that a single solution can achieve.
#10 Business Intelligence is Still Up to You
What job do you need your event data collection software to do? Let’s start, as they say, with the end in mind. The ultimate goal is to be able to use the data you collect to inform decisions that will positively impact the results of your marketing and sales efforts. Otherwise why collect data at all?
To optimize your ability to meet that objective it’s not enough to collect data. You have to turn that data into something meaningful – you have to be able to measure it, monitor it, manage it, and create complex strategies and business decisions based on it.
Those decisions will range from being able to pivot your approach to events and experiential marketing, to predicting which events are worth your investment and which are not, to designing more targeted marketing and sales campaigns.
If you cannot do that, dependably, effectively, and efficiently you know there is a cost. It may not be one you can calculate down to the penny. But it’s definitely one you don’t have to pay.
We’d like to introduce you to a single solution that not only does all of the jobs we’ve discussed here – from scheduling personnel to collecting data, to organizing and storing that data – but one that was also designed specifically for event-based (and remote) data collection, for experiential marketers, agencies, and event managers. One that has the workflow automation and industry-specific business intelligence you need built in.
If you’re struggling to manage all your disconnected systems, spending too much time training your staff or manipulating and shuffling data give okapi a try and sign up for our free day trial.