This model has been very popular in Europe and is being increasingly employed elsewhere. Senior Buyer Representatives agree to participate in the event, and agree to take meetings with Supplier organizations as part of their participation. The buyers may receive a discount off their travel, lodging or registration, or they may receive priority access to some of the premium activities of the event, or they may receive intensive concierge service in the scheduling of their meetings. These are rewards, if you like, for taking the meetings.
Having secured the participation of the Hosted Buyers, about whom descriptive profiles are created about who they are and what they are looking for, Supplier firms are then invited to make requests of these Buyers. The Suppliers are often encouraged to rank their requests, or supplement each request with a note about why they fullfill some Buyer needs. The Buyer may then be allowed to review the list of requests and accept or decline requests, subject to their own agreed meeting count. Or the Event Coordinator may do this for them, scheduling meetings they believe will be of maximum benefit for all parties.
The essence of these though – is that the Buyer role is king, the meeting scheduling is moderated, and Suppliers themselves may have to pay a generous registration fee to participate.
Controlled Networking events have rules and constraints but are somewhat less tightly structured than Hosted Buyer. Here, the event coordinator may assign roles to different groups of participants, create rule for how those groups interact – but then leave them all to get on with the meeting scheduling process themselves.
So for example – there might be large exhibitors, small exhibitors, buyers and other attendees – who are considered roles. And rules might be set up, whereby Large Exhibitors can invite anyone, Small Exhibitors can make up to 10 requests of Buyers and Large Exhibitors, Buyers can requests Large and Small Exhibitors, but not other Buyers or Other Attendees. and Other Attendees can be invited, but not make requests themselves.
Then the rules themselves govern what everyone can do. As coordinator, you will want to run reports on participation, who is making requests, who not. who is sitting on un-responded requests. How well your big important exhibitors are getting on. But the coordinator involvement will be surgical, strategic and occasional – rather than constant and comprehensive.
For a Controlled Networking event – its a good idea to think through the details upfront. Decide where meetings are going to occur – and automate that so the location is assigned immediately. Think about the caps and limits. Decide if you have the time to provide the oversight yourself – or if you want to outsource it. Then you’ll get the program you were thinking of.
This is the most free-wheeling of options – where largely anyone can request a meeting with anyone else – and its left to those two parties to decide if they agree to meet.
A few rules can be applied – such as assigning meetings to booths or locations if either party has one – or the table pool if they do not. But you can even allow for meetings to be scheduled that will have no location – normally a huge no-no – and will require the two parties to meet at the lobby and find two chairs somewhere.
This type of event requires the least amount of set-up and oversight. It can be exciting for the participants because they really are not constrained – and can meet people who interest them – beyond the specific business interests of the event coordinator. And this type of program may be used where there are no obvious parties like exhibitors, whose financial involvement has earned them a priority role.
Its important that Attendees be able to create profiles that describe themselves well – and that the search tools allow for filtering on all those different dimensions that make up the profile – so Attendees have the tools to find each other. Then they reach out with a request – and that request is either accepted or declined. You get what you get and don’t get upset.
This type of program is only partially constrained – but it is not free-wheeling. The essence of a basic sign-up program – is where buyers can slot meetings with exhibitors – always at their booth. They can pick the time (and if there is a group demo going on they can pick that) – and their time slot is immediately confirmed as a meeting for them. The exhibitor does not have refusal rights.
This is a process of self-directed schedule building by the attendees – choosing which exhibitors to visit/meet with and when. There may be a first-come, first-served element to this program, if booths have limited capacity to hold sessions. And there is something a little unsatisfying all round about this program. The Exhibitor has no rights to either invite more interesting Attendees themselves – nor the right to decline those who have signed. And the Attendee – having received no kind of acknowledgement – does not know who they will meet nor if they are to especially welcomed.
This is a classic program for a Trade Show – from the days when technology did not allow for anything more sophisticated. Nowadays – this type of sign-up may get used as the very final phase of a program. A way to fill up unused slots and capacity. Onsite – for example – attendees may be allowed to slot their own meetings – long after Exhibitors have been able to schedule their own meetings – and thus have only unused availability which they are happy to put to use.