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Selecting Event Planning Software Is Hard. Here is Some Advice About Starting with the Basics.

Event planning can be a difficult discipline to automate. There are so many small tasks to take into account and as the number and types of events (as well as the number of individuals working on the events within a single organization) increases, the “wish list” that is used to evaluate event planning software grows in size.

I wish that I could say that most event planning software solutions are relatively similar. But, from my research and review of the platforms over the years, I have concluded that’s not true. Every solution provider approaches the process and planner “pain points” differently because every event is different.

That said, there is a baseline set of high-level capabilities that every software provider should be addressing either now (within its own solution or by integrating with another solution) or in the near future in order to be able to meet the needs of planners and event objectives:

Integration. Data (registration or membership data) must be able to flow in tact from whatever source in which it is available into the event planning software database. This can happen if both the source (a third-party registration database, third-party membership management platform, or an Excel spreadsheet, for example) and the destination are compatible or have measures in place to make the transfer possible. Note sometimes this process requires an additional fee.

Centralized data storage. The data that accumulates from various sources and processes within the event planning software database should be centralized, i.e. no silos. When information resides in one location, planners can slice and dice it in different ways. They can gain insight, make historical comparisons, and understand where the strengths and weaknesses of their efforts lie. But, the most important reason to centralize data is to improve productivity by eliminating the need to re-enter information.   Customer relationship management (CRM). No matter what size event and especially if the event involves selling booths or sponsorships, an event planning solution should have the ability to track companies, individuals and opportunities. Salesforce.com, the “Big Daddy” of CRM platforms, is definitely one way to go for many companies, but the business elements around events, trade shows in particular, are unique and it’s easier to use a solution that is built into the event planning platform than a third-party option.

Budget and financials. It is incumbent upon event planners to remain in control of the event budget. One of the most critical features of event planning software should be its ability to outline an initial budget, track expenses, and review variances. Sure, this can be done with an Excel spread sheet, but, having it embedded in the software solution makes it easier and quicker to create reports that are automatically up to date and synchronized with the rest of the event data.

Exhibit Sales. Obviously, if the event doesn’t have an exhibit floor, this capability isn’t necessary. If it does, the solution should include an electronic floor plan, online booth selection, booth sales confirmations, and acceptance of online payments—all of which should flow into the budget and accounting for the event.

Registration is notably omitted from the above list because it is often in a category by itself and while many event planning solutions also have registration modules, it isn’t a core capability for platforms in the event planning category.

While integration, data storage, CRM, and budgeting are core requirements, there are some other “nice to have’’ features that are common among the various solutions available: web interfaces, project management, room set-up, vendor management, food and beverage management, evaluation collection, surveys, speaker selection, abstract management, e-poster management, dashboards and a mobile conference guide, for example.

The best thing to do when examining your options is to start with companies that offer at least the baseline features, then qualify or disqualify them based on the “extras.” Do you have any good advice for selecting event planning software?

This post was written exclusively for Ungerboeck by Michelle Bruno, MPC, Bruno Group Signature Events

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