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What Does Success Look Like?

In a business meeting several years ago, a colleague of mine asked, “What does success look like?” This question has resonated with me ever since. I use it as a sounding board to gauge whether I create that program, build this campaign or run an event. In this age of “Big Data” and “real-time computing,” the process to evaluate success has become a whole lot easier. But the question that helps me remains the same “What Does Success Look Like?” and I owe it all to the planning of an event.

Let me explain…

Years ago, I was looking after a partner for a high-tech company and I was helping with their customer event. Simon was a sought after presales guru. You know the type, almost annoyingly versed in every aspect of the product. As the account manager, it was my job to secure Simon as the star presenter.

Events are a great activity for generating business and our partners were encouraged and supported to do as many as possible. So, I arranged a meeting with the partner and Simon at our swanky headquarters to discuss the logistics over a couple of lattes and a macchiato.

At this point, I am feeling really good. The partner is happy because I delivered Simon and Simon actually showed up. We start off by discussing the logistics; what room to use, the agenda, how many sessions, etc. As we agree on the finer points of this event, Simon drops the bombshell. He asks THE question that should always be, but is very rarely asked, “if we run this event what does success look like?”

You could hear a pin drop. And then the back pedaling questions spewed forth: “What do you mean?” “Can you please clarify?” “I don’t understand the question!”

Suddenly the whole situation had changed. No longer are we having a nice friendly chat about the great event, the resources we will no doubt consume as a consequence, and how good everyone will feel about being part of it. Now we are under the proverbial spotlight entering into the realms of accountability. We are accepting that if we apply a measure, we can articulate our success, or on the flip side, heaven forbid, our failure!!!!

Interestingly, the more we focus on measuring success, the more relevant the quality of our research becomes. Today with the advent of “Big Data” and “real-time” computing,” it’s like adding a microscope to our toolkit. We can evaluate the data in detail to support our decision to run an event, or even support a decision not to run one if it won’t be successful.

It’s all about technology engineering success.

During that meeting, I thought to myself, “Thank you Simon,” as clarity forms in the room. Mentally everyone leans forward, eyes focused, on the edge of their seats. And we all get very serious, very, very quickly. You see, that one simple question raised the game.

One question was all it took. One simple, but very powerful question, to dramatically change the whole dynamics of the meeting and to ensure we focus on being productive.

From that day forward, I have used this question in every single business meeting and it has made a huge impact on my professional career and every project I have been involved in.

It could do the same for you; just try it, what have you got to lose!

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  • very nice article Al.

    In most things we do, we should be able to answer the question and know how to measure the success of what we're doing, nice to see it explained.


  • Although it is trendy to talk about Big Data, we shouldn't act as though we couldn't answer anything in the past. Lead generation would be a measure of success in your case.

    In what way do you think big data could help your event decisions and evaluations?

    • Good point Joao and yes the number off leads was indeed in this example the way we measured success!

      I think for me where the access to Big Data comes in, and how in the example it would be different today, is the ability to predict the interest level. We ran this event because we believed it would be successful based on historic event (we ran some before and they generated some leads) and applied number of leads generated as the measure of success, taking a guess at how many would indicate success.

      But if we could interrogate information Before the event, in the planning stage, of say what interest is there in the topic (trending on Social Media for example). Would that tell us that there is a surge of interest in a particular aspect of the topic of the event, and if we focus more on that in the event our measure of success should be adjusted to a higher number of leads.

      Then after the event we could measure the sentiment generated to gain an idea of how much interest was created. Giving us an indication of how many leads might be generated and over what period of time we should extend out measure.

      So I believe that big data could help in establishing the interest level and confirm if we should we run the event, the quality of the agenda increasing the impact level of the event, and the interest generated and how we could better measure the success of the event.

      You are right we have always been able to measure success, IMHO the access to big data just potentially enables us to predict & measure it better.


      • Al,

        agree about the Social Media Listening, and infact, Social Media Listening would be the source data for a Recommendations Engine powered by Hana.

        Recommendations Engines are the big thing today, look at Amazon when Amazon says to you, if you like that you might also like this (this is the Recommendations Engine in action).

        Hana has the speed to become the tool of choice for powering Recommendation Engine products from other companies.