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Cvent enjoys a preeminent position in the event technology marketplace and has invested in recent years to make its platform easier to use for meeting planners. Still, the pressure is on across the sector to develop the next generation of tools to enhance the event experience.
Last week at the Cvent Connect conference in Las Vegas, the focus was on finding ways to streamline connections between the company’s diverse set of products, allowing event organizers to become better equipped to deal with the challenges they face.
There’s also the specter of digital tools potentially replacing elements of the traditional event or conference, and what that would mean for the sector as a whole.
Cvent CEO Reggie Aggarwal, however, doesn’t think new technologies are going to replace the value of face-to-face meetings any time soon, despite years of prognostication across the sector.
“Eight or nine years ago, everyone thought [mobile] was going to disrupt everything and it did,” said Aggarwal. “Do I think [virtual meetings are] going to disrupt everything in the next five years? The answer is no. 10? No, because nothing beats face-to-face meetings.”
Skift spoke to Aggarwal about commission cuts, event technology moving to a software-as-a-service model, and the technology innovations to watch in coming years.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Skift: Cvent has a huge technology platform as the industry has moved towards providing a bunch of products instead of individual services. Cvent is a giant in the space, so how do you work to make sure your team keeps innovating?
Reggie Aggarwal: We want to blend the best of being a company with maturity and reliability but, at the same time, be innovative. That starts by having a commitment towards it and, frankly, having the development resource to develop stuff. Because our ecosystem is so big, we have 225,000 users. We get so much feedback and we’ve grown our client service division by 60 percent almost in the last two years. We’re up to about 1,000. We have so many ways to listen to our customers, but we actually have the means to develop stuff to respond.
[Our finger is on the pulse of the ecosystem] because we have large corporations, we have small, we have associations, we have such a diverse group of customers. Then, we actually have the mechanisms to listen, quantify and develop which is why I think that we’re the market leader, in terms of a lot of metrics. That’s my thought in terms of how we’re keeping our company ahead of the curve.
Skift: There’s so much fragmentation in the space, though.
Aggarwal: The second thing is integrating the other systems. We’re not going to be the best at everything in the event technology space in particular, for example. We have integrations with companies. I think because we have so many customers, we feel that we should play in the sandbox. We do what we do really well. So, first, we’re integrating into the back-end systems that anyone uses to run their business. We’re just one component of that. We recognized it early. I think that’s been the right strategy, but be the best at what you do. Then, everyone else wants to work with you because when you have the most customers in a space, everyone wants to integrate into you. Their customers are saying integrate.
We’re in a lucky situation where we’re able to integrate with the rest of the ecosystem, companies even in the space. Look, our biggest thing though, just getting back it, is we have created a platform. We do have a full lifecycle, full-length event lifecycle is generally in our product. Now, are things we don’t have? Of course. We’ll work with those companies, work with our customers, other systems, like customer reputation management, e-RFP, marketing, and automation or whatever way that we’ll do that. I think that we’re kind of doing both, building a platform but, also, integrating with other folks.
Skift: What are your thoughts on the commission cuts imposed by hotel companies this year? It’s having an impact on planners and third-parties across the sector, although how big an impact it will have is open to discussion.
Aggarwal: Look, the third parties have played an important part in the ecosystem. I know there have been these recent changes to commissions. Look, any change is difficult. We’re still waiting to see because the third parties have been great customers of Cvent, both in leveraging our event technology and then using us in their sourcing. Hotels are, of course, our customer. We’re waiting to see how the thing works out. We want to be supportive of the ecosystem in the best way.
Skift: Better technology can play a part in keeping these costs down.
Aggarwal: The best way we can do that is to keep our efficiency up using technology and both parties using that. That always reduces cost. When you reduce cost, there’s more opportunity for sharing of economics. That’s kind of what we’re doing. I’ll be honest with you, we’re still waiting to see how that plays out ourselves.
I think there’s going to be some shakeout because that is a significant cut when you cut any organization and a lot of hotels are doing it. Theoretically, the third parties might take a 5 to 20 percent hit on their revenue. That is a significant hit. I think that the industry has got to work together to figure that out because they’re both important parts of the ecosystem.
Skift: Cvent is in pole position when it comes to platform scale in the sector. What tech trends are you paying attention to right now?
Aggarwal: People have been talking about mobile, it’s called m-commerce, since back in 2000. It was in my speeches in ’04. It took mobile a good another eight or nine years to be adopted. Some just have a longer cycle and, now, mobile is so critical again. Then, you have other areas like virtual trade shows which is a reasonable tactic. It’s, frankly, a small tactic right now.
Eight or nine years ago, everyone thought [mobile] was going to disrupt everything and it did. Do I think [virtual meetings are] going to disrupt everything in the next five years? The answer is no. 10? No, because nothing beats face-to-face meetings. We’ll have some that hit quickly, others that don’t hit quickly but eventually hit, and there’s other that fail. There are all kinds of technologies we can think about. We forget them because they never took off.
What do I think the sustainable ones are? There’s a couple of things. One is I mentioned the, I don’t know if you saw my keynote, but I talked about the Fourth Industrial Revolution. There’s a lot of new things that are going to come in.
Skift: The internet of things, in particular, has huge ramifications for the event experience and the layer of data captured by organizers for personalization.
Aggarwal: That’s exactly it, simple RFID tags have now gotten smarter. We can follow your digital footprint. What I always love about this is if I go to your website for 12 seconds, you know everywhere I clicked. You come to someone’s trade show for two days, they know you registered, they know nothing else. It’s like they forget about the other 22 hours. Yet again, if I go to your website for 12 seconds, you’re like figuring everything about me.
Skift: There’s such a huge opportunity to enrich the physical event experience using digital tools. [gestures to the trade show floor at the convention]
Aggarwal: This convergence of physical and digital footprints, which is some of the technology we have, I know that will become a mainstay. It’s going to integrate with your Salesforce, because now you’re going to say that, for example, that if Fred, let’s just say, or Mary is a customer, now you know where they walked and where their interest is by the different sessions they went to or where they spent time at exhibits they went to, whatever it is. You’re blending that with the information you have on them from your pre- and post-event surveys. Maybe they had one-on-one meetings and all that’s in Salesforce.
It’s all overlaid and integrated between whatever tactic they used. Events are an important part. Then, with the output is a more educated sales or account manager person or a relationship person. It all is going to blend in, so that’s an example of things that will come out of this. There is an advent of a lot of new technologies. We have a billion people with mobile devices and it really is true, they have more power in their pocket than what it took to launch a man to the moon.
We have this and it’s connected. You have physical and virtual connected. When they converge like that at an event like this, a lot of good things are going to happen.