What Are The Limits of Event Software?

June 28, 2020  |  by:

The Limits of Event Software?
Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

You know the saying about hammers and nails? Well, we don’t think like that. We know the limits of event software. And that’s actually a good thing.

Way back in 2011, the famous venture capitalist Marc Andreessen wrote in the Wall Street Journal that software was eating the world. And he wasn’t wrong then. Software was becoming more prevalent in non-technical industries like taxis (Uber), and hotels (Airbnb), and ultimately, we’re seeing digital hammers being applied to analog nails. I’m not sure there are any industries left untouched by software solutions. Sure, you’d expect software to be essential wherever computers are involved, like online shopping, but take a moment to think about it.

Books are now digital. We hail cabs over wi-fi. And even eating out has been impacted by software like OpenTable and Yelp. We run with Strava and Garmin Connect. Even surfing (my favorite sport), has a broad range of software that tracks performance on the wave and tells me when the next swell is coming.

And then there’s the event industry. 

Software And The Event Industry

Conferences and exhibits have been taking advantage of event software for years, albeit in unexciting ways. Event apps have been around for years and mostly been annoying, and ignored by attendees who hated the clunky, buggy applications. 

But as our expectations increase, the limits of event software were pushed to include instant event websites, apps that actually worked, and attendee registration at the tap of a button. Eventbrite became a powerhouse. Cvent went from boom to bust and back to a boom billion-dollar company while acquiring innovative startups. Aisle Planner, Zola, The Knot and Wedding Wire focus on the wedding industry. Event marketing became a thing with companies like Bizzabo, Swugo, and Whova. AllSeated got into leading 3D event design software. And then there’s us here at ThymeBase, where we concentrate on event planning software between the booking (HoneyBook, Dubsado) and the lights going out. And then there are the virtual event folks taking conferences entirely online. 

Even specific verticals got their own software. Catering, venues, florists, and rental pros all have their own software tools. 

I figure that software began eating the event industry in 1999 and is well past the main course. But the event industry is a particularly human-centric space. And yes, there are limits to event software. But before we talk about when event software isn’t the solution, let’s talk about when it is.

People at an event
Photo by Aranxa Esteve on Unsplash

Why People Use Event Software

I’ve written elsewhere about why you should use event planning software, so I’ll keep it brief here. People use event software because it makes their work-life easier. Full stop. If software ain’t making things more efficient, it ain’t worth using.

So whether you’re using event marketing software, collaboration tools, event-centric CRMs, or event task management, you’re likely filling a gap in your workflow. And that’s where event software shines – when you’re using it to solve specific problems. 

But let’s get back to the hammer and nail analogy. Event planning is filled with nails, but not every software solution is a hammer. That’s why many event professionals use about ten different products, even if a few of them are all in one. I’ll illustrate my point with wedding planners. Aisle Planner claims to be an all-in-one solution. And they are. But many wedding professionals will use them for the client portals, but switch to Excel for the budget, ThymeBase for their task management, and AllSeated for the event design. Gaps, and who best fills it. That’s when event software works. 

When Event Software Isn’t The Right Solution

I’ve asked well over a hundred event planners what the hardest part of their job is. What is striking to me is that none of them believe software can solve their problem. But they’re only partially correct. I’ll discuss the most common challenges that event software can’t resolve and maybe, just maybe, even share some digital workarounds. See, it’s not always about solving problems. Sometimes, it’s about lessening the impact of the issues.

Managing Client Expectations

In the age of Pinterest, where clients are influenced by millions of exceptional events, setting client expectations is an art that event planners must master.

Wedding planners face this with every client because they only get married once (at least, in theory). At least with corporate planners, clients often have more experience, having thrown multiple bashes. 

But when clients’ expectations don’t match up with their budget (more on that shortly), problems can arise. The solution is to talk with your clients candidly and frequently, and know the budget and operational constraints early. And healthy conversations are beyond the limits of event software.

Otherwise, as Jimmy Surace at Eight One Events explains, “you’re going to give your client false expectations and false hopes by showing them this grand design that can’t happen. That’s when the clients get disappointed, and expectations aren’t met, and then you look like those who promise the world and deliver a city block.” 

Budget Management

Sure, a great budget tracker can help, but the problem is not quite as simple as it seems. And nor is the solution. Tracking a budget is not outside the limits of event software. Not at all.

But the problem often arises because the client wants something that they haven’t budgeted for. And all the software in the world won’t fix that. It’s closely related to client expectations, and clear expectations can help avoid budget issues. But even the best-set expectations won’t preempt a good idea. And sometimes, the budget problem only arises because of an excellent idea. And you, the event professional, want to make it work. 

So you make it work. The solution is to rely on a mix of expertise, intuition, networking, and a good ol’ get-sh*t-done attitude. Planners can cut back elsewhere in the event design. This requires creative budget management. Other times, the solution is artistically finding a similar, yet affordable solution. Sometimes it’s an engineering problem, like getting a piano up a staircase. And that’s the point really. Budget problems are only trackable in event software while the solutions are within the event planner’s exceptional mind.

Sourcing Vendors Is Beyond The Limits Of Event Software

I’m being deliberately provocative here because I actually think software can make sourcing vendors super easy. There are plenty of websites out there that list every event supplier in whichever country you’re in. No problems there. At ThymeBase, we’re building some innovative vendor sourcing tools too.

But every planner knows there’s more to finding the right vendor than a good list with a filter. And that’s what I’m talking about here – the relationship you have with a vendor is beyond the limits of event software. 

The event community is a tight-knit one. You know exactly who the right event professionals are for each client. You’ve built up a beautiful trust and team attitude. In fact, this is one place where software might even do more harm than good. Finding the cheapest vendors are for DIY folks. The best event designers know that excellent execution needs a team that works together well. 

Micromanaging Clients Are Difficult

Whew, I’m not sure there’s much any software could do to solve this challenge. Micromanagers are a fact of life, and you’ll always have some of them as a client. Or it might not even be the client, but a friend, relative, or co-worker that wants to have their opinions heard. 

Every planner I’ve spoken to suggests setting boundaries as a solution. And every one of them also admits that it doesn’t work. Sorry planners, there’s not much you can do. 

Increased communication, a communicative client portal in your software, and frequent phone check-ins will help. Beyond that, I can only wish you good luck. 

The Day-Of Dream Team

When the event kicks off, no software can make the event go smoothly. That’s up to your team, including vendors, partners, and colleagues. When you have your most trusted coordinators on hand and on-call, then you have nothing to fear.  

And if there’s anything outside the limits of event software, it’s your day-of-event dream team. When you find the best partners, you’ll have the best events.

Client Service Needs A Human Touch

There’s something that I consider to be somewhat separate from the above event software limitations. And that’s client service. It’s the extraordinary empathy that you, as an event planner, bring to your interactions with clients.

Whether it’s during the inquiry phase in your CRM or the lengthy design process after the booking, kindness, and an open heart is why your clients love you. 

Event planners are the most resilient people out there. But with all the recognition of your roll-up-your-sleeves, problem-solving, get-it-done, make-it-work attitude, the empathy is underappreciated. So here’s to you, event professional. I see your compassion. You all could give masterclasses to therapists! And that’s irreplaceable by software or anything else. 

Event Planning Software Is Actually About People

I spend every day thinking about how our software can make event planners happier. Or more efficient. I talk to event professionals every day, aiming to figure out how ThymeBase can be more useful. And that’s not about software. That’s about people. Specifically, it’s about you, and event professionals like you. Event planning software should understand that it’s not a features game, not always. It’s actually about facilitation – facilitating the conversations you have with colleagues, clients, and fellow event profs. And promoting your artistic vision. And helping you get to done.

The best event software should help your empathy, skill, experience, and creativity shine. 

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