The Top 5 Tips for Exploring Construction Software at CONEXPO

Software plays an ever-expanding role in the success of contractors, and CONEXPO is a great place to explore the options. Any tradeshow, however, is a collision between a finite amount of time and an overwhelming array of booths to visit. As solutions engineers who have demonstrated at several dozen construction shows, these are our top five tips for how contractors can maximize their time, get the best demonstration and walk away with the information they need to make the right decision about new software.

Do Some Homework and Prioritize

With hundreds of software suppliers and thousands of solutions under one roof, the temptation at CONEXPO is to hit as many booths as possible. Spending more time with fewer software suppliers, however, can be better than spending too little time with too many.

Contractors should think about what they need most to prosper and the biggest problems they’re facing. Come up with a list and then focus on the most important ones. That still might be a big list, but at least there will be a more well-defined place to start.

A good strategy is to compare websites and literature of software suppliers a few weeks before the show. Making a few phone calls and talking to representatives is a good idea too. This can provide equivalent or better information than a rushed booth visit. Contractors can also process the information more effectively than when they are barnstorming through 15 or 20 booths in succession. This research will allow them to arrive at the show with a narrowed down list of top options, so they can budget an appropriate amount of time to spend with them.

Book a Meeting in Advance

Tradeshow traffic is unpredictable and uneven, making it challenging to staff a booth. Rather than taking a chance on who will be available to demonstrate when they show up unannounced, contractors should take advantage of the option most software suppliers offer to schedule meetings in advance. This can eliminate waiting and help suppliers line up the best resources for each contractor demo.

Alternatively, booth traffic tends to be much lighter early in the morning, when the show opens, or late in the afternoon. Those are good times for contractors without a scheduled appointment to get maximum attention.

Send the Right People

Choose who to send to CONEXPO based on what you’re looking for and where you are in the decision-making process. A contractor that is only gathering ideas about software options can send just about anyone.

A company that knows what it wants should send people responsible for implementing and using the software for a specific workflow. Those individuals will get a much better demonstration because they can explain the business problems that their company is trying to solve, ask the right questions and optimize the face-to-face opportunity of the show to help determine the best partner.

For example, there’s a lot of equipment at CONEXPO, so many contractors send their equipment people. That’s great for reviewing maintenance software. When these specialists have a secondary mission to check out software for estimating, scheduling, field tracking or other workflows, what usually comes back is a report that all the applications seem great.

Open Up about Specific Challenges

“Just show us what you have” is an all-too-typical response when a supplier asks contractors what they are looking for at a tradeshow. The instinct with a potentially new supplier may be to be a bit guarded but, the more contractors can explain specific problems they’re trying to solve, the better the demonstration will be.

The worst scenario is to waste a one-hour demonstration and realize “We don’t need most of that.” A five-minute conversation up front can usually help both the supplier and the contractor determine if there is a potential fit and what to focus on in a demonstration.

Coming to a booth with examples is a great idea too and can help the supplier tailor the demonstration. “We bid 20 underground utility projects per month with Excel and have around 200 cost items across three divisions,” is better than “Tell us about your estimating software.” “Unplanned repairs for our fleet of 110 vehicles are way up, and our downtime exceeds 20 percent,” is more helpful than “We’re thinking about maintenance software.”

Look Beyond the Screens

Every supplier wants to show off features and functionality at a tradeshow, but those shouldn’t be the only factors in a software decision. Contractors should take advantage of the unique face-to-face nature of a tradeshow setting. This is an environment where they can meet multiple people from the supplier’s organization and get a sense of whether the people behind the software are people they could see themselves working with over the long term. Asking about how suppliers handle implementation, training and ongoing tech support is advisable, and the tradeshow can be a great place to meet the people responsible for these aspects.

Tom Willey and Mark Hooks are senior solutions engineers at B2W Software.