Conferences “go virtual”

June 30, 2020

IT industry conferences have always been a big part of our marketing strategy at Datagate, particularly in the United States, where there are so many great conferences that are very well attended.

Our target market is defined as “Managed Service Providers (MSPs) who sell VoIP and other telecom services”, so the conferences we target to market our telecom-billing solution are those that cater to MSPs and the telecommunications industry. Our regular favorites are; Channel Partners, IT Expo, Robin Robins and ConnectWise’s IT Nation. Our white-label telecom partner SkySwitch, also has an excellent conference, called Vectors.

These conferences are where we make new industry contacts, and meet with potential partners and clients. Meeting face to face with someone is the best way to start any kind of relationship where trust is required. After meeting at a conference, it’s more easy to continue the conversation remotely via email, phone or web conference.

As a general rule, it’s easier to do business with someone you’ve met in person. This is not to say that meeting someone in person is essential to doing business.

Datagate at the IT Nation Connect Conference in Australia, 2019

Having an exhibitor booth with good clear signage about what you do, is the best way to meet relevant industry contacts. When you don’t have a booth you are more limited to seeking out relevant people who have booths, but when you have a booth, relevant people will come to you and you can still go and talk with others who have booths.

The advent of COVID-19 this year has seen all of the 2020 conferences we’ve been booked into since early March 2020, get initially postponed from their original dates, and then finally switched over to become “virtual conferences”. A virtual conference is an event held over the Internet using a software platform that mimics and enables many of the activities that happen in an “in person” conference.

From our perspective at Datagate, there seem to be positives and negatives with virtual conferences compared to real in-person conference, which I’ve listed below:

Positive aspects of
Virtual Conferences
Negative aspects of
Virtual Conferences
Greatly reduced COVID-19 infection riskHuman interaction is reduced. Relationship building ability is compromised.
No travel and accommodation costs. Less time away from the regular business environment. Some attendees like visiting conference destinations as a vacation, for them and/or their families. This attraction is lost.
Attendees can split their time between the conference and their regular work.Attendees will split their time between the conference and their regular work, adding the risk of distraction and forgetting about the conference.
Less cost or no cost to attendees.Less commitment and buy-in from attendees.
Larger potential audience, because people can attend from anywhere and cost is not such a barrier.It’s harder to make the conference “special” and differentiate from other Internet/web content.
Positive and Negative aspects of Virtual Conferences

With all the necessary restrictions in place to slow down the spread of COVID-19, real in-person conferences are not going to be able to be held in North America for at least the next six months, possibly longer.

The conference industry is still the early stages of learning how to make virtual conferences work. I believe we will see significant improvements over the coming months and years, which may well make virtual conferences a permanent and viable option.

For now, businesses will make the best of the options available to them and many of these options, including virtual conferences, might become a more permanent option beyond the COVID-19 era. However, I’m confident that the “good-old” in-person conferences will come back with a vengeance as soon as the COVID-19 situation permits.

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