Archive for the 'Networking' Category

Virtual events for MSPs in 2020

August 28, 2020

Covid-19 has eliminated in-person conferences for the foreseeable future, and this has forced the conference industry to “go virtual”. In addition to virtual-conferences, we’re also seeing an increased quantity of webinars and podcasts.

Whilst there are obvious advantages to the in-person events, there can also be a different set of advantages to the virtual events, if they are done thoughtfully and well.

Virtual-events are a relatively new phenomenon, so the industry is still early in its learning curve. I’m noticing that as time goes on, the conferences are getting more successful. It’s as if there is a collective learning process happening within the industry.

Last month, my company Datagate (telecom billing for MSPs) was a sponsor/exhibitor at OITVoIP‘s Cloud Connections Summit 2020 (#CCS2020)

What impressed me about #CCS2020 was the impressive line-up of very interesting and relevant speakers, over and above the sponsors, including myself, who also got to present. My team and I attended many of the presentations because they had such good material.

OITVoIP’s President, Ray Orsini did a great job as host, and Sean Lardo (OITVoIP’s VP of Channel Development) was also great as co-host and counterfoil to Ray, with constant amusing banter between the two of them.

Ray Orsini, Presdent OITVoIP

It was noticeable that the audience tended to move around together to attend whatever was the current presentation, rather than wander around the virtual conference center on their own, visiting booths etc. I think Ray picked up on this early on, and ensured that the group not only attended the presentations, but also visited the sponsor booths. This was done, for example, by organizing and announcing a demonstration at the Datagate booth at a preset time, that was complementary to the event’s main schedule. It worked well.

As an attendee of the virtual conference, it played out much like a big television show, where you had the ability to self navigate through the virtual conference center, between or during presentations. I could see it was important that they had gaps in the schedule, similar to ad breaks in a television show, so that attendees have the ability to do what they need to do from time to time throughout the day (after all, they are all really sitting at a computer screen at home, so plenty of potential distractions).

At the end of the conference, Datagate came away with a list of contacts who expressed interest in our telecom billing solution and a good level of promotion and exposure to our target market – MSPs who sell VoIP. Maybe not the same level of personal interaction we would have had at an in-person conference, but still a good level of promotion, considering we didn’t have to fly across the country to get there!

Another virtual event that worked well for Datagate in early July, was a webinar we held in partnership with ConnectBooster (the automated payment collection portal). Datagate and ConnectBooster are complementary products, both aimed at MSPs, so holding a joint event meant that we both benefited from each other’s community. We had around 80 attendees, which resulted in some good sales activity afterwards.

Ryan Goodman
President ConnectBooster

The webinar featured presentations from Datagate and ConnectBooster, including ConectBooster’s president Ryan Goodman and me.

A video recording of the Datagate-ConnectBooster webinar is available online, here.

A short while later, Ryan and I recorded a podcast interview that will be released on ConnectBooster’s web site soon.

Early next month, Datagate will be a sponsor-exhibitor at Channel Partners Virtual 2020. If you’d like to join us, click here for a free or discounted pass.

With all this activity… I sometimes have to remind myself that, well – it’s all virtual. We haven’t actually gone anywhere to do this…

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.

Datagate at IT Expo and Channel Partners 2020 conferences

February 28, 2020

These days, so much business is getting done over the Internet, where the parties involved don’t even get to meet each other in person.

I believe there is a lot of value in meeting in person, and for that reason I like to attend industry conferences, because that is where I get to meet in person with Datagate’s customers, prospects and partners – all in one place!

Once you’ve met someone in person, your understanding of them and your ongoing remote communication steps up to a much more improved level.

Datagate’s Greg Robinson and I attended ITExpo 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida earlier in February. The event was very well supported, with many of the key players of the IT and Telecommunications industries there, including many of Datagate’s industry partners.

A photo opportunity with SkySwitch’s Harlon Hamlin, Eric Hernaez and Ben Macalindong

At the conference we announced our new partnership with SkySwitch, where they now offer Datagate as a billing solution for their reseller clients. Datagate and SkySwitch are both ConnectWise Invent Partners, which means our solutions are designed to integrate with the ConnectWise platform, which is so popular with our MSP clients.

It was also great to meet Shawn and Jimmy from In-Telecom at the conference. They are a top Datagate client, who had just traveled in from Louisiana that morning.

Meeting Shawn Torres and Jimmy Burns of In-Telecom

In March, Datagate will be an exhibitor at Channel Partners in Las Vegas, being held at The Venetian this year (booth #1253). We are offering reduced price entry passes at this link (before March 6th), if you’d like to meet us there.

On April 23rd, Datagate will be an exhibitor at the Canadian Channel Partners event in Vancouver. Contact us at Datagate if you’d like a free pass to meet us at this event.

Stay tuned for more events!

Datagate on the roadshow with Robin Robins

August 30, 2019

This week I was in Los Angeles, where Datagate was a sponsor at Robin Robins’ Marketing Implementation Roadshow.

Robin is a well-known personality in the American MSP industry. Her events are very popular because she knows her target audience and she gives her clients great advice, blueprints and inspiration on how they can be extremely successful in their businesses. I’ve sat in on some of her sessions and I find her advice and material very motivating and inspirational.

Datagate’s main purpose for me being there was to connect directly with MSPs who are serious about growing their businesses, becoming more profitable and becoming the single point of supply to their customers for voice and data applications.

I connected with some great Los Angeles MSPs at this event and look forward to following up with them over the coming weeks. One thing I’ve noticed, is that the challenges and aspirations of MSPs are similar, no matter where you go. The common goal is to build good “sticky” customer relationships and strong recurring revenues – and Datagate is designed to help them achieve that.

I also enjoyed talking with the other vendor-sponsors, a few of which could become potential partners for Datagate. This type of interaction and what you learn from it, adds to the value of these events for a sponsor.

Anyhow… now it’s time to close off this chapter and head back up to Vancouver.

Strategic partnerships as a high-growth strategy

June 26, 2019

One of the most common mistakes made by early-stage businesses, is going it alone and trying to do everything themselves.

Strategic partnerships can be a cost-effective and efficient way for a business to add channels to market, brand value, access & relevance to customers, localization and other strengths to their business proposition.

Partnerships will only work when both partners win from the partnership.

To identify potential partners, businesses should identify and understand what value the partner will add for them and in-turn, what value they will add for their partner. Sometimes it’s simply an exchange of margin and additional sales reach, other times it might be adding functionality to their product offering and opening new market opportunities together that the partners may not be able to address on their own.

Ideally, there should be a signed partnership agreement, to define the details of the agreement and hopefully prevent any misunderstandings later on.

To illustrate how strategic partnerships work, consider the example of my company Datagate.

Datagate is a SaaS billing solution for businesses who sell usage-based and subscription-based services, such as as telecom services, water, electricity, cloud services etc.

Datagate’s primary market is Managed Service Providers (MSPs) who sell telecom services. We recognized that a larger, more established software business called ConnectWise also targeted MSPs, has a compatible offering to Datagate that does many awesome things, but not what Datagate does (bill telecom services) and has regular conferences that we can sponsor and a partner program we can join.

We partnered with ConnectWise in 2017, signed up to their partner program, and built extensive integration functionality into the Datagate product to enable Datagate to share data and inter-operate with ConnectWise. Then we sponsored a booth at ConnectWise’s IT Nation conferences in 2017 and 2018 (we will be back in 2019) and this put us in front of thousands of potential MSP customers who use ConnectWise. There is no way we could have reached that size of specialized audience (who were genuinely interested in our product), without our ConnectWise partnership.

Datagate America’ s banner for ConnectWise IT Nation

The value to Datagate in this partnership is access to large volumes of relevant and interested sales prospects. The value to ConnectWise is that Datagate adds telecom billing functionality to their product offering, enabling sales for them that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. Datagate is also a regular sponsor and participant for their conferences.

Among Datagate’s many valuable partnerships, another is with Wolters Kluwer and their CCH SureTax offering. CCH SureTax is a powerful cloud-based tax calculation solution that calculates and adds all the various telecom taxes to telecom invoices generated by Datagate. This is challenging in the United States, because of all the tax jurisdictions (federal, states, counties and cities) that have taxes that must be applied to telecom invoices and remitted to the appropriate authorities.

The value to Datagate of the CCH SureTax partnership is that it enables us to service the US telecom billing market, safe in the knowledge that the complex telecom tax calculations are handled correctly. Through that partnership, we also gained partnerships with their tax & compliance partners who help us offer an easy and tax-compliant package to our respective customers. CCH SureTax and their partners gain access to more clients from Datagate’s sales and our ConnectWise partnership.

These are just some of the strategic partnerships that Datagate has formed to build its international sales. I believe that a strategic partnership strategy can be one of the best ways to scale a business and can it be applied to most industries.

Building Business Networks

July 19, 2017

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is a well known statement that I partly agree with. It implies that powerful business networks are all that matters, but I would argue that you also need a good reputation and a strong value proposition to go with it.

Can you imagine how hard it would be to be successful in business with a strong network but a bad reputation?  The strong network would certainly ensure that nobody would do business with you.

Building your business network and building your reputation go hand in hand.  You must invest in both throughout your career. Doing this will make your business career easier and more rewarding as time goes on.

I am very fortunate to have worked for the last 30 years within the same closely connected industry sectors and have built up networks throughout New Zealand, Australia, USA, Canada and other countries.  I consider my participation and membership of these networks to be a major asset, that I would argue is worth millions of dollars – certainly that would be the cost of rebuilding networks of that size and reach.

By staying within the same industry sectors throughout my career, the networks that I have built up over time are now shared with and valuable to my company and employer, Datagate Innovation.

To maintain any asset, you must continue to invest in it. Datagate and I continue to invest in our networks through participation in industry events, conferences, newsletters, Social Media and industry networking groups.

Ryan01

Ryan Ashton, AFQY

This month, Datagate signed up with a New Zealand ICT networking group called AFQY (A Few Quiet Yarns). It’s leader, Ryan Ashton is a prolific networker and LinkedIn guru. AFQY has strict rules, such as “no selling allowed” and “meet as many people as you can” in place for the networking events, that are held in bars at strategic locations around the countryside.   The events are great opportunities to invite people from the respective regions around New Zealand to come in, have a drink and get to meet and talk with new industry contacts.

My advice to people at all stages of their career, is to keep investing in your networks and reputation.  Make sure all your business deals are a winner for all parties where possible, whether the deal is with an employer, colleague, customer, investor, supplier, partner or acquirer of your business – that way you are building a positive network, not a negative one.  Get out and meet new people on a regular basis – join networking groups and associations. Keep investing…