VIRGO's Channel Partners Hosts Largest Conference Ever
The 2012 Spring Channel Partners Conference & Expo concluded Thursday in Las Vegas with record attendance, the largest exhibition and the greatest participant engagement of any previous event hosted by Channel Partners, the premier resource for the communications industry's indirect sales channel.
More than 3,400 people participated in Channel Partners, up by 4 percent over the record-setting attendance at last spring’s event. More than 155 companies and organizations exhibited, up by another 5 percent over last spring’s event.
“Channel Partners set a new standard this week at Caesars Palace," said John Siefert, CEO of VIRGO Publishing. “The program was central to the success of the entire event. This spring, the Channel Partners Conference & Expo had more program elements, including workshops and vendor presentations, than ever. Most importantly, the program had great depth around the issues that are on the top of the channel’s agenda right now, including cloud services and the integration of IT business services into solutions offered by astute partners."
“The Channel Partners Conference & Expo is continuing to grow," added Siefert. “The growth reflects the dynamism of the channel and our commitment to putting together a great program with content that matches the challenges and opportunities in front of the channel today. Channel Partners content is important to partners in all parts of the communications and IT channel. We take the same best-in-class approach to all our content, including in our digital products, magazine and all our conferences."
Channel Partners had more than 50 hours of programming in Las Vegas.
“The program is the heart of the Channel Partners Conference & Expo," said Khali Henderson, editor-in-chief of Channel Partners. “This year's program was our richest, deepest and most comprehensive. A major value of the program are interactive elements real-time polling, expert-led small group discussions and peer networking. With participants actively engaged, the program is dynamic and better able to meet the needs of the channel community. We are excited about building on our programming success in the future."
The expo floor was busier than ever. Leading service and solutions providers, technology heavyweights and master agents exhibited, drawing large crowds during the exposition.
Notable new exhibitors included 10n2 Technologies, the newly launched mobile device company, and the Geek Squad, the IT services arm of Best Buy.
Service providers included AT&T, Comcast Business Class, Time Warner Cable Business Class, Level 3 Communications, MegaPath, CenturyLink Channel Alliance, Windstream and TelePacific Communications. Technology giants Cisco, SunGard, Panasonic, McAfee and Samsung also exhibited. Master agent exhibitors included TBI, Intelysis, TNCI and WTG.
“Channel Partners traditionally has a lively exhibition," said Siefert. “This week saw more booths, attendees and energy on the floor than ever. The technologies and services displayed on the floor were more diverse than ever. We are excited about the growth in the exhibition, and look forward to continuing that growth in our second 2012 event."
The next Channel Partners Conference & Expo will be held Sept. 12-14, in Orlando, Fla., at the Peabody Hotel.
For exhibit and sponsorship opportunities, contact Stacy Whitley, director of Channel Partners event sales, firstname.lastname@example.org. For advertising opportunities, contact Susan Pienkos-Kostbar, associate publisher, email@example.com.
About VIRGO Publishing
VIRGO is an information distribution company focused on some of the world’s most innovative and complex business-to-business markets. Our mission is to help business professionals break through the hype, ambiguity and information deluge they experience, by offering trustworthy guidance that fuels their results-driven information journey.
About Channel Partners
For 25 years, Channel Partners (www.channelpartnersonline.com) has been the leader in providing news and analysis to indirect sales channels serving the communications industry. It is the unrivaled resource for resellers, aggregators, agents, brokers, VARs, systems integrators, interconnects and dealers that provide network-based communications and computing services, associated CPE and applications as well as managed and professional services. Channel Partners is the official media of the Channel Partners Conference & Expo (www.channelpartnersconference.com).
Image Gallery: Spring 2012 Channel Partners Conference & Expo
Four days of education, networking and fun at the Spring 2012 Channel Partners Conference & Expo ended on Thursday. You have to wait until September in Orlando for the next Channel Partners event, but our image gallery reminds you of all the highlights from Vegas.
Please click here for the gallery.
EarthLink Business Preps for IT Services, Hosted Microsoft Exchange Rollouts
EarthLink Business, with all of its recent acquisitions integrated into the company and master agents working under one nationwide contract, is launching new services partners may sell.
In April, EarthLink Business will unveil IT services for smaller, single locations. The provider has offered an enterprise version but wanted to target other organization sizes as well. EarthLink Business is still formalizing the products that will comprise the portfolio, but said this week at the Spring 2012 Channel Partners Conference & Expo to expect cloud, hosting, colocation, disaster recovery, managed security and more. The company will offer partner training programs and IT service consultants, as well as a portal that will integrate with its MyLink site.
EarthLink Business also is almost ready to take the wraps off a hosted Microsoft Exchange product. Businesses across the country are upgrading from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2010 and EarthLink Business wants in on the action. To that point, it's making its platform available on an opex, rather than capex, basis, to ease the burden of improvement costs. Companies have held off on upgrades as the economy has remained in a holding pattern but the dam is breaking, said Cardi Prinzi, executive vice president of marketing for EarthLink Businesss.
But that doesn't mean partners will have an easy time selling hosted Exchange — there's a lot involved in the design and provisioning. So, EarthLink Business is including sales engineers' help in its product; they'll handle migration and installation.
In terms of commissions, the cloud and managed services will remain at current structures, while others will feature lower commissions based on margins. Rolla Huff, CEO of EarthLink Business, said the lower commissions likely will apply to one-time services such as IT security audits and professional services.
Meanwhile, look for EarthLink Business to introduce IT help desk support and virtual desktop services sometime soon.
"I think this is a whole new revenue stream for channel partners," said Huff.
Agents, VARs Mull Over Partnerships During Workshop
Some of the ways to improve partnerships between agents and VARs are straightforward and what you might expect. Among them: learning about each other's business models and communicating more effectively.
"You really have to know what's going on within each other's organizations," said Mark Sondergaard, VP of Sales with WTG, a master agency.
Those were just some of the conclusions that channel partners reached Wednesday at an Agent-VAR Partnering Best Practices Workshop during the Channel Partners Conference & Expo in Las Vegas. Participants broke out into groups to discuss such issues as the cloud, compensation models and finding the right partner.
Catherine Lazarock, president of Simplicity Communications, said the agent/VAR partnership will erode if agents don't give VARs leads that will work. She also emphasized that it was important to understand a partner's business.
"You can do that over lunch. It's not complicated," she said. "In that conversation, talk about compensation and make sure they understand."
Many agent/VAR relationships continue to be informal, online surveys commissioned by Channel Partners and CompTIA have found.
Lazarock indicated that formal agreements are recommended when dealing with larger VARs but that informal agreements are OK when sharing leads with smaller organizations.
Channel Partners and CompTIA have found that agents overwhelmingly are paying a commission to VARs while VARs are paying a referral fee, said Carolyn April, director of industry analysis with CompTIA, an IT trade association.
VARs, the surveys also have found, are – by and large – earning a bigger percentage of revenues from agent partnerships than agents are earning from VAR relationships.
"Frankly I would have thought it would have been flipped the other way," Channel Partners Editor-in-Chief Khali Henderson said.
In a live online poll during the workshop that asked partners how they expected revenues from their partnerships to change in the next 12 months, most respondents indicated they anticipated either revenues to increase significantly or somewhat. A majority of the people in the room were agents.
The convergence of IT and telecommunications may help explain some of the anticipated growth in revenues.
“Convergence is driving a lot of new relationships," April of CompTIA said. "Cloud computing is driving a lot of new relationships.”
Still, the agent/VAR relationship is far from perfect. Asked in another live poll about specific pain points, many partners cited lack of commitment and dissimilar goals.
One participant alluded to the importance of building a deep relationship in which partners can trust each other to promote the right services and steer clear of stepping on each other's toes.
And sharing leads may not be the most prudent business arrangement. One channel partner said his group determined that there's always some disparity when an agent and VAR are sharing leads. In other words, one of the parties invariably will have shared more.
Establishing a compensation model "does put a more solid business practice in place," he said.
Latest CPZ Not for the Prude or Faint-Hearted
By Kelly Teal
Whoever decided that the second Channel Partners Zone should be a small, invite-only either was a person with much foresight or much fear. Just a couple of minutes into the unscripted (and definitely uncensored) hour-long chat, one wondered if the HR police might raid the event. Thus, it seems to have been a wise call to confine attendance to about 15 handpicked people and lock the doors to the VIRGO CEO's suite on Wednesday evening. That way, just a couple dozen Channel Partners attendees and staff would be privy to the zingers and one-liners you'd be more accustomed to hearing from a frat brother than from a tech pro. Plausible deniability!
Except that we videotaped the whole thing.
Of course, there's no promising that the edited version will come anywhere close to the original conversation. Because, once the presenters (VIRGO CEO John Siefert, The 2012 Group's Larry Walsh, Concierge Communications' Clark Atwood, SimpleSignal's Dave Gilbert and TBI's Ken Mercer) and the audience heard Channel Partners Editor-in-Chief Khali Henderson say, "uncensored," there was no going back. That line was crossed. Liberties were taken. No holds were barred. In the end, it is safe to say that the final video surely will feature an inordinate amount of bleeps. As Henderson told the crowd while introducing the presenters, "There's a very, very good chance that you will be offended and, hopefully, a better chance that you'll be entertained."
Well, mission accomplished, Ms. Henderson, and we blame you for setting the tone by offering up the presenters' porn-star names (formulated with first pet's name and childhood street name – paging Woody Lanewood!)
What a way to kick off an irreverent exploration of relevant channel topics. Prompted by a question from TBI's Ken Mercer, who wanted to know whether fewer transactional agents are shopping around for higher commissions, the discussion soon turned to hot debate over sales that bring value to end-users.
Mercer's question didn't get a clear answer right away. For a while, discussion morphed into analysis of the transactional agent who chases dollars (or, one-percent commission increases). For Karin Fields, who runs MicroCorp with Brad Miehl, there's no point in taking on agents who say they'll move their business to the agency for a slight bump in residual earnings. "We value what we offer our partners, so we're not going to give it away," she said. The life span of the transactional agent is quickly running out. As one attendee, Telecomquotes' Michael Bremmer astutely noted, "transactional agents are going to shop ... but they're also going to be selling insurance in two years."
The issue of a transactional sales focus brought up an interesting observation from The 2012 Group's Walsh. Walsh comes from the IT world. As such, he said, "if we were in a room of VARs and integrators, they would be laughing at you." That's because the IT partners understand how to build a practice, something many agents continue to find puzzling, he said. Still, VARs haven't been perfect when it comes to the money question, as Telapprise's Marko Spremo pointed out. Spremo, a former VAR, described how the IT guys used to bargain for discounts. It's the same problem as agent-shopping. To eliminate the desire to shop around, then, agents must sell consultatively, examining clients' business drivers, applications and concerns, he said.
From there, the room erupted into debate over how to sell effectively. The recommended approaches sounded familiar – basic sales techniques, anybody? – but maybe that kind of refresher is needed as the IT and telecom channels collide, and as the uncertain economy drives end users' purchasing decisions. And don't fret. None of that means agents have to become tech wizards. As Telecom Advisors' Dan Vidal put it, "I don't want to be a techie, ever. It's the art of questioning, it's Sales 101."
So the consensus among CPZ attendees seemed to be this: If selling cloud, Ethernet and other post-TDM services scares off the transactional guys, so much the better for the channel.
To that point, are there fewer one-off, commodity-driven agents scouting for slight increases in commissions? Yes.
"You're not going to waste your time with those folks shopping deals," said TelePacific's Ken Bisnoff from the audience. "They haven't gone away but it's less and less."
That's welcome news, and a good note on which to leave you wanting for more from the CPZ video, which we'll be posting soon.
Woody Lanewood, here's wishing you safe travels back to Chicago.
EarthLink Business IT Services Highlighted by Current Analysis
EarthLink Inc. (Booth #221) announced that Current Analysis recently published a new intelligence report detailing the company’s recent launch of its EarthLink Business IT Services portfolio.
“We are taking a positive stance on EarthLink Business' formal release of its IT Services suite, because the company has seized on the opportunity to sell extensive value-added services alongside its networks, to help SMBs and enterprises offload their resource-intensive IT challenges. EarthLink Business acquired much of its component services and expertise to back its IT Services in 2011, and has now assembled these services into a single, comprehensive portfolio for all its sales efforts,” noted Brian Washburn, analyst with Current Analysis. “EarthLink Complete and EarthLink IT Services both show how the company is pulling together and enhancing existing and acquired lines of business to create comprehensive solution sets.”
EarthLink’s new IT Services core offerings include virtualization services (cloud hosting, dedicated server, backup/disaster recovery, and web hosting), managed security services (network/cloud security, endpoint /device security, compliance & enhanced monitoring, business continuity and disaster recovery), connectivity services (MPLS, voice, and data), application services (secure email, archiving/encryption, and secure file transfer portal), managed desktop support (monitoring, patch management, and virtual help desk), and data center services (managed space and power).
Though noting the various challenges that can face companies focusing on IT Services, Washburn struck a positive tone about EarthLink’s overall strategy and market opportunity.
“The company has pulled together a wide collection of IT Services and focused on integrating them with a unified product portfolio. Standard network connectivity, data center and managed security services join more sophisticated offers such as security consulting, application services and managed desktop support,” wrote Washburn. “EarthLink is positioning itself to provide this collection of IT outsourcing services in a ‘sweet spot’ of businesses with as few as 50 to 500 employees, a segment that very large managed/hosted service providers target intermittently or not at all.”
Following the December 2011 nationwide release of its EarthLink Complete suite of business voice, data, and Internet solutions and the subsequent launch of the company’s IT Services portfolio in late February, customers can now partner with EarthLink to streamline their internal IT resources and offerings by leveraging a comprehensive mix of IT and security services in an enterprise class data center.
AireSpring Adds Free Network Monitoring to MPLS
AireSpring's (Booth #423) proactive network monitoring is now included with all of its MPLS and Voice over MPLS solutions at no additional cost. Also, a new online portal provides customers with real-time visibility of statistical data and reports on all nodes in their network.
AireSpring’s MPLS network-monitoring service is now available for all AireSpring-provided customer equipment and includes configuration and management of CPE. Customers of AireSpring’s MPLS and Voice over MPLS products get 24-hour SNMP monitoring of their networks. Any deviation in network performance will generate alarms and reports allowing AireSpring’s Network Operations Center to react, often before a customer is even aware there is an issue.
“Airespring’s MPLS Mesh product was a natural progression of the deep network skills that we have been providing to our enterprise business customers for years,” said Avi Lonstein, AireSpring CEO. “By building our own MPLS Mesh network with core nodes across the U.S., we are able to provide an extensive footprint reaching just about any location nationwide. What’s even more exciting is that our customers can get the advantage of meshing multiple underlying carrier access links, thus allowing them to pick the lowest cost access provider for each of their office locations, while we securely meshed them all together with a single point of contact, a single SLA and a single bill. As a result, MPLS Mesh has become one of the fastest growing products in our 11-year history."