By Raymond Vrabel, Director, Technical Account Management, Continuum Managed IT Services
Part 8 of a monthly blog series examining tips on how MSPs can work to break “bad” business habits that they might unknowingly fall into as a result of just wanting to get things done.
In the previous installment of “Breaking Bad,” I discussed how to combat business complacency by adding a few simple technologies to your services offering. This month I take a different approach, with a recap of Navigate by Continuum, our inaugural user conference held last month in Boston. With more than 450 attendees, Navigate featured three great days of our MSP partners meeting and greeting with vendors, Continuum staff, and their peers.
If you couldn’t make it to Boston for the event (or even if you did), here are my top five take-aways from Navigate 2014:
1.) Technical Forums and Peer Group Workshops: On the conference’s opening day, Sunday, Sept. 21, many MSPs attended our technical forums, including a basic session led by Continuum’s technical account managers, as well as an advanced workshop. I was told by partner attendees that both workshops were hands-on, and all came away with learning new ways to leverage Continuum’s services & products within their business.
The MSP Peer Group Session led by HTG’s Arlin Sorenson was also held on the opening day. Sorenson discussed the value of joining a peer group, and had the group participate in real-life exercises that help determine how to best-utilize a peer group. Both of these sessions set the tone for Navigate with attendees engaging and spending time having networking conversations.
2.) Finding your “True North:” Bright and early on Monday morning, Continuum’s CEO Michael George got the crowd pumped for the next two days of activities. He opened his keynote with the mantra that Continuum is about helping MSPs find their "true north.” He added this is especially critical with current shifts in technology, as cloud computing increases its presence and mobile devices are gaining a even greater foothold. He noted that the average person now owns 2.73 mobile devices, and that number will continue to increase. I wanted to test this number out, so during the lunch session that day, I asked each of my tablemates to count how many devices they own; the average was about what Michael said during his keynote.
Michael also noted that while the cloud is growing, it’s becoming more complex – and with that, MSPs need to be more educated than ever on a number of technologies to broaden their skill sets and meet the increasing needs of their SMB clients. He added how specific vertical markets will be part of this shift, and how Continuum is helping partners by providing a backbone in obtaining the tools to move forward with meeting this change, whether they’re one- or two-person shops or larger MSPs.
They keynote address given by Michael was used as a launching pad for Continuum’s Collaborate, a new, private online forum for its 3,500 MSP partners to freely connect, share and learn. The initiative is designed to directly answer partner requests for a secure online platform for sharing key updates, insights, thought leadership and business ideas that go beyond popular public social media sites.
3.) The “100 Million-Dollar” Presentation: The Tuesday morning keynote, provided by former mindSHIFT CEO Paul Chisholm, was by far one of the most talked about sessions at Navigate. To put it frankly, I felt this was the “$100 million presentation.” It had everything that attendees were looking for, and best of all; Paul was able to relate to attendees via his own personal, real-world business experiences. Audience members could relate to the challenges and successes that Paul discussed. Some of the snippets I took away from his speech, which I felt can apply to anyone, on any business level, were:
- Don’t hire resumes, schools or companies; simply hire people who you feel are going to be the next “all-stars” in your company.
- Make sure you have the right people in the right places within your organization.
- If you are going to be a leader, you must ACT on what you set out to do.
- If management isn’t acting on something, then don’t expect your employees to.
- Praise employees and reward them for exceptional work.
- Lead from the front.
Attendees revealed to me that Paul’s session really hit home, and they were intrigued that a CEO who has led some of the biggest companies, has faced some of the same daily challenges they have as SMBs. Overall, it was a genuine discussion, and based on Paul’s credentials as one of the top performing CEOs, the MindSHIFT acquisition, and what he accomplished at Colt Telecom, attendees eagerly listened to what he had to share.
4.) Staying Current is Important: Before Navigate wrapped up its three days of sessions on Tuesday afternoon, attendees heard from former Microsoft executive Tony Scott, who currently serves as VMware’s CIO. Tony focused on how everything is changing, and how we must adapt to a digital world. “Everything we do now is on our phones and tablets,” he said. “And that’s why staying current is most important. The world is constantly changing, and you need to make sure you can adapt and support it with the technology.
Tony added how the industry is moving toward a more “As-a-Service” model, and in shifting our businesses, we can learn from other industries. We are moving to a world where everyone wants things faster and more accessible. Therefore, the client wants everything at their fingertips, and as an MSP, how far can you go? Does it include managing the client’s phones, tablets, access to their VPN? Ultimately, the feedback I received was that both Tony and Paul were “right on the money” and attendees gained several take-aways from their respective sessions.
5.) Fireside Chats and Other Discussions: A surprise guest sat down for a fireside chat with Mark Connolly, Continuum’s VP of Sales. The guest was revealed on Monday afternoon as Boston Red Sox President Larry Lucchino, a major win for attendees. Throwing in a few baseball analogies when discussing personal business tips, Lucchino touched on how building a winning team is similar to building a successful business: You first have to look at your core values. He arrived to take over the management of a team that needed a lot of work to improve its stats and standings. He said that it was his competition that consistently pushed him further to build a winning team, and that also applies to business.
Other sessions that were well-received were the MDM panel led by Continuum’s Nicolas Dard and Francois Daumard of MaaS360. They discussed how MSPs can transform their offering around MDM and the steps they need to take. Gil Cargill of Cargill Consulting discussed “the Anatomy of an Effective Sales Process,” and how MSPs need to be the advisor to their client. In addition, I moderated a tabletop session on pricing and profitability, which included a discussion on how you don’t want to “nickel and dime” your clients, as well as specific service packages to offer.
Continuum’s first user conference was a standout success with attendees gaining valuable content to help them grow their business. Don’t miss next year’s Navigate 2015, being held Sept. 27-29, 2015 at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas. Click here to sign up and reserve your spot.
Raymond Vrabel is Continuum's Director of Technical Account Management and participates in product and service growth initiatives. He manages Continuum's Technical Account Management team which supports over 3,500 partners worldwide. Vrabel has more than 15 years of experience in the IT industry, specializing in managed IT services, disaster recovery and cloud solutions. Follow him on Twitter: @rayvrabel.