Breaking Bad Part 6: Navigating the SMB Industry Events Landscape


Ray Vrabel HeadshotBy Raymond Vrabel, Director, Technical Account Management, Continuum Managed IT Services

Part 6 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 why you shouldn’t miss your mid-year business check-up. In this month’s blog, I offer a how-to guide on navigating the upcoming busy trade show/events season. Our industry is a bevy of event activity throughout the year, however the fall season seems to be the busiest with “back-to-school” mode following summer break. There are various considerations behind an events plan, including objectives for attending specific events, budgeting time and money, and the plan of attack on-site.

1.) Survey the Events Landscape. Literally map out “the lay of the land,” and research all of the events that are currently available. A good place to start is associations and peer groups, as well as your vendor and distributor partners. Ask yourself, “What are my goals?” and “What events are currently out there that I want to attend?” Regarding goals, make a list of what you personally and professionally hope to gain by attending each event, and then share with your team. This way, you can collectively decide what everyone hopes to achieve by attending an event, especially if you are looking to send staff with you or in your place.

Navigating the amount of industry shows can be daunting, even if you are just looking at those offered by your association and vendor partners. To help, check out the list of the Top 100 2014 partner conferences on The VAR Guy web site here(this list also includes Continuum’s Navigate User Conference to be held Sept. 21-23, 2014 in Boston). Registration is required to view the list; it’s free, and worth the extra step. Another is the 2014 Technology Tradeshows & Conferences listing provided by mobile platform provider ChannelEyes. This list is exhaustive and covers the majority of IT events throughout the world.

2.) What are Your Reasons for Attending? In the first step, I mention that goal-setting is important when it comes to the trade show maze. Once you and your team have clearly defined these goals and expectations, develop a playbook of what you hope to accomplish during your time at the event. Are you looking for new products to offer to your customers? What products do you want to see demo’ed? Are you looking to hire new techs and want to set up interviews? Or, maybe you just want to start out by creating and building solid connections with other like-minded MSPs?” The best-case scenario is you return to your desk armed with useful information and knowledge that you can implement into your everyday business operations and best practices.

3.) Budget: Create a separate trade show/travel budget if you haven’t already done so. Don’t load up the front end of the year so that you don’t have any money left by the busy fall season. Consider cost. Is the event close enough where you can drive rather than fly? If it lasts more than one day, do you have the funds for lodging, meals and other reasonable travel expenses? Don’t procrastinate when it comes to registration. Many events offer early bird specials with significant discounts for signing up early.

4.) The Pre- and At-Show Plan: So you have decided which shows to attend, and you and possibly relevant staff members are on-site. What’s your “plan of attack?” Some of the things you can to plan prior to the show are meeting with your staff and coming up with a plan.

Scout the agendas for each show that you and your staff are going to attend. Then, decide who the best person is for each. For instance, if the event is a vendor road-show that’s based on product updates and revisions, then send a tech. If it’s an association event that will cover myriad topics, then that’s an event for the CEO or the managing partner. If it’s more sales-focused and includes new product pitches and strategies, then send your best sales person.

You can decide ahead of time if you are all going to stick together, or split up to “divide and conquer” the show floor and sessions. Many of the events list their agendas ahead of time, allowing you to earmark the specific ones you want to attend. If you decide to bring employees with you, have them take notes at the sessions you want them to attend, and then make it a point to discuss what each individually obtained from the event. You might plan a show wrap up dinner once back in town to compare notes and evaluate the event. Is it one you’ll want to attend next year or scratch it?

You can also decide how you plan to navigate the exhibit hall portion if it’s a larger vendor-based show. Some of the smaller road shows or one-day conferences don’t have an exhibitor component, so if you want to start small and just get a hint of what’s available, starting local for a one-day event might make the best sense.

However, if you do feel comfortable moving on to a larger show, find out who is going to be there. Most of these shows include an exhibitor list on their websites. Scan the list and see who you want to make contact with. This could be with an exhibitor that you are already working with, would like to work with, or want to know more about. Since many of the exhibitors often carve pre-set times to meet with current customers, partners and media at the booth, it’s best to reach out prior to the event to set up a specific day/time for a one-to-one meeting. This way, you can ensure ample time to obtain the information you need. On the other hand, that’s not to say that you can’t have a productive conversation with an exhibitor that hasn’t been pre-scheduled. I have made many new discoveries just because I happened to be walking past someone’s booth, something caught my eye, and we started a conversation.

Remember, it’s important to come up with a plan that’s clear and concise when you begin your industry events journey. Events don’t have to be an expensive venture, as long as you plan ahead and set out goals ahead of time. With proper execution, they can be a critical element to connecting with industry thought leaders and the latest products, as well as staying relevant and current for your clients—all components that can ultimately grow your business.

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 more than 3,300 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.