As every seasoned conference goer knows, the formal agenda items provide only part of the value of attendance. The hallway discussions, coffee breaks, drinks at the bar and group dinners provide the remaining value. It’s during these times that the somewhat homogenous nature of attendees proves its worth. By gathering this homogenous group together, with shared industry type, target markets, business size, and tool sets, makes it easy to identify the more successful examples. The conference provides the opportunity to focus in on these examples and to consider the often minor but significant differences and similarities that make some more successful than others.
As part of a panel discussion at a recent Connectwise gathering this was more apparent to me than ever. The IT services industry is a funny one in which to compete. For starters the demand is extensive and will only continue to grow given our reliance on technology. Barriers to entry for service providers are practically non-existent with essentially no industry regulation or governance. This means anyone is welcome to hang out their shingle as an ‘IT Guy’, leading to excessive competition. The subsequent volume and fragmentation of service providers is both a blessing and a curse, meaning it’s extremely difficult to make oneself heard in such a crowded marketplace, but then once you do have a client’s attention it can be comparatively easy to shine next to the cowboy they were most likely dealing with previously.
So in this context, let me share with you the top five points I’ve come away with from this particular conference.
1. The cloud is here to stay
It is time to get over the hype and see the cloud for what it is — just one of many tools in the IT solutions kit. In marketing terms the cloud is still hot but it’s actually been around for a few decades. Anyone that uses a computer already uses cloud services (the internet = the cloud). Let’s stop buzzing about the cloud and start accepting that its just another part of the IT landscape and it is here to stay.
Check out this short video from the panel discussion with industry leaders talking about current trends in technology, particularly the cloud.
2. Everything is going mobile
Desktop computing is not dead but mobile capability is fast exceeding it in relevance and demand. Even my observations at this conference confirmed that the vast majority have moved beyond laptops — attendees were using ultrabooks, tablets, iPads, smart phones. Let’s face it. Many of us feel a little bit lost without our smartphone or tablet. It’s a comfort to feel it there in your pocket or safely in your handbag. It’s our connection to the world more so than ever before. This trend is not changing. What we are seeing is a complete shift in the way we engage with the world. Next time you are around a baby, even as young as 18 months old, watch it grab for the iPhone or iPad and intuitively know what to do and how to use it. Everything is going mobile, even babies!
It might not seem like rocket science but this continued trend toward mobility means a great deal depending on your reference point. We are talking about a lot more than accessing email from your phone.
From a sales and marketing perspective, it means optimising your website for use on mobile devices. People are no longer just browsing the Internet from their mobile devices, they are also researching and reading long articles, comparing services and products, and selecting and buying services and products from their mobile device.
From a staff point of view, there no longer needs to be any lost productivity when team members are offsite, meeting with suppliers, on the road between meetings, at conferences, or at home. It is now expected that these staff will have full access to all business systems. Today, people want the capability to connect with corporate information and documents from wherever they are using their mobile device. The cloud has made this easy and efficient.
3. Most SMBs are really bad at marketing
In our panel discussion, with a couple of hundred in the audience, when asked who is actively marketing, about 3 people raised their hands. And most likely those 3 hands represented people whose idea of marketing was a website, a blog or a facebook page. But real, innovative marketing was lacking across the board. There are good reasons for this.
Technicians start many businesses — engineers, accountants, chefs, graphic artists, the list is as long as the number of jobs around. The point is that just because you’re a good technician, doesn’t mean you are necessarily good at running a business. The danger for technicians starting out in business is they will constantly be drawn back to the comfort zone of their particular technical skill, and will focus their time and energy there, instead of on the pressing needs of a growing business. Learning and practicing new skills such as expert marketing will allow the business to thrive. As author Michael Gerber said best, “Contrary to popular belief, my experience has shown me that the people who are exceptionally good in business aren’t so because of what they know but because of their insatiable need to know more.” If you haven’t read it already, I consider Michael Gerber’s book The E-Myth, compulsory reading for anyone with an ABN.
Small businesses are often working with limited resources. There are only so many hours in the day and money in the bank — resources are directed into more pressing demands like delivering products, answering sales calls and managing payroll. Marketing gets shoved to the back of the line and soon it comes to be viewed as a non-essential item. It is not.
4. Price does not equal value
On the whole people and clients will pay good money as long as they receive appropriate value for the price. It’s not about buying the cheapest or most expensive product or service, but rather, buying the product or service that returns the best value. We all know that cheap is appealing, but it doesn’t mean cheap is always good. The clients you want are those that will buy on value, not price.
Ironically, many people think that the higher the price, the greater the value. How many of us have bought a more expensive bottle of wine in the hopes that it will taste better? Doesn’t always work though, does it? If it doesn’t live up to our expectation in value, we wont buy it again. It’s the same with all products and services. True value must also be delivered, or the client will quickly go elsewhere. Clients are happy to trade off price for the benefits they receive from the product or service, but the trade off has to be fair. The value must be there.
5. Power of community is invaluable
It’s about knowing your community and investing in them. Seth Godin calls your community, your tribe. These are your hardcore fans. Nurture and foster that community by thinking about what value you can add. If you don’t think you have a community, look again. A community is founded on shared ideas and values. Think about your peers, your suppliers, your clients and your supporters. The key is retaining their attention and their loyalty by providing them with real value.
Connectwise are the MASTERS of building community. This entire conference was about them giving back to their community, and in reward they enjoy brand loyalty, gain opportunity to improve and adjust products in response to feedback, and help develop a self-perpetuating enhancement of the community as members engage and give of their time, knowledge and experience to the tribe.
Jay Baer sums up the kind of value to invest in a community — informing rather than promoting; marketing instead of selling. Provide your community with true value and the rewards will be there.
Attending conferences such as this provides an invaluable experience for business owners. I would like to put a big shout out to Connectwise for adding such value to our IT community. Many thanks.
Ben Love, Director of Grassroots IT, shares his experience from a recent ConnectWise Peer Group meeting in Sydney, Australia. Grassroots IT is a Brisbane, Australia based MSP helping small and medium sized clients extract maximum value from their investment in IT, be it cloud, on-premise, or some combination of the two. For more information about Grassroots IT, please visit www.grassrootsit.com.au