Saturday, June 5, 2010

Can't Miss Events for 2010

We are just about a month from the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, and I thought it would be a good time to remind you why events like this are so important to us as partners. I wrote an original post on this topic in 2009, and have updated my thinking here based on my focused role as CEO now. There are only a few events on my “cannot miss” list any more:
1. Quarterly HTG meetings
2. ConnectWise Partner Summit
3. Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference
4. CompTIA Breakaway

Certainly there are a number of other quality events that occur in the channel each year, but to be honest, if I don’t pick and choose I will be attending an event or two every week. And as my role has matured, it has become more important to select the events that will make the largest impact on our company from my seat as CEO. There is a real cost, and a significant opportunity cost to be out of the office, on the road attending events. So why are these my picks and what has changed?

First, let’s talk about roles and how that should impact the events we attend. From my perspective – there is a vast difference between the role of CEO and President/GM. I am finally figuring that out. The CEO role should be heavily focused outside the company – on relationships and industry – externally looking. The President or GM is more internally focused and responsible for the day to day management. CEO’s are strategic while President’s are responsible. Those differences should drive the types of events we attend. Another role we have within companies as they grow is managers. These are the folks who carry out the tasks and make sure the work gets done. They own execution and need to be in the weeds figuring out how to make it happen. As a CEO I stay out of the weeds as much as I can. That is not where I belong.

That said I realize that maybe as many as 90% of the people reading this post don’t have the model of CEO and President as roles split between different people. I know that the singled-bodied CEO/President/GM has to serve many masters. As we celebrate our 25th anniversary at HTS, we have finally moved to a place where we have a different person responsible for strategy vs. operations. I remember all too well how it was when I went to events as the lone leader with strategic and operational focus. So understand – my focus is now from the seat of strategy – that of a CEO.

I have really not spent any time attending operational meetings for a while now. It didn’t fit my job role even as President. That is where we need to start as we determine how to make investments in meeting attendance. I may be unpopular with some because of these views. Everyone wants to attend every meeting. Every meeting sponsor wants you at their event. But it just doesn’t make sense to do them all. So what will I be doing for the balance of 2010?

HTG quarterly meetings are the backbone of my community involvement. At those meetings each quarter I get updated on our business. Connie now owns the responsibility to prepare and present as President but I try to sit in and check out the benchmarking numbers that show how we did relative to the group we participate in, HTG as a whole, and the industry. This also gives me a big batch of fresh ideas to evaluate, as well as a quick pulse on the industry and marketplace which is becoming increasingly important for my role of strategic leader. I also am able to bounce ideas off the best and brightest about pending business model hurdles and required changes – like the cloud – a sort of think tank environment to help solidify thoughts and directions because of deep relationships and an environment that is tailored for those kinds of activities. The days spent at HTG are the best investment I can make in terms of working on my business from a strategic vantage point.

One of the new wrinkles for HTG this year has been the CEO Forum where a handful of companies are gathering every 6 months to focus solely on strategy and the role of CEO. Our next meeting is next week in Denver – and we will be diving deep in to strategic planning and preparation for the next big thing in our industry. I find the chance to sit in a room with 18 brilliant other CEO’s as stimulating and valuable as it gets.

Since ConnectWise is the platform we run our business on, attending their partner summit is a no brainer. There is no one single thing that can impact my business as deeply and quickly as tweaks made to the PSA tool we use. So attending their event, rubbing shoulders with the other users there, and learning how to get the most from that product is a great investment of time. But realize that my time is spent primarily in advisory council, presentation, vendor meetings, press and other modes – while we have other members of the HTS team there focusing on the actual utilization of the product. ConnectWise is the operating system of our business, and I need to be close to all aspects of that eco system to assure success in our business. We need to have a strategic relationship with the company on as many levels as possible as no other part of our infrastructure has the impact that ConnectWise has.

Microsoft WPC – the next large scale event I will attend – is all about building relationships broadly across a large organization. It would take weeks of time on campus in Redmond and airplanes flying back and forth across the country to be able to see and meet with the number of people I am able to connect with during 4 days at WPC. There is no other gathering where I can get access to the quantity of a vendor’s staff that Microsoft provides at WPC. Mornings allow access to executive keynotes that provide a roadmap for the future. Afternoons are filled with breakouts, but sprinkled in all of the open spots are one on one’s and small meetings with program managers, product folks, field team and a variety of others from Microsoft. If you just attend WPC for the content delivered from main stage and breakouts, it is a good value. But if you really take advantage of the time to connect with people, it is an unbelievable opportunity to build relationships with key people across that organization that can be fantastic resources for you to leverage and work with to grow your company.

CompTIA is a new focal point for me as I sit in the the role of CEO. CompTIA provides a lot of great content, but the reason I feel strongly the need to connect is all the things they focus on in an advocacy role for our industry. They are working in politics and thought leadership and will be a significant force in defining what the IT industry looks like. I want to be involved and part of that process. I see it as a significant part of strategy.

HP and SonicWALL are also key partners for HTS and thus on my list of must attend events except when they either don’t hold them or lay them over other events that are more strategic. This year SonicWALL has not held an event, and HP held theirs right on top of the HTG Summit so I skipped it in lieu of what I felt was far more important. That is happening more all the time which forces us to make choices and the need to change how we spend our time. And that is really the message of this blog – you have to really think about what you are going to invest your time in and not just attend an event because it is offered.

Distribution affinity groups like VTN are bubble meetings for me as a CEO, but must attend for those in the day to day roles within a company. I attended VTN for many years, but now have passed that torch to my management team in most cases today.

So the real question is – which events are on your “must attend” list? Mine has changed over the years as my company has grown and my role has changed. My advice is to take a hard look at what your job really entails for your company and then be sure to send the right people to the right events to get the information first hand they need to achieve their job success. Sometimes, often in fact, that is not likely you. I realize it is hard for many to send an employee to a conference or training. Who will monitor them and make sure they are actually doing what they are supposed to? How can I be sure they won’t sleep in or make the company look bad? You can’t know, but if you hired the right people that is not an issue.

1 comment:

Arnie said...

Great comments. There is a huge difference when your sole role is CEO. I think you and I have been used to years of being CEO, President, Manager, Chief Cook & Bottle Washer, so it is hard to truly make the switch to CEO only.

Most HTGers and ConnectWise Partners wear many hats. My recommendation would be to pick one day a week and go to work as the CEO. I would suggest Fridays, slowest day of the week; you may actually get time to "work on your IT company" instead of in it.

Oh yeah...thanks for including ConnectWise's Partner Summit on your list. I am honored to have made the must attend list.