Posts Tagged 'Cloud'

Thoughts on the first GFI Max UK Customer Conference

GFI Max LogoLast Thursday 20th October, 2011 I travelled to the Williams Formula One Conference Centre in Oxfordshire for the first GFI Max UK Customer Conference.

Around 100+ IT Solution Providers and Managed Service Providers attended a full day of Workshops, Seminars and Presentations.

GFI Max Users at the Williams F1 ExhibitionFirstly, the venue was superb. Friendly staff, free and open Wi-Fi Internet connectivity, and if you are a Formula One Racing fan – as many of the attendees were – you’d be in heaven thanks to the exhibition area and F1 memorabilia everywhere. Kudos to GFI Max for finding a venue that was a great Conference location and a lot of fun.

GFI Max General Manager Alistair Forbes kicked the day off outlining the companies growth from Hound-Dog Technology, to their acquisition by GFI Software, to the additions of GFI Max Mail and Monitis to the Max family – through to a look the future product Roadmap.

Some time was then put aside for groups of users to discuss and give feedback to GFI on both product feedback, and service feedback. I wrote recently about GFI’s growing user community, and this session vindicated the fact that GFI users are both passionate about the product, and vocal about what they want it to do! There was almost across-the-board praise for GFI Max’s Technical Support team – who I know first hand are top notch – and a lot of constructive feedback on what GFI Max need to improve on. A really good session that had the room buzzing.

The morning’s key-note speech was given by the Research company, IDC. It was focused on the industry changes involving Cloud services – but was fairly academic in nature and heavy with statistics. I personally felt it missed the mark in terms of relevance to the SMB audience in attendance, and it wasn’t well received by those commenting using the #MAXCC hash-tag on Twitter. That said, others I spoke to after the presentation enjoyed it – so mixed feedback.

GFI Max UK Customer ConferenceTalking of Twitter, I observed a *lot* of positive networking going on between Max users who were using the Conference to cement on-line relationships with face-to-face meetings. I spoke to a dozen or so partners who said they’d like to see the atmosphere of networking, sharing ideas and feedback replicated through regional user group meetings in the future – something I hope GFI will be quick to support their user base on.

The team from the recently GFI Max acquisition of Cloud-Monitoring provider Monitis was also in attendance, demonstrating how their service could help GFI Max customers to monitor and report on Hosted Services. I initially felt an interesting sense of “How is this relevant to us?” from Max partners about Monitis, but as the day grew I saw lots of partners talking about the potential for using Monitis as an offering to their clients. I think the Monitis acquisition is a smart move by GFI as the MSP world moves further towards a Cloud Hosted environment.

The day then broke into two streams, Technical and Business, allowing partners to mix and match sessions.

Before Alistair Forbes closed the day by thanking everyone for attending and their feedback, Autotask CEO Mark Cattini then presented an outlook on the changing face of the IT Solution Provider market. It hit all the right notes, and felt relevant to the audience who weren’t so much interested in statistics, but how the changes affected their business and their clients. A strong way to finish the day.

Throughout the day I was roaming the halls and corridors with my trusty Flip HD camera (more videos to follow) and amongst those I spoke to, towards the end of the day Alistair Forbes was kind enough to record a short video interview with his thoughts on the Conference.

Interview with GFI Max General Manager, Alistair Forbes

Chatting to attendees at the post-event drinks GFI put on, the underlying feeling I picked up on was that the most popular sessions throughout the day were those presented by GFI Max Customers who were talking about their experiences. I’d be interested to see if the feedback GFI Max received matched that observation, as it further suggests Max users want GFI to facilitate their ability to get together and meet, but then direct the topic of conversation themselves.

Overall, the day was a huge success and was very well received by all attendees. It wasn’t without it’s issues – both in timing and some content – but GFI Max have a great community of critical friends who will guide them to improve. I’m going to bet the next GFI Max User Conferences in Europe, Australia and North America take that feedback on-board.

The important thing is that the GFI Max User Community that I recently wrote about has now taken a big step from the on-line world into in-person meetings. I see that Community only growing and getting stronger as a result of this.

 

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with ambitious IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the elected chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him atrichard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

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CRN Channel Conference 2011 – 13th Oct, London

CRN Channel Conference 2011 LogoA heads-up that the CRN Channel Conference 2011 takes place on Thursday 13th October, 2011 at the Emirates Stadium in London.

The Conference is a well established annual forum which draws a lot of UK Resellers, IT Companies and Managed Service Providers together to discuss the potential direction of the UK IT Channel for the next twelve months.

CRN have put on a great programme of presentations this year, and I myself will be presenting a couple of interactive sessions entitled “Motivating and retaining your Sales team” as part of a practical networking discussion.

A load of the leading IT Channel Vendors – including Microsoft – will be in attendance, along with Distributors and Independents – so it’s well worth checking who is attending to setup some time to meet with them.

As always, one of the real benefits of Conferences such as these is that it draws a load of the best and brightest in our industry into one location – those conversations with your peers and industry contacts over lunch, dinner and even in the corridors between sessions will prove to be invaluable. Don’t miss them.

If you’re attending, make sure to let me know so I can say hello on the day. Registration is still open, is free and can be found at http://events.channelweb.co.uk/conference/static/book-now

Hope to see you there!

 

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with ambitious IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the elected chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him at richard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

How do I choose a CRM Vendor to work with?

My last blog post, entitled “How do you move from being the “IT Guy” into a Trusted Business Advisor?” prompted a lot of responses. It seems that becoming the “Trusted Business Advisor” is the goal of the majority of IT Solution Providers (ITSP’s) and Managed Service Providers (MSP’s), but achieving that status is easier said than done.

One of the techniques I suggested for ITSP’s and MSP’s moving away from providing purely maintenance and support and towards being seen as a valued business partner for clients is to become adept in offering a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution that can be customised for a clients specific business needs. There’s no quicker way than to both learn about and demonstrate an understanding of a clients business than taking the deep dive required to deploy a CRM solution.

Two Businessmen shaking handsBut where to begin? There are a slew of CRM packages on the market from many different vendors. Many of the e-mails I received on the subject of CRM’s spoke about being “too complicated”, “poor support” and “too expensive for SMB’s”.

I’m going to say right now that this blog post isn’t a CRM product comparison. I’m not going to recommend this CRM over another. As with all these types of topics, I do have my own preferred suppliers and software, but that’s based on my own experiences. You should find your own solutions by exploring the options and speaking with your peers on what works and what doesn’t.

I’m also going to preface this list by stating the most important technique for offering CRM solutions that I believe you can adopt. My American friends use a phrase I love – “Eat your own Dog food”. What this means is don’t try to offer a solution to your clients that you don’t use yourself. In the world of IT, that perhaps doesn’t mean you have to use the same CRM package internally that you deploy to client sites – it’s likely that you use an IT industry specific product with CRM-like capabilities such as Autotask or ConnectWise – but it does mean you have processes that support your business internally, targeted and consistent marketing, strong customer management systems in place, and a generally good understanding of the benefits that using a CRM package can bring to a business.

Once you’ve got those things in place, and begin looking at your clients business through new eyes, starting conversations about a CRM solution becomes something that not only you want to do, but knowing the benefits it brings to your client – you can’t help but do.

Back to our list of questions I ask when choosing a CRM vendor. Does the CRM Vendor…

Offer both Hosted and En-Site Solutions

If you work with a vendor who provides purely Hosted based CRM solutions, then seemingly every client you speak to will express concerns about security and ask you for En-Site options.

If you work with a vendor who provides purely En-Site CRM solutions, then seemingly every client you speak to to will express concerns about cost, maintenance and support, and ask you for Cloud options.

Yes, regular readers of this blog will know I’m beating the drum on the Cloud topic again – but the answer remains the same whatever the solution you’re offering. Don’t try to dictate to your client what is best between Hosted and En-Site. Offer them both options and let them come to their own conclusions based on the honest pro’s and con’s.

Offer great levels of support

I define great support as:-

  • The Vendor offers support by telephone, e-mail and managed on-line forums that specifically covers your local hours of business
  • The Vendors Support team understands they are speaking with an IT company, and not an end-user. When needed we can skip the scripts and deep-dive straight into a techy problem.
  • The Vendors Support team offers dedicated implementation help, and doesn’t leave it to the Partner – especially during those first few implementations.
  • The Vendor offers training videos and materials allowing you to learn at your own pace, and regular training webinars and Conference calls which allow you to schedule time for your engineers to learn.
  • When required to and requested of, the Vendors Support team will speak directly with the end-user to swiftly resolve their issue.

Offers Integration with 3rd Party Products

… with popular accountancy packages. Not just exports and imports, but true integration wherein things such as invoices and credit notes are raised and synchronised back and forth between CRM and Accountancy.

If you’re working in the US, then integration with QuickBooks is essential.

If you’re working in the UK, then integration with Sage is essential.

Check with your existing clients on what Accountancy package they currently use. Then make sure the CRM product you’re looking at supports integration with that package.

Check the Integration has been tested as working with the local version of your Accountancy package. QuickBooks in North America is different to QuickBooks in the UK.

Imports and Exports are still important. Can end-users easily export data to an Excel spread sheet to work on, or are you as the IT company going to be fielding a regular stream of 1st Line Technical Support calls on how to do exports regularly?

Offers *Strong* Integration with Microsoft Outlook

Every CRM package integrates with Microsoft Outlook. But not every CRM-Outlook integration actually works. Outlook hanging. Outlook crashing. Add-ins that have to be deployed individually rather than centrally. One way integration rather than two way synchronisation. All these things can cause a head-ache.

If your client is like the majority and uses Outlook as their trusted source for keeping data, then trying to educate them to instead work solely within the CRM instead will be an up-hill struggle. Strong Outlook integration allows the client to dump data in either Outlook or the CRM, and know the data is then synchronised to both systems for future use.

Product is aimed at SMB’s

There are a lot of CRM products that profess to cover both the Enterprise and the Small and Medium (SMB) business space.

In my experience, choosing a CRM product that is aimed specifically at the SMB space alone pays dividends.

Many vendors definition of what SMB is are radically different. Microsoft defines SMB as 5-500 seats. The rest of us tend to speak about SMB as 5-75 seats.

The easiest way to find out where the CRM vendors product sits is to ask them to describe typically deployments.

Typically, SMB CRM products have a much shorter cycle to deploy, and as an IT company you can teach your staff and clients how to use the system at a basic level in a day or two, not a week.

Licensing costs will be talked about in hundreds instead of tens of thousands, and you’ll be able to buy licenses individually instead of in SMB unfriendly blocks of five or ten.

Offers a mutually beneficial Partnership

Before entering a Partnership with a CRM vendor, ask them what their perfect partner looks like.

If the answer is simply “They sell lots of licenses”, then tread carefully. If you’re taking your first steps into CRM deployment, then you might only do one or two small deals initially whilst you find your feet. You don’t want to sell a product and then not appear on the vendors radar because you’re small fry.

If the answer is “Work with us to grow both our businesses”, then we’re getting closer to a good match. The Vendor might offer Not-for-Resale (NFR) software for internal use, regular training, a steady stream of referrals in your local area and marketing development funds. In return you should offer to make up-front commitments to your vendor about training staff, targeted marketing campaigns you will run, case studies you will help them to develop, and sales targets you will strive to achieve.

My thoughts here are that your small business clients probably work with you because you’re an small business too, understanding the problems and challenges that small businesses face. With that logic in mind, you should probably be looking to work with a CRM vendor who values fewer good quality, deep relationships over larger volumes of relationships.

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So that’s my take! There are many, many CRM packages out there. But remember that you don’t just want to be selling another box of software here – you want to be offering your clients a real value added service that helps you become a Trusted Business Advisor. That means understanding their business and their business challenges, and working with a CRM partner who supports you in that goal.

 

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with ambitious IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the elected chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him at richard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

How do you move from being the “IT Guy” into a Trusted Business Advisor?

This time last year I wrote a blog post about a hot topic amongst IT Solution Providers. Entitled “Cloud Computing – Good for Clients, Bad for IT Companies? “ – I suggested that with the advent of Microsoft BPOS and other Cloud Solutions, IT Solution Providers would need to change their focus from fixing the “pipes and plumbing” of clients infrastructures to providing Business Consultancy – being perceived less as a necessary cost, and more as a value add to a business clients.

At that time it’s fair to say that I although I was not alone in this view, I was in the minority. Change is hard, and if you’re making a good living from the status quo of installing and maintaining servers then it’s tough to consider a world where you don’t do this.

Fast forward twelve months and I recently wrote an article for MSP Business Management entitled “Should IT Companies Fear the Cloud?” in which I restated that Managed Service Providers should be looking to expand their scope beyond support and maintenance to offering expertise in areas such as Sharepoint and CRM customisation – specialities where business owners will understand and value the help you can offer them.

To my mild surprise, the article was well received by Managed Service Providers (MSP’s) and the majority of e-mails I received supported that view.

GeekAlthough there are still a lot of IT Solution Providers who think the Cloud and services like Microsoft Office 365 are the worst thing ever to affect their business, I’ve been encouraged by the number of conversations I’ve had with IT Solution Providers who are not only open to the idea of changing their business models away from pure monitoring and maintenance contracts, but now really believe that they can be more than the “IT Guy” to their clients – that that they can grow into true “Trusted Business Advisors”.

For MSP’s and other IT Solution Providers, I think there are a number of  techniques you can begin to use to start the transition away from the “IT Guy” to “Trusted Business Advisor”.

Raise the bar of professionalism internally

Think about the type of company you’d like to do business with. Everything from how they answer the telephone, to how they dress and carry themselves, to how they keep the lines of communication open internally and externally. Set standards, create systems internally to support this vision, and start being that type of company. People (including your clients) will notice and you’ll be surprised to find your clients approach you for more than just Technical advice, but much more besides.

Quarterly Business Reviews

Meet with your clients to talk about their business. Not technology. Not licensing. Not projects. Simply a chat about their business and the challenges they face. You should be doing this a minimum of every quarter, but the best companies realise the value of regularly dropping by for a cup of tea and a chat. Doing so will surprisingly uncover a lot of opportunities for you, but more importantly helps your client understand that you’re interested in the success of their business and are therefore someone who can support their progress.

Use a PSA Tool

If you’re not already using a Professional Services Automation (PSA) tool such as Autotask or ConnectWise, start thinking about doing so tomorrow. Using such a tool, which is designed specifically for IT Solution Providers, forces you to clearly understand the necessary business processes required to support your own businesses growth. You’ll then begin to look at your clients businesses in a different light and understand how you can help them to become more efficient too. Which leads me on to…

Sell CRM

A PSA tool such as Autotask is designed specifically for IT Solution Providers. For most other industries, including those of your clients, such a dedicated tool doesn’t exist – but your clients have a need for such a tool anyway. This is where you come in. Simply selling your clients a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software package is one thing, but offering them your expertise to configure that CRM package to support their specific business requirements is a real value add that enables you to deeply understand your clients business inside and out.

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This stuff works. I know because I’ve helped some of my clients focus on making these changes this year and I’ve seen the subtle difference in the way they now carry themselves with more confidence, the improved relationships they subsequently have with their clients, and the increase in the amount of money they earn as a result.

Start using any one of these techniques, and whilst you’ll notice changes, you’ll quickly begin to realise the other techniques go hand in hand. They all support one another in your goal to grow your business to cope with the changing market.

Start using all of the techniques, even at their most basic level, and your clients and prospective clients will begin to perceive you less as the “IT Guy” and more as their “Trusted Business Advisor”.

 

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with ambitious IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the elected chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him at richard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

CompTIA EMEA Conference – London, 9th November 2011

CompTIA EMEA Conference 2011 LogoA heads-up that registration has opened for the CompTIA EMEA Conference at the Hilton London Metropole on Wednesday 9th November, 2011.

You can register for the event here. EMEA 2011 is open to both CompTIA members and non-members.

The last two years conference has been very well attended, and over 400 UK IT industry peers are expected to attend this year. With a wide variety of interesting speakers and break-out sessions, previous key-note presentations have been from Sir Ranulph Fiennes and James Caan of Dragons Den. I’m counting on this years event to be equally as interesting!

If you’ve not attended before, then you can get a feel for this years event by looking at the highlights of the 2010 event here.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be asked to be one of this years presenters, and I’ll be presenting a “Quick Start Guide to The Cloud”.

What’s more, the CompTIA UK Channel Community will be in town the day before the EMEA Conference – meeting on Tuesday 8th November at the Hilton too. I’d expect a large turnout for this event – you can find out more about the community at www.channelcommunity.co.uk

I hope to see you at one or both of the events!

 

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with ambitious IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the elected chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him at richard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

Microsoft UK Partner Business Briefings – Book Now!

Microsoft Partner Network LogoThe popular Microsoft Partner Business Briefings are back, with Microsoft going on the road for 4 dates across the UK in Manchester, Birmingham, London and Aberdeen.

I’d strongly recommend registering as soon as possible, as these events tend to book up very quickly.

I’ll be attending the Birmingham event on 17th May, so if you’re in attendance – say hello!

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Event Overview

The Partner Business Briefings in May provide the opportunity for you to get the latest business updates from Microsoft Executives; hear from current Cloud Partners about their successful Cloud business models and see how, as a Microsoft partner, you can collaborate with other partners to establish and extend your cloud offerings.
Agenda

09.30 – 13.00

Welcome & Executive Keynote.

Update from our business managers and Microsoft Exec. Update on Microsoft vision and strategy and the evolution of our cloud offering. 

Technology Showcase

Cloud showcase for small and medium businesses, including demonstrations on our latest technologies, hosted and on-premise.

Transitioning to the Cloud “Practicalities”

Guidance on evolving your business model to make a successful transition to becoming a Cloud partner, with examples collated from Microsoft Cloud partners across EMEA. Delivered by independent consultants.

Partner Cloud Programme: Showcase

Insight from partner on their cloud programmes, showcasing the opportunity to establish your cloud offering through partnering with others.

13.00 – 14.00

Lunch and networking.

Take advantage of this time, and utilize the P2P connector (you may want to check this terminology and include a hyperlink here) to connect with other partners attending the event and start extending your partner network.


14.00 – 16.15

2 x Breakout Tracks

OEM Track: Increase business with your SMB customers

Access targeted resources and support to increase your OEM SMB business. Brought to you by Microsoft and Intel, this session will give you specialised sales training and provide details on the new SMB Accelerate Programme! The session will also touch upon the new OEM Express Deployment Tool, which simplifies pre-installation processes and dramatically reduces deployment time.

MPN Track: Create and maintain effective partnerships

ResourceiT present real world examples of a variety of partnerships that exist within the channel. This session will equip you to make the best decisions in relation to developing a more profitable collaborative business whether you are focused on cloud, on-premise or both.

You can register for the Microsoft Partner Business Briefings here, using one of the Invite Codes below.

Manchester (The Lowry Hotel)
Wednesday 11th May, 2011
Invite Code 4DEA77

Birmingham (The Radisson Blu Hotel)
Tuesday 17th May, 2011
Invite Code F60994

London (Cardinal Place)
Thursday 19th May, 2011
Invite Code 5537BF

Aberdeen (Ardoe House Hotel)
Tuesday 24th May, 2011
Invite Code 92457E

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Richard Tubb is an Independent Consultant who works with IT companies to enable them to feel more in control and to grow their business. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him at richard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

Free Whitepaper – Protecting Business Critical Services, E-Mail

I’m chuffed to announce that my first commercial Whitepaper entitled “Protecting Business Critical Services – E-Mail” has just been published!

Most people in the Technology field will be familiar with Whitepapers at some level, but put briefly – a Whitepaper is typically seen as an authoritative report or guide that helps the reader solve a problem. They are often used in the IT industry to educate readers and help people make decisions.

MSP Business Management Web-Site LogoI was asked to write the Whitepaper by GFI Max, who have recently launched the MSP Business Management Web-Site – offering top tips for busy IT companies and MSP’s. The site already has a number of very cool resources available, and I’m honoured to be asked to be a part of a web-site that I hope will enable lots of IT companies within the SMB community to grow their businesses.

As the first Whitepaper I’ve ever written, I did find the change in writing style a challenge. Whereas I’ve been writing this blog for many years in what I’m told is a relaxed “conversational” prose, the Whitepaper needed to be written in a more matter-of-fact and academic style for the reader.

I hope I’ve made a good job of it, and I’d appreciate your feedback!

You can download “Protecting Business Critical Services – E-Mail” from MSP Business Management, and it’s also available to view via Scribd, which offers an interface to read via the web or a mobile browser.

 

Richard Tubb is an Independent Consultant who works with IT companies to enable them feel more in control and to grow their businesses. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL). You can e-mail him at richard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.


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