Expand your budget process this year to include projections of how much time your team will spend with channel partners. The most successful vendors can be found at channel association conferences, focusing on spending time over money. The more you become a known channel influencer, the more effective your channel program will be.

The biggest challenge in writing this post is resisting the urge to name names. There are certain vendor executives who are literally masters of participation in the channel community. By masters, I mean they have become well-known, well-respected, and often well-loved by channel partners who have met and spent time with them at conferences throughout the years. After a long COVID hiatus, some of these events are coming back – or are simply making the move to being digital.

Getting Less Out of Conferences

If your plan is to register for an in-person or digital conference, attend keynotes, get some golf in, and collect “tchotchkes” or swag, then your time would probably be better spent cold calling. Seriously. Don’t go to any show unless you have a plan. A well-thought-out plan.

If your only plan is to sell, sell, sell then you will almost certainly fail. Everyone else is there to do anything but buy. They want to learn, meet people, have fun, but there are seldom many buyers at conferences.

How to Know if a Conference is Worth Attending

Vendor executives like you often ask, “Is this conference worth attending?” There are a few facts to gather before you can answer the question.

The first thing you want to know about any conference is who attends it.

Yes, even virtually! That needs to be answered on many levels: 

  • Which companies are represented? 
  • What kinds of companies are they? 
  • How many attendees will be there? 
  • Who from each company tends to attend? Executives? Decision-makers? Staff? Sales? Techs? 

Then there’s the agenda. 

You may want to look at the sessions that will be available, but those aren’t really programmed for you. Perhaps even more important is to see how much slack time is programmed in. Additionally, ask: 

  • Will there be gathering places where you can meet and greet other attendees? 
  • Is there an online system offered through which you can arrange meetings with other attendees? 

If you’re attending a conference in person, the venue is also important. 

  • Is the conference in a city that is easily reached from where you are? That’s an important consideration especially when you want to minimize the time you spend on planes. 
  • Is there a selection of places you would take clients for a coffee or a drink, or a meal? 
  • What is the COVID-19 protocol like, if it is in place?

Whew! I know, we’ve thrown a lot of questions about you. If you’re considering what else to ask that is oftentimes overlooked then be sure to look at:

  • Whether or not you can rent a booth at the floor show. If so, are good locations available? 
  • Will your direct competitors be there? 
  • Will breakout rooms be provided just off the showroom floor to take clients to for private conversations? 

What You Really Want Out of a Conference

This advice would actually be the same for you and your team, as well as for your channel partners and their teams. There are a few key reasons you attend any given conference:

1. To see and be seen by friends

Not kidding about this. 

Participants in the channel community, those who really participate, are among the most ambitious, most aware, most interested in helping each other kind of people you’ll ever have the pleasure of knowing. The friendships you can build and continue to develop at conferences can last a lifetime, build your company success, your overall business performance, and your own career. 

Many of the luminaries you see listed in Top Channel Execs to Follow articles do this to the extreme. It’s not only rewarding on a professional level, but it’s great on a personal level as well.

2. To get to know new people

People do business with people and more business with people they like. 

Conferences are your best opportunity to have friends introduce you to new friends where you can sit down and actually have a conversation. Get to know one another. Share some fun experiences that build camaraderie. 

While this is easier to do at in-person sit-down meetings, well-run virtual conferences will find ways to connect attendees in meaningful ways.

3. To seek opportunities to help other people

People appreciate and remember people who help them. They keep those people in mind. When an opportunity to return the kindness arises, they seize it. Ask questions. Find out who’s doing what and listen with an ear toward finding ways you can be helpful and provide value. Become a truly participating, contributing member of the channel community. 

4. Build your value proposition

Many of the channel executives who have really engaged in these ways can be seen on the keynote stage or at least at the breakout sessions speaking to groups. They become sought-after speakers for the best of reasons because they have valuable insight to share. These leaders become sought after by industry journalists as well and those insights gain an even bigger audience. What follows are usually promotions due to significant increases in business under their watch. 

Setting Goals – The Key to Success

Never go to any conference without a plan for how you’re going to approach it. Begin that plan by setting specific goals. Are there specific people you want to meet who will be there? Do you know anyone who can introduce you? Those people may be colleagues, competitors, channel partners, journalists, analysts, senior executives, other influencers, or others. Make a checklist with a strategy to seek out and greet each of them. 

The IT Channel is a very social community, with an enormous legion of unknowns who either don’t participate or are just starting to participate for the first time. There’s much to learn from this community, and there’s much you can bring to this community to be valuable to them. Be thankful. Be humble. Be useful. Be successful.