The Convergence Summit North took root in its new venue in Harrogate last month and saw suppliers and resellers come together in a two-day romp of business deals, networking and the occasional pint. David Dungay took to the halls to find out how the regional show went for resellers in the north.
The northern leg of the Convergence Summit continues to be an important event for many companies wanting to maintain, or even extend, their reach in the north of England. Several of the exhibitors mentioned that it is easy to fall into that expectation that everything revolves around London… in reality, it just isn’t true. As a result, the Convergence Summit North continues to attract visitors and exhibitors from all over the north of England and even a few from Scotland demonstrating a clear demand for an event which caters for those not willing to travel south. The core principles of the event remain true, convergence is happening and the Summit represents all those technologies across fixed-line, mobile, data and IT which resellers and dealers can take on to sell into their customer base. The event allows the industry to come together and take a look at what the market has to offer their business now, and in the near future. Revenue streams come and go in this market and for those resellers wanting to grow their businesses taking on new products and forging new relationships has always been the key to success. If we are to believe what the analysts are saying about the fall of PBX sales then there are going to be a lot of resellers out there in need of new revenue streams to continue to hold their place in the market.
It’s all about Hosted
We use the word ‘Hosted’ to cover all manner of services but this year there was a large number of hosted telephony providers in the room. “In the last 6 months of 2014 we saw the UK Hosted UC market grow by 17%, demonstrating that the market is moving strongly towards a hosted future, and the market momentum is a sure sign to service providers and channels alike that they can’t wait any longer to execute their own strategy,” said Matthew Townend, Director, the Cavell Group.
Show sponsor Genband were newcomers to the exhibition and were there to shout about their Nuvia product and their relationship with distributor iHub. Genband’s Nuvia service provides a suite of market ready desktop, mobile and web-optimized business communications services to both Small businesses and large enterprises.
Speaking to Stuart Goble, VP Sales UK, Ireland and Nordics he said “People think that Broadsoft and BroadCloud are the only gig in town from an SME point of view and they are not. We have to do a lot more in terms of brand awareness, we have done a lot in the top tier area at the national carrier level but we are here to build our brand in the SME sector which is why we are doing the shows. Harrogate is easy to get to, and it is important at this level in the market to have regional reach up here. I think it’s easy to expect people to come to London all the time so I think its good to come north and make sure our message is spread up here. As you can see people up here want to see us so it’s great.
“We’re thrilled to deliver a compelling solution that helps make UK businesses more productive, mobile and collaborative,” said David Hiscock, GENBAND’s Senior VP of EMEA Sales. “Selecting iHub as a master distributor will be a tremendous boost – they have a proven track record with Britain’s small and medium businesses and we’re confident that they will help us grow our base of Nuvia resellers and delighted customers quickly and effectively.”
Paul White, MD of NTA was at the show selling his flavour of hosted. He said “The new location in Harrogate is a first and it seems busy so I think it was a good move. This event gives us the opportunity to extend our reach to people up north that have never met us before. Interestingly we seem to be getting a different set of people at this show, they are more IT based people who are looking to come into the market and sell our hosted products.
The IT guys are now entering our space and from our side we are obviously welcoming them in with open arms. From their point of view it’s just another product in the portfolio because it’s something they are already doing in IT. A hosted product is quite straight forward for them to add as a bolt on. The more traditional comms guys need to start catching up and need to think what they are doing about this stuff before the PBX market really takes a nose dive.
We have had a cracking day so far, generally visitors come to the stand and see we do no per seat licence and that’s normally the basis of their first question. I always say to them there are lots of hosted providers here and we all have products that do similar things, we are here to tell them the differences and one of our major USPs is we do a no per seat licence.”
Nick Guite, GM and Head of Sales BT Wholesale, spoke to Comms Business at the event and said “We are here to demonstrate our presence and talk about our hosted portfolio which we have recently launched into the market. We are hoping to get people familiar with BT’s brand in relation to hosted comms. For us this is a natural extension of the southern event.
A lot of people are trying to understand how they can deal directly with BT wholesale. This happens when resellers get to a certain size and then want that direct relationship. If I take one thing away from the event it is a lot of people want to deal with us directly and I think that lends itself to selling hosted services.”
Darren Farnden, Marketing manager Entanet said “There seems to be a good mixture of established companies and new companies coming through the doors. We had several leads today from new businesses or businesses that were moving into data for the first time. That’s good to see and lets us know there is a renewing market there all the time.
Primarily we are here to form new relationships and we find the people that take the time to come to these events are absolutely serious about what they want to do. That’s critical really because they are serious to a degree that they get out of their offices and come looking for potential partners. We know we are one of many potential partners so in many cases the event can be the first stepping stone to a relationship.”
Paul Barnet, Director of ICUK, stated “We recently released version 12 of our control panel, this is our 13th year of development. We are constantly listening to what our resellers are saying and building what they are asking for. Lots of the features we are adding at this point are little tweaks for us but they mean the world to our resellers. The more little tweaks we can do the happier our resellers are and a lot of these smaller features have now become our main differentiators.
We have some new products in the pipeline and VoIP is probably going to make an appearance this year. Some may say we are very late with VoIP but we have been happy to watch other people make mistakes with it before we jumped in ourselves. We needed the market to mature a little bit and we wanted to do it properly so it will be developed in house like all our other services.
Our aim is to get some of the more established resellers to recognise us as an alternative to their existing suppliers. We are very good at dealing with new companies and start ups but we are not so good at getting the established guys to wake up and realise there is a better alternative out there and the problems they moan about won’t necessarily be repeated with us.”
Show regular Tony Cook, MD of Union Street, talked to Comms Business after the event, “Moving to Harrogate proved to be a great success, and gave us the chance to meet up with many new faces. As ever the summit drew in a large number of leading CPs and, following introductions at the show, we’ve arranged to meet up with many of these companies to further our discussions.
We had a great response to our Credit Check solution which was launched at the show. This latest addition to our aBILLity billing platform, provides resellers with a range of tools for managing risk and exposure. We were also able to give visitors a first look at our soon to be released, cloud version of aBILLity, which offers an enhanced user interface, and numerous mobility benefits.”
A Fresh Perspective
Andrew Dickinson, Channel veteran and MD of newly founded Jola was exhibiting at the show for the first time. He said “We are always here to do business, generate leads and so far we have done pretty well. The nice thing is people know us from previous events which gives us a certain level of familiarity and trust.”
We have done a lot of research in the past and one thing we found was when we had two resellers bidding for the same postcode three out of four businesses went with the first quote through the door. That basically means if you are the first person in there you are much more likely to win the deal. Usually people will still ask for a second quote but often it is just to validate their first quote. Prices are so similar now which is usually why people just go with the first quote. Our quoting tool allows resellers to quote within about ninety seconds, that has been popular for us and we have signed up about fifteen resellers to use that tool just from day one!
One of the things we found out at this show is that quite a lot of resellers of leased lines are not doing that anymore for a few reasons. Many of them don’t want a 36 month risk. We had a reseller that came to us who had a customer that went bust six weeks into a three year contract and the reseller ended up being into the carrier for £40k. For a small reseller that’s a lot of money and they just don’t want to take that risk on. Many of those guys are now moving away from that to a dealer model which is perfect for us. We do a 50:50 margin split and they can decide the set up and the price, we also do 24/7 support. That’s been a major theme for us so far.”
Mike Gardner, MD of X2 Communications was also new to exhibiting at the show. Mike said “We have had some really positive conversations here and we think it’s important that everyone recognises the trend that everything is going towards hosted and IP. That basically means if people are on an ADSL line and it fails all their services will go down which could be a complete disaster for any business. They might have a separate ADSL line but they still have to reboot everything in the office and reset IP addresses etc.
With our service you can have five different connections (adsl, 3G, FTTC) and as long as one of them is working then your services will always work. If your main connection goes down the back up automatically kicks in and will then switch back when the main line is working. The users don’t have to do anything. It’s a total failover and scalable product. Yesterday we had a few people come and seek us out because we are quite unique but also a few others that had seen some of our flyers who wanted to know more. I am confident we will close some business from the show. This is the first time we have shown the solution working so this is also about just getting the word out there.”
Resellers come to the Summits for a number of reasons but all with business on the mind. I chatted to Freddie Hawker, MD of Best 4 Business Communications; he said “I am here to see if there is anything new in the marketplace so we can hear about it as soon as possible. I am also here to look at potential new suppliers that we could partner with and to support our existing suppliers.
We have been to the last three Summits and we have taken quite a lot away from each event. Since we started attending the shows last year we have struck working relationship with Nine and NTA.
In terms of potential new business there are a couple of good exhibitors here for us, there is a satellite broadband provider which we had a good talk to earlier. We keep coming across opportunities in this space but we don’t currently sell that service.”
Reg Smith, Director at Rimsco and visitor to the show said “I have always kept up with the show from when it first started, but usually sent someone else to it due to time/work pressure. This was the first one I actually got to myself. I wanted to support the move to Harrogate, as it is more convenient for me.
“At the show I gained a good insight into the state of the market, who is doing what, etc. Picked up some possibly useful contacts and information, and considered the advantages of partnering with exhibitors, many of whom had a good proposal. The show has the advantage of providing information without necessarily drawing the attention of persistent predatory salesmen (of which I am one!) scenting an order.”
The amount of people selling hosted products in the room was really a telling sign of the changes going on in our industry. Nothing summed this up more than the attendance of the hosted panel debate at the end of day two, the room was full which goes to show the Channel is now waking up to this opportunity. We would like to thank all our sponsors, exhibitors and visitors for another great Convergence Summit North! See you next time.