One of the key elements of discussion was about Vendors and whether they get value from these events. Some people also questioned whether attendees got benefit from having vendors there.
Over the years I have heard every side of this discussion. Some people claim that vendors are evil because they send sales people to stick their hands in our pockets while we're trying to have a business-level discussion our improving our businesses. On a similar vein, some people consider vendors a necessary evil because their money makes it possible for us to have these events. See the "sidebar" on conference costs below.
Personally, I believe both of these positions are silly and misguided. In addition to paying for lunches, vendors serve a vital role. Under the right circumstances, they educate us on our profession. They show us new ways to make money. They give us new products to sell. They train us on products and sales techniques.
Some vendors even educate us on a complete new business model for the future. This was clearly the case with managed services.
. . .
I believe it is important for us to mingle with vendors. In addition to the reasons given above, it is just generally good for all of us to join in the never-ending discussion of what are industry is doing, where it's going, and how we're all going to get there together.
Because we are all going to get somewhere together, whether we choose the course or go stumbling in the dark hoping to find the way.
Vendors need resellers. They make money because we buy their tools or sell their products. They need to court us. They need to get our attention, train us, get us hooked, and help us to be successful. They also need to keep their fingers on the pulse of the industry. If they hear that we're moving in a certain direction, they need to adjust their strategies and practices.
Some vendors are very good at working with - and within - the SMB community. Microsoft is on the top of this list. In addition to their "certified" partner program, they have whole infrastructures built to engage the community. HP has also been working in the SMB space for a long time.
Other companies jumped on the SMB bandwagon because they joined the frenzy of activity of the last 6-7 years. But some of the companies on this list have no real dedication to small business or small business consultants. Symantec and CA fall into this category.
In both cases, these companies developed an SMB strategy with little or no input from the community. They took the "big business" approach of simply creating a budget and executing a plan. Here, Joe, you're in charge of SMB. And when that top-down presentation fell flat, they just moved on to the next thing.
I'm writing another post on why it is that vendors are generally missing the boat at the conferences. But in the meantime,
. . . Vendors are not evil.
We need them. They should make us love them.
And we should recognize that we are all better off with lots of vendors at the conferences, meetings, and other events. Ideally, this interaction makes us ALL better at what we do.
And that makes us all more money.
Sidebar: The Cost of Conferences
Conferences cost money. Lots of money. LOTS of money. LOTS and LOTS of money. You get the point.
I was recently at a "boutique" hotel that charges $1,000 to rent a small room that won't even sit 100 people. When I put on my little three-hour events, I frequently pay $400 - $1,000 for a room. Large rooms are a lot more. Imagine a ballroom with all the dividers down so 600 or 800 people can get together at once.
Food is another consideration. You want a real shocker? Ask a hotel for their catering menu. $30-75 per person is not unusual for snackage or lunch. Dinner is more in the range of $50-$120 per person. So if you get a lot of buffets and salads, consider the price.
Oh . . . and then there's the gratuities. 18-21% is normally built in. Then you have sales tax on top of that. And most cities have their own taxes on top of that. Altogether, you can expect to pay 30-40% in gratuities and taxes. So that $20 turkey sandwich is really going to be more like $27 by the end of the day.
And then . . . Shipping is a killer. You know those big monster booths? They cost money. And some hotel charge you to have things shipped there, even if they're already getting you for room rentals and food.
I realize this is all under the category of "business expense." But just don't forget that the word expense is prominent when you're talking hotels and conferences.
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