Moving from a live conference to virtual is no walk in the park. There is much to adapt to optimize the experience. Working within the limitations of the web conferencing platform is also a challenge.

Events that are videotaped or broadcasted through some live stream is NOT a virtual conference. Broadcasting of a live event is just what we see every day on TV. A true virtual event is when all participants are stationed at a remote location and must interact in real-time through some sort of web conferencing system. So much can go wrong to derail the experience including simple things like poor Internet access (access performance that can vary minute to minute).

Using gimmicky virtual event platforms that require certain configurations and proprietary downloads by users can be frustrating and pose a security threat. It may sound like a good idea to replicate a live conference experience in some sort of a 3D virtual game with pop up videos and avatars, but we believe it takes away from the actual important value for the delegates. It is not about navigating some game-like environment. It is about delivering real value in an efficient way that the delegate can use while having a good virtual experience.

We are certainly no stranger to virtual events like webinars as we have been doing them since the beginning. That said, we had to rebuild the ChannelNEXT Virtual event from the ground up. We wanted to adapt as much of our traditional live event experience as possible to the virtual event. We wanted to make this a true remote collaboration experience for all delegates without having them jump through hoops. More importantly, we wanted to deliver content that is of high-value for today’s needs with a variety of discovery opportunities to pleasantly surprise the delegates and facilitate interactions.

ChannelNEXT Virtual v1.0 delivered on most of our expectations, but there is room for improvement. Look out for version 2.0 coming in May!

For every virtual event, we will challenge ourselves and push the technology to “up” the virtual experience. You do have to experience it first-hand to truly appreciate its value but you also you have to readjust what you would normally expect from a live event. Both are live experiences, but they are quite different.

Quite frankly, nothing could ever beat a face-to-face experience, especially the ChannelNEXT experience that we have fine-tuned over 18 years. That said, these times demands everyone to transform into the new digital business normal, until further notice.

By numbers for version 1.0… About 150 registered. We unfortunately had to reject many more since we could not verify their identity. 2/3 showed up and half stayed online for the full conference. We had to limit vendors to 10 as there were simply no time to showcase more. This conference took 3 hours in the morning and 5 hours in the afternoon and it was jam packed with only 30 minutes for lunch and 2 X 15-minute bio breaks. We worked on developing our virtual event for 6 weeks, felt we were ready after 4 weeks and only had about 10 days to promote. We did not want to miss our originally scheduled date of our Live event for April 20 – 21. We did it!

It was ambitious but we did not want to disappoint our channel community as they needed to reconnect more than ever.

In the morning, we kicked things off with our flagship peer-group Mastermind sessions where delegates shared their pain points and brainstormed ideas on how to solve. There is something special about people helping people to overcome challenges through their collective experiences. In the spirit of today’s COVID-19 common fight, we saw more peer-to-peer support than ever! These sessions were all professionally coach-led in a very structured process to help the participants uncover their biggest problems and solve. Just as important is the post-event follow up for accountability to ensure that the prescribed work was done to fix the problem.

Mastermind sessions worked very well in this virtual environment!

Solving any problem could never really be done in just one session. It takes multiple sessions to truly implement sustainable change and make the biggest impact. Mastermind sessions are stand-alone activities where our delegates join peer-groups as often as they need. See The Channel Partner Alliance for more information. Joining a peer-group may be one of the best things you ever do in business and life! Ask about the 5 categories of Mastermind programs that we offer to help ANY MSP or VAR to future-proof their business and optimize success – especially during the COVID-19 crisis.

In the afternoon we started with a keynote by Shane Gibson on social selling and transforming your sales into the digital World. This is currently one of hottest topics for every B2B business, especially the IT Channel. Transforming sales road warriors into digital road warriors is the new business normal and the data already proved that those with good social selling skills outperform those without. Now is the time to up your social selling game! Check out what we are offering to help sales transition fast and furious into virtual road warriors. It is the ONLY training program that any sales rep need to become a virtual sales warrior!

Datto hosted an interesting panel discussion with three of their partners so they can share their experiences about taking care of themselves while solving their customers’ IT problems to navigate the current COVID-19 crisis. The fact that they also leverage some of Datto’s products to solve problems and make money was the icing on the cake. This is an excellent example of how vendors should support the channel while making the case for their products to attract new prospects.

The 8 workshops delivered huge educational value. It was a 50% mix of business coaching education and 50% vendor solutions. Having delegates sit through too many vendor presentations is a daunting experience for anyone. Our 4 educational workshops included Leadership, Accessibility, Digital Marketing and New Best Practices for MSPs Post-Covid-19. All 100% appropriate for today’s situation. We also showcased vendors with important solutions for today’s business critical needs for remote working including VoIP, Everything Microsoft including Teams and Security and Remote Managed Services. Literally, MSPs can deliver near 100% of #WFH requirements just with these 4 vendors – Sherweb, Datto, UnitedCloud and Versature. Ask us if you would like to get access to recordings of these sessions or connect with these vendors.

Our Virtual Lions’ Den was also a fun way for attendees to learn about several vendors and their offerings in fast but effective 3-minute pitches. Again, we offered a variety of relevant vendors for today’s business needs: Datto  Eaton  ECO Products  Microage  PurpleSoft  QNAP  Sherweb  United Cloud  Versature  Veriato and Viewsonic The winner of the first ChannelNEXT Virtual Sales Warrior was Stan Klebanoff of Viewsonic who did a fantastic and entertaining presentation while showcasing the products live! Bravo! Stan also got the honor of picking 3 winners to receive some cash, just for participating! We also learned of the cool Viewsonic products literally built for remote working and learning!

The Virtual Speed Introductions was a great idea, but the video conferencing platform was not able to manage the rapid transition of delegates and vendors into virtual rooms, in real-time. It became more of a “hall-way” type meeting experience which had its own value, but not to compare with our traditional Speed Introduction activity. We will be working on new technologies to improve this experience.

We wrapped up the virtual show with some prize giveaways from the participating vendors in the main video meeting room, We did our virtual farewells and wished everyone to stay safe and continued success with their business. The event may be over, but we continue to be there for our community, every day with more support.

To request a full copy of the guide, please click here

[Most businesses know of the various Government financial business recovery support being offered due to COVID-19. We have resources to share with the delegates and third-party organizations who can help them to make claims. That said, it is our recommendation that every business should apply directly to ensure they get and leverage 100% of the needed financial support. Businesses can claim up to 100% of costs to train or retain employees. There are low-interest loans and subsidies for employee wages. There are tax deferrals and probably more to come.]

All delegates were also invited to one-on-one virtual meeting sessions with any vendor or coach after the event. Some vendors did a virtual happy-hour and some offered a gift certificate for UBER Eats. We will do more on this feature in version 2.0 ChannelNEXT Virtual.

From the feedback we got so far, it seems like ChannelNEXT virtual was a worthy experience for the attendees. We fielded hundred of calls and e-mails from MSP,s VARs and Vendors on what should be the way forward. ChannelNEXT Virtual is just one of the many things that we are doing to help our channel community to navigate this crisis and come out stronger than ever.

There are lot of opinions floating around so take everything in with a pinch of salt. Wise to join a peer group to get wider and deeper perspectives from those who understand what it’s like to walk in your shoes.

I encourage everyone to browse the various content (interviews, insights and advice) on my LinkedIn posts and eChannelNEWS. We eat, sleep and breathe the IT Channel for 3 decades so we really do understand VARs and MSPs and Vendors at the DNA level. When it comes to helping channel partners to build a bigger, better, stronger and smarter business, we recommend you start with the Channel Partner Alliance. If you are a vendor looking to build out and re-energize your channel partner ecosystem with the right digital game plan, start at TechnoPlanet.

We will be hosting several ChannelNEXT Virtual events throughout the rest of 2020. To learn more visit ChannelNEXT.