Spear-headed by distribution giant Ingram Micro, Venture Tech Network (VTN) is its answer to enable partner collaboration across North America. The motto of October’s conference in Boston was “Partner, prosper, and repeat.”
By all accounts, it is a successful venture. With 330 members, approximately 63 across Canada, it will celebrate 15 years next year. Canada has three regions, Maple Leaf, Fleur-de-lis, and Wild West, led by individual chapter leadership.
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The entire focus of the group is engagement, “sharing ideas and deals, and bringing each other opportunities,” remarked John Fago, Senior Director, Channel Marketing for North America. They meet at North American-wide conferences twice a year to meet and discuss opportunities, not to mention hearing updates and strategies from vendor partners and, hopefully, strengthen the reseller channel. In addition to the semi-annual meetings, local chapters meet frequently to discuss local news and opportunities, and individual conversations occur informally.
VTN was created when Ingram noticed some of the “challenges of a lot of these small businesses face.” From there, the VTN has adapted over time. Fago describes, “This is a personal business, and it’s eyeball-to-eyeball. It’s about the relationship. What has changed is how we handle that eyeball-to-eyeball. We’re really working to build the community, less around the mass value of what we provide and more about the niche value of what each member is looking for.” As a result, “we’ll customize VTN around each member’s requirements.” Small business owners “don’t really have good peer groups internally,” remarked Dave Mason, Vice President, Canadian Sales. To address issues of accountability – which is verboten to some small business owners – Mastermind was created. It encourages informal boards of directors to hold each other accountable for their business decisions, but also help mentor and encourage support. Mastermind is a facilitated by partners, and it only open to partners. Vendors and distributors aren’t invited. “They talk about their business holistically and their challenges, successes and they work with each other to help each other to enable their businesses.” Partners join a Mastermind group to help each other to succeed. It provides a “safe and secure place to bounce ideas around.” Success stories include one member who, in the past year, doubled their EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization), streamlined their flow of business, and was able to buy out their then-current partners.
The Marketing Strategic Interest Group enables individuals to work together on a functional level, to learn and share best practices.The Cloud Strategic Interest Group was launched in October 2012 to discuss services in the cloud. Ingram has an estimated 70 vendors providing cloud services, and this group supports partners as they consider offering cloud services to their clients.
Member Portal enables, “members to connect with each other in a much more expeditious fashion. Today, members connect with each other on the, ‘I gotta guy,’ system. We have now the portal which will allow them to log in and do a search on skill level, geography, very direct contact information, and how to engage and learn about the business before they pick up the phone. Get to business of closing much more quickly,” remarked Fago. “Functional groups share documents, share best practices. It is the glue between the events to keep the conversation going and productive. In part it’s a tool to connect and a resource library for our members.”Vendor partners join the VTN for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, it provides them with access to their customers. On the other hand, it is also a forum for open, frank discussion to discover what is working and what is not. Vendors can learn firsthand what their end-user customers like, and wish to see. Mason said in a lot of cases they are making significant investments in this community, and member feedback allows them to tweak their overall go-to-market strategy and be more effective.
The vendor-partner relationship is reciprocal. Partners can in turn, because they have access and develop relationships with the vendor partners, have a face and name to contact as questions arise, outside of the chapter meetings.
The format of each conference shifts with partner ideas and demands. Tweaking the format is the task of the VTN Advisory Council, which is comprised of volunteer members. The goal is to keep what is successful, but then tweak the structure to introduce some new ideas. One of the goals is to eliminate, “presentation overkill. Members continue to tell us, stop trying to pull us apart from the core values of the community: networking, peer discussions, and brainstorming, which frankly don’t sound great on an itinerary but are very valuable. And so we have a collaborative approach to building these few days, which must be valuable for everybody,” said Mason.
While they are constantly looking for new members, not every application is accepted. “We want a diverse community and a diverse set of experience within each region. With each application, we ask, will this company be a good fit with the core DNA of the VTN network? Will they want to partner, want to share? It is not what you can take away, but what you can share. We are constantly looking for partners that can add value to the organization. Success and value happen when people get together,” commented MasonIn addition to the country-specific chapters, cross-border partnerships offer increased facilitation of customer needs. Trust is at the center of VTN, and working with a company with whom you have a trusted relationship removes builds success.