nCipher: So what is this all about?
PC: In October 2019, we attempted something ambitious. We set out to run three channel partner conferences back-to-back covering our three major world-wide territories. The branding and the core content needed to be the same and the partner experience needed to be consistent. However, we had to leave enough space to allow for a regional flavour at each event.
The venues were:
EMEA: Amsterdam – APAC: Ho Chi Minh City – AMS: New Orleans
We chose venues based on accessibility for international travellers, choice of cultural activities and availability of suitable venues for the various aspects of the event.
Here are some of the headlines in terms of what we had to deliver across 12 days and on three continents:
- We hosted 400 delegates from 55 countries and needed to help procure 108 visas for travel
- We needed 1378 hotel nights for our guests who nibbled over 2500 canapés and ate over 3000 meals.
- There were 35 main stage presentations, 102 workshops and 67 awards and prizes given out.
nCipher: Sounds complicated and a lot of work – why would you do this?
PC: Well, the channel is vital to the success of the nCipher business. You could say it is our life blood. All of our business in EMEA and APAC is done in partnership with the channel and over half of our AMS business is too. nCipher sells into 153 countries world-wide and we need the channel for their local relationships, cultural and local knowledge, export and import skills, regulatory compliance and language abilities. No matter how big I grow my sales team, I can never replicate the amazing network our channel brings to us.
nCipher: But did you have to do them all so close together?
PC: We wanted to do that so that the messaging could be 100% consistent at all three events in terms of company updates, product roadmaps, industry news and so forth.
nCipher: What makes a good channel partner conference?
PC: As someone once said - long after people have forgotten what you said or what you did, they will remember how you made them feel. A good conference needs to create a feeling of positivity that will survive in the delegate’s minds long after they have returned to their day jobs.. In order to achieve this we focus on a few key deliverables: education, motivation, information and appreciation.
Getting that balance right means a lot of focus on honing the agenda so that it covers all of those areas. I have attended many events where I felt the balance was wrong and the opportunity to connect with the attendees got lost. A good event needs to flow and move along at a lively pace. No session should outstay its welcome and there needs to be variety to keep the delegates engaged. We move regularly from larger main stage sessions to smaller workshop sessions as that helps to keep energy levels up.
Messaging needs to be clear and any slideware highly visual. We are, after all, dealing with a wide range of nationalities at our events and English is not everyone’s first language. There also need to be plenty of breaks to allow people to digest what they have heard, but also to network, as all of the side conversations that take place at conferences are some of the most valuable parts of the puzzle as people get to know each other and develop real relationships.
nCipher: Seems like there’s a lot of moving parts to think about. What else do you have to consider?
PC: The nCipher team needs to be visible and accessible to the delegates throughout the event. I believe that our openness and transparency as a leadership team is a key strength and we can really focus on that by networking, running feedback sessions and giving our time to the partners throughout the event.
Finally, and not to be underestimated, is a bit of showbiz glitz. A slick event with high quality audio visuals, great sound and lighting, and professional set design will help to hold the audience in a really effective way. People respond well to the fact that the event team has clearly thought about the delegate experience and made an effort to deliver an enjoyable event. A good conference should not have to be “endured”.
nCipher: So what was on the agenda across the events?
PC: There were plenary sessions on all of the “big picture” topics, company strategy, the Entrust Datacard business, product roadmap, partner program and so forth. Then, we had multiple workshops getting into the details of our use cases and discussing how to engage effectively in the marketplace. Finally, we had a “Tech Expo” area supported by a number of nCipher technology partners, an awards dinner and the chance to participate in some local cultural activities before heading home.
nCipher: How do you ensure that everything works? There is clearly a lot that could go wrong!
PC: Planning and attention to detail are critical. Firstly, I would never host an event at a venue that I have not visited personally along with the core event team. You need to meet the hotel management, walk the floor, check the bedrooms and be comfortable that you really know the venue. Then, it’s about storyboarding the delegate experience and making sure every element is covered. This includes pre-event travel support, understanding special requirements, clear direction and signage throughout the event and the right quality of catering and entertainment.
nCipher: Speaking of catering and entertainment, how did you entertain guests in each location??
PC: We really worked on this aspect to give our partners in each venue a night to remember.
In Amsterdam we took over a 15th century landmark in the city centre for a wonderful candlelit dinner. We also hosted the daytime sessions in a beautiful 17th century domed former church so the historical element of one of Europe’s great cities really came to the fore.
In Ho Chi Minh City we took our partners down the Saigon River to a beautiful outdoor location lit with hundreds of bamboo lanterns for a night of traditional Vietnamese food and entertainment.
New Orleans led us to having the street closed by the police while we walked behind a band and a group of stilt-walkers to the banks of the Mississippi where we boarded a traditional paddle steamer for a dinner cruise with live jazz along with tarot readings on the lower deck. We were also in town over Halloween, which was highly entertaining!
All very much of their place and all highly memorable.
nCipher: There must have been a lot of travel for you and the nCipher team?
PC. My own October agenda involved nine flights covering close to 30,000 miles. I touched down in Qatar, Vietnam, Japan and the US before getting back to the UK. Many of the team had similarly complex journeys to manage but no-one missed a single day!
nCipher: Have you received feedback from the partners?
PC: We are still collecting feedback, but, with over 100 surveys received so far we are scoring 4.9 out of 5 across the board on all aspects of the events, which I’m pretty happy with.
nCipher: Traditionally, we always close these sessions with a question about whether you have been inspired to write a song for your Blues band. Well?
PC: Oh yes! “Halloween on Bourbon Street” has already taken shape and will feature in our rehearsal sessions next month!