02 Feb Our adventures at TelcoDays, CES, Future Festival and Distributech
It’s always dangerous for UK-based companies, not least small ‘tech’ players (albeit with some enormous customers), to think that the U.S. market will see their success multiplied: simply due to the size of the population in The New World. The age-old-adage of America being the graveyard of UK businesses is a hard mantra to shake somehow… With this sobering thought echoing in my mind, I set out in January 2018 to prove that – at a time in our shared history when virtual may soon seem (and perhaps be) more real than ‘real’ – there was still a commercially viable return to be had from getting in front of your prospects and looking them in the eye as a way to gauge how real, or not, our U.S. dreams and ambitions actually were.
It would be unfair to say that I had every right to feel a level of trepidation about navigating a potentially huge new market where the cultural differences are hidden by our (almost) common language… We do already have a new client in the States – and a whopper at that. However, no matter how impressive the first win in a new land, one client could feasibly be put down to a stroke of good fortune: the planets aligning to mean you just so happened to be in the right space at the right time and the entire thing ultimately coming down to an unrepeatable piece of beginner’s luck.
With ContactEngine’s series of high profile successes in the telecoms arena; in the UK, Europe and now across the pond, my first event (out in… ahem… Las Vegas) was arguably a cowardly starting point. TelcoDays, a small show, made smaller by its last-minute reshuffle from the East to West coast, and aimed, as its name suggests, at the telecommunications community, was a soft landing for me and Casey (a recent addition to our New Business team): steeped as we are in conversations around the problems with installing and servicing various ‘kit’ in residential customers’ homes.
TelcoDays, thankfully, given the poor turnout, was only a two-dayer… and, what it lacked in numbers it made up for in a sense of immediate intimacy and openness. It was a shame there were not more carriers present (possibly any in fact) and my heart did go out to (yes, I have one despite being in sales) the guy from Uber who was stalked relentlessly by pretty much of all us. The upside of there really not being much in the way of target prospects for us all to chase after was the time we had to share stories around courting, and in some cases working with, the biggest players in the industry and garnering the positive reinforcement that most obstacles and pitfalls were not unique to any of us… We found company in our failures and reassurances in tales of success: some from organisations not too dissimilar to ourselves in scale – and, hopefully at least a few contemporaries had their spirits buoyed by our recent good fortune as well.
Immediately after the gentle induction to West Coast events our paradigm would be shattered by the behemoth that is CES. Walking 10-miles a day, and despite the event lasting around a week, it still seemed impossible to navigate all the various locations, halls and even the relatively small number of the booths: that appeared critical for us to try to engage at with potential prospects. If the sheer volume of people, in the hundreds of thousands, wasn’t enough to contend with… there was the additional sensory overload of all the screens and demonstrations (not to mention the sounds) that came at us from every direction. Weirdly perhaps, some of our most interesting meetings: at stands such as; Whirlpool, Honeywell, Somfy, La Poste and Handy (they’re an interesting bunch and worth a look if you don’t know them www.handy.com) were with companies, active in the UK and Europe and, in some cases, with fellow Brits: that it became clear we’d travelled halfway across the world to meet.
Casey flew home, I think it would be fair to say that she couldn’t wait to get away from the madness of so many people talking so effusively about so much. But, as is obviously my karma, I headed on to Florida, Orlando to be precise, where I was joined by the other member of my team, the longer-suffering Nathan. The Future Festival was a chance to sit back and watch the CEO of TrendHunter, and his team, deliver their vision of the next big things in the world of innovation, fuelled by data and insights from an impressively diverse portfolio of companies and customers and with that slight north America bias that is so important to those of us from Europe to imbibe. We were lucky enough to have some very eye-opening meetings with representatives from Visa and Mastercard (despite being huge organisations, they both seem to be doing a great deal to help fast-track tech innovation with smaller third parties) and discussions with some of the local journalists, including from The Orlando Sentinel, who helped paint a picture of how NASA and Disney have meant that the area has remained a focal point for tech and tourism respectively.
Finally into the last leg of our trip, Nathan and I headed for the Distributech show in San Antonio, Texas: a few days for us – both steeped in the utilities scene in the UK and Europe – to get a sense of whether things like the SmartMeter roll-out, that’s been such a catalyst for companies such as e.on and Scottish Power to work with us in the UK, would make new business plain sailing out here. As the biggest show of its kind in the world, I actually felt a sense of excitement moving from stand-to-stand (it’s nothing like the scale of CES thankfully) on the first day and having conversations with many of the senior operational execs. There’s no doubt, especially out West, that there is a real appetite to improve the overall journey for energy customers and, fortunately enough, it became pretty clear that – despite SmartMeter deployment having been completed by some of the big players – there are other companies where there’s still a long way to go and where we just might have a fit. With the sense that there remains a massive opportunity for small innovative companies from the UK to play, and occasionally win in the States, we headed home… But, my guess is we’ll be back soon, and not just to have conversations, but to start the process of allowing utility prospects here to actually see first-hand what has made us such a fast-growing player… albeit back in the old world!