Table of Contents:
We’ve brought together three hosts from three different podcasts in the partnerships space to review key insights and trends noticed in the past year from interviews with channel chiefs, partnership leaders and in the overall partner ecosystem landscape.
Rob Spee is a seasoned and experienced channel and alliance executive. He has created and executed channel strategies and programs ranging from start-up mode businesses, all the way to a $350M business. Today he’s SVP of Global Channel & Alliances at BeyondTrust as well as the host of the long-running Channel Journeys podcast – a podcast where you can “hear channel experts share authentic stories of their channel victories, defeats, and lessons learned along the way.”
Vince Menzione is the Founder of Ultimate Partnerships – a consultancy helping partner organizations drive greater results. And the host of another impressively long-running podcast, The Ultimate Guide to Partnering podcast.
Paul Bird is the host of Magentrix PRM's The Ultimate Channel Sales Podcast - where he regularly has discussions on how to navigate partnerships, how to support your partners, identify weak areas of your partner strategy, discuss the latest industry trends and reports, and more.
Common themes from the last year
So, Rob, let's start with you.
Can you kind of outline a couple of things or standouts that you've seen: trends, or patterns from channel leaders, let's say over the last 12 months in 2022.
First theme: Quality partners
Yeah, I think there were a couple of common themes.
One was the continuing narrowing of focus down to a smaller number of quality partners as opposed to just, let's sign up as many as possible.
"I think just about everyone has made that shift to really honing in and targeting resources, time, energy people into those focused partners and making them super successful."
So that's one key theme.
Second theme: Ecosystems
Another key theme is the word that you mentioned, ecosystem.
And this is the one thing that we're all trying to figure out, and it sounds so simple.
And it's like, kinda like cloud is, it's just another name for something that we've already done?
And in a way, it is, but in a way, it's very, very different.
We've always had different types of partners.
But we're paying so much more attention to it now in the SaaS world, and the reason why we need an ecosystem.
And the fact that the buying process has changed so much, and the importance of implementation and adoption has changed so much, that is really placing a huge emphasis on the need for a diverse ecosystem.
And it's really challenging all of us on how to manage that from a technology perspective, from:
- a people technology perspective
- a program perspective
Those are the two big things that I've seen as major trends over the course of the year that I expect to continue.
Third theme: Marketplaces
I'd say the preponderance of marketplaces.
Marketplaces have really become a thing this year.
The emphasis on the fact that the three cloud providers have large agreements with most big enterprise organizations and the opportunity to leverage those is massive.
And there's an opportunity for an organization of any size to have a more relevant footprint through marketplaces.
And you're starting to see organizations in places where people are meeting the watering holes.
And they're growing, and the echo chamber is getting louder and louder and louder.
Fourth theme: Hyperscalers
The hyperscalers, as I've been hearing them being referred to as, and I agree, you know, the ecosystem talk that I have heard over the last 12 months, has grown significantly.
I think there is a level of eagerness when people are starting to build their channel, they want everyone carrying their brand, their product.
But then they realize that the amount of cycles they have to spend to manage every partner, it's not feasible, right?
I think the one edition that I have seen, and this is maybe more on a tactical level, is just the way that partners are now engaging and how they want to transact with, let's say, affiliates and referrals. And these are all part of the ecosystem that we talk about.
But the amount of people that want to either incentivize, they don't want to co-sell, they just say, ‘send me the lead, send me the prospect, and if I close it, I'll pay you out into your bank account, or I'll send you a gift card’ or something like that, and it seems like every partner program that I'm seeing now has this affiliate referral, bounty type engagement that they're trying to leverage.
"Partners brought value, delivery partners, people that we could lean on, trust, train, enable. And for some reason, I saw less of that in 2022, and I'm hoping that it isn't a trend that we'll see continue for 23, but I do believe it's something we're going to see, that's for sure."
The future of demand generation
You know, we look at the role of marketing and partner marketing. I've always looked at the Holy Grail, and Rob, you and I talked about this on your podcast, do demand generation, and feed the channel, right? “Feed the beast”, as I believe, I said.
Because it is a monster that does require a lot of attention and as a channel partner in the past, you send me a lead, you're gonna get my attention.
Now, it seems that demand generation has now been reversed, where we're saying, ‘you find the opportunity, and we'll give you a bounty for it.’
Do you think it's just a different avenue for demand generation?
Do you think that partner marketing and corporate marketing need to work together for demand generation?
Where do you think that referral incentive is coming from?
I think it's in part another form of demand generation, but I think more importantly, it's a form of influence generation. Which gets a bit more nebulous and a bit harder to track.
In my example, the insurance companies don't want any kickback referral fee or anything like that, they want deeper engagement with their customers. If a customer says, hey, how can I become compliant?
And they say, ‘oh, by the way, use beyond trust technology, that can help you become compliant in your insurance.’
That's a great value add for the customer, and it makes them look good as that insurance company, and, you know, providing that kind of advice.
And that's the kind of an influence that we're looking for.
You know my view is that, I think that the decision process has changed, decisions are being made further down in the organization.
You know, you go back 10 years ago, right, the IT shop made all the decision technology, so you had that influence in the organization. But, marketing has a bigger budget than IT does in many organizations. As you look at the lines of business, and where the decision is being made, the buying behavior is becoming more like consumer behavior, because people are bringing to work the way they buy a car, or a house, or something on Amazon.
And so, they are looking to the points of influence.
You know, I'll quote Jay McBain with the five seats at the table, who are the people that are influencing my decision process?
Who are the other vendors that I'm working with that are helping shape my whole solution? And I think they're looking at all those areas, and a lot of those organizations are not transacting.
"They may not be systems integrators that are integrating your solution with another solution but they're sitting side-by-side with you, and there's a great opportunity to collaborate."
Tips for a successful ecosystem
So let's actually tackle this. It's not an elephant in the room, but obviously ecosystems have been the trend that we've seen in 2022.
What have you noticed as far as how channel leaders are starting to change and interact with it?
Is there any kind of general ideas that need to be considered in implementing an ecosystem concept?
Any kind of suggestions, ideas, on things that people need to consider if they're going the ecosystem route?
Well, coming at it from the hyperscaler world, where I spent a lot of my time, right? Helping these organizations engage with Microsoft and Google and others, is that they have had disparate strategies for their alliance strategy and then their channel strategy, right?
And a lot of them that have moved from, you know, on-prem, or a license software to SaaS, have neglected to make those two organizations talk well with one another.
And going back to the marketplace, play as a good example, right? I might have a very robust channel strategy over a year, are these the right partners?
It goes back to what Rob said about having the right partners in the room. Do I have the right partners that also can work across my ecosystem or my hyperscaler strategy?
Let's look across from my alliance strategy to my channel strategy, into my influencer strategy and do I have a cohesive approach across that entire ecosystem?
So I think that one of the things I'm seeing is trying to remove those walls that separate the silos within the organization itself and have a moat or cohesive ecosystem strategy.
One is the conversations that you're having within your company at the board level, the ELT level changes now. Everyone gets the buzzword ecosystem and I think they buy into it.
"But in reality of executing on it and thinking about targets and what people are really doing, that's where it gets a little hairy, because people are still used to the older mindset of the value of partners: bringing scale, bringing reach, bringing us opportunities, driving partner-originated business. You can’t lose that, that's still got to be important"
But the challenge is that's how the ELT and the board is thinking, yet, at the same time, they're saying, ‘hey, go build me an ecosystem.’
But to build an ecosystem, you need to do some things differently.
I tried this year to get my CAM team to really own the ecosystem.
It's too much on the CAM because they still have to drive the partner-originated business, and work with those focused partners and do all the other things that CAMs have to do.
We're going a bit more towards specialization this year and introducing some new roles in the organization.
So, I introduced partner success managers last year, and that was a big piece of it, because post-transaction, well, you need success in the technical sales pre-transaction.
But then you need a lot of partner help in implementation and adoption, and all of that.
So, we're introducing new roles, and now we gotta put new metrics on them and get our executives comfortable with different metrics, and targeting different things.
We're trying to drive more adoption with this set of partners, not more partner-originated business.
So it's changing the conversation a bit, and getting people comfortable with that.
The rise of co-innovation in channel sales
Interesting you know, we talked earlier about the referral, but now Rob it's almost like a co-sell, almost like a co-innovation, co-delivery?
Is that on the rise? Do you think that the critical function of the ecosystem is this co-support and co-innovation?
I think it's co-everything, Paul.
It's co marketing, it's co-selling, it's co-innovation, co-delivery.
It's all out there doing it, and it goes back to the hybrid sales approach of a hybrid car that Rich Blakeman talks about: how do you all work together using your individual strengths, but coming up with a better solution that wraps around the customer and drives everything the customer needs to buy your products and be successful?
Vince, you talk about the hyperscalers and they're essentially an ecosystem on their own, but not as much co-innovation – or is there an element of co-innovation and of co-delivery in a marketplace model or a hyperscaler model?
We talked about marketplaces, we talked about hyperscalers, and we talked about channel, and bringing all those things together.
So, there's an opportunity to take a SaaS solution, deliver it on a particular hyperscalers platform, and wrap around professional services, and put it up in the marketplace as an offering. And we’re starting to see a very deliberate set of actions. And the partners that are doing that are the hyperscalers.
So let's take Microsoft:
I've got Microsoft scale partners that drive the bulk of the transactional revenue for Microsoft.
I have ISVs like Rob's organization that had built on the cloud, how do I bring those two things together so that I'm leveraging the scale motion of the scale reseller, and at the same time, taking this best of breed technology to the customer, wrapping around some services or support – the added-value that the scale partner is bringing to it – and delivering a high value solution that's a complete solution for the customer.
Partner programs: Trends, facts, stats
There was a recent report released, “The State of Partner Ops and Programs” that was a combination of a number of people, including Jay McBain, that put this together.
And it was interesting, because we've all heard Jay say that 75% of world commerce goes through an indirect channel of some sort. And this is something that we've heard for a while.
But when I read the report, there was something I found really interesting because they said that people with partner programs, and I'm going to assume these are now moving to ecosystem programs, that on average, 77% of organizations have some type of partner program in place. But on the enterprise level, it's more like 92%.
Now I'm wondering if you had a chance to go through that program, or if you had any opinions on the state of partner programs and partner operations that kind of takes to the delivery of these ecosystem tactics we've been talking about
I saw the report, a fantastic body of work there, and I think it's like 95 pages.
I have not read the entire report, but I did do a quick summary, and I immediately forwarded it to our head of global partner ops who loved seeing it.
It supported a lot of things that he's driving in the company, and the move that we're making in our partner program, which we started down the path of turning it into a partner ecosystem program, and it's not like a wholesale change overnight. It's an incremental shift that we're making.
We made some changes last year, we're making some improvements this year, and I think it'll take 3 or 4 years to turn it into a true ecosystem program.
There were a couple of things that I really picked out of that when it came to a techstack perspective, and number one was the emergence of the marketplace.
And I'm wondering how much that is going to be when we start looking at 2023 and we talk about the hyper scaler marketplace, and we talk about Rob, you joining and expanding your marketplace strategy.
Do you think this now, will need to be the de facto standard for people that are launching an ecosystem program, that they have to really consider the impact of a marketplace not only in their offering, and with their channel partners, but how they're delivering it to the end user as well?
I think so, but I don't think you can expect to just have overnight success on the marketplace, nor can you have overnight success with any partner.
It takes time, and just because you're now up on the marketplace doesn't mean customers are banging at your door to buy your solution.
Now, there are thousands of our other offerings up on the marketplace.
So it still takes all the other work and blocking and tackling that you need to do.
"But it creates a very convenient vehicle for customers to purchase your solution, and can drive, as they've shown in studies, and we're seeing ourselves just getting started drive, faster deals, bigger deals budget that you didn't even know existed because they're trying to draw down their contracts with hyperscalers."
And how about you Vince, do you think that it's gonna play a key aspect in the growth of people's programs?
Is that key aspect of not only developing a marketplace but then promoting it accordingly?
Yeah, I think what's held it back right now is inherently the systems and tools of the hyperscalers to support a motion that is inclusive of the channel in a way that the channel is used to recognizing revenue, has been an issue.
So in most cases, there's some backend payment program.
But if you're a scale partner, like a CDW or an SHI, you're used to recognizing top line revenue.
So there is some friction in the system right now, especially for organizations that are channel heavy, because it does compete with the existing models and keep everyone happy in the process.
Ultimately, some people say that marketplaces will make the channel go away, and that also scares the channel.
The two coexist and the example that I gave earlier where a channel partner takes a solution and then wraps their professional value around it, I think, is the model that will work in the future.
But I do think there's a resistance on both sides, ISVs vendors, SaaS vendors that have a solution and rely on the channel and then, the channel itself, saying, ‘Hey, this isn't good’, especially for publicly traded companies, it's really going to impact our top line revenue.
I think we have to get through that, I know each of the hyperscalers are working through that, but it is still a significant issue.
Technologies that support partner ecosystems
What do you think the most useful technology is that's helping with that ecosystem? And are there any gaps, is there something that's missing?
You talked about the analytics and how difficult it was to measure, is there a useful technology that's been very helpful, or one that just isn't there yet?
Well, there are definitely multiple technologies that I think you need to use and deploy to be successful.
First, is a robust partner portal that can just help you manage all of this day in and day out, in your traditional business, as well as through the new partner types, enablement, certifications, co-marketing, co-selling, all of that is super important.
Another critical piece I think is the account mapping software and there are several, at least three known providers that have come out on this front with good technologies.
That's just super critical because you want to do account mapping with your resellers, your GSI's, even your TAP partners and the hyperscalers.
That account mapping is so critical to hone in really quickly on where you can co-sell, where you can have success and introduce each other and where do you have co-customers and where can you introduce each other into your own customers?
So that's super important.
I think Vince mentioned communities, so how do you bring these communities together?
We're looking at technology that will help bring our service partner community together and introduce resellers who don't do services to the service providers.
So that's really critical.
Have you seen anything Vince? From some kind of emerging technologies or really effective technologies at managing hyperscaler relationships or marketplace relationships?
By the way, I agree with everything that Rob had to say, the partner portal solution, the mapping solution, certainly super critical to both white space, as well as existing account opportunity analysis, and then I'll layer in on the hyperscaler side, these are very complex relationships to manage across each of the three, as Rob knows, working within their systems and tools like Ace and Partner Center in the Microsoft and Amazon side and where Google is sort of developing that, that's a massive amount of work.
Having a solution that can help you drive across your internal systems, your CRM solutions, and your partner portal solutions and your mapping solutions, and then feed all that back up, is critical.
And, yes, there are a couple of solutions out there that are trying to do it.
Some are very complex, and some are very focused on the hyperscaler solution set,
and one in particular that I have worked with, that I know is really rock solid, is actually now part of a marketplace solution.
So, without attributing any vendors, I do think there are solutions out there that can solve some of this.
And it is a big issue, especially as you're thinking about ecosystems.
Yeah, that's a really important one Vince, and I'd add one other that I didn't mention that is a really good partner performance or business planning technology that you can use as we’re honing in on a smaller number of partners.
It's really important that the partner managers are doing really proper joint business planning with these partners and having a way to really do that effectively, efficiently to roll up the plans and do QBRs really quickly, that's another really important element.
Tracking the data surrounding ecosystems
And that's something that anyone that's a managed channel, is always done, we always want to know partner driven revenue.
Do you now look at it as an ecosystem-influenced revenue or ecosystem-generated revenue? Is there a new way that you track that?
Because, obviously, you know, influencers are difficult to attribute to.
Yeah, we are trying to leverage it more, in a way of not just looking at that individual partner's performance.
Well, one, you gotta look at what the partner is trying to accomplish. Is it selling, or is it delivering, or is it both?
But also, in the business planning, where are we finding those trifecta?
"So, we're building into the plan, which TAP partners might you already be working with, or should we introduce you to start working with, so we're trying to drive more of that ecosystem co-partnering as part of the business planning."
So that is a bit of a change for us.
Well, one of the things that I'm wondering, because I'm a big analytics person, I love poring through data, when it comes to being able to identify trends, and being able to understand the facts of what's going on.
Do you think that over at least through the last 12 months, that there has been a better utilization of the data that's been collected as people move from channels to ecosystems? Do you think that they're now capturing new datasets? Do you think they’re trying to figure out how to report on them?
Do you think there's more utilization of that data, or do you still think it's a little bit of a gray area and people are still trying to figure out what to measure so they can manage it?
Well, hopefully so, I think what a lot of us are facing is the realization that data, the systems, aren't ready to easily provide that data.
So we're making a lot of changes and have a lot more changes we have to do to really appropriately and accurately track the ecosystem.
So, we're getting better, we're making changes, we're making improvements, there's a lot more that we still need to do.
We're diving into the data a lot, and as you dive into it, you know, wait a second, why, this doesn't quite add up, something doesn't look right here and then you dive into Salesforce and figure out, how are you tracking things, we gotta track it a little bit differently.
So part of it is just getting prepared to be able to do proper analytics and that's something that all of us are struggling with is just the system side of the house.
And Vince, you consult people on how to build these partnerships and accelerate them.
Do you have recommendations on how people should now harness the data that they're getting from hyperscalers or from ecosystems, from marketplaces, and actually have meaningful actions from that data?
I think, to Rob's point, it's still a gap area.
I think what you have is disparate systems and tools that are, as he said, spitting out data.
Whether you're pulling it up into your Salesforce solution, whether you're pulling it up into your hyperscalers solution, in most cases, you're taking and spitting out your own reports and spreadsheets.
And I think that there's a huge opportunity here for organizations, and I'll come back to our good friend – Jay’s not even on this episode, and we all referenced him multiple times – he has this terrific landscape, which is actually islands, and he refers to all these islands of automation, all these channel tech or channel ecosystem automations.
And what he has said to me is that somebody needs to have a boat that goes between each of these islands, and I think there's still that, like Uber view, they all sit in the same data lake.
Can we then take the data and report on it?
It seems like it's a great opportunity for somebody who wants to start up a company right now.
A gaze into the future of partner ops: Vince’s predictions for 2023
So we talked a lot about what we looked at in the past in 2022, and the types of tools that we've used in the emergence of ecosystems, marketplaces and hyperscalers.
Let's talk about the future, let's talk about what we think is gonna happen in 2023.
Will we see an expansion of channel ecosystems?
Is there this push for cross-platform integrations or things like that?
So Vince, why don't we start with you, if you had a little crystal ball, what do you think will happen in the channel over the next 12 months?
I'm an optimist on 2023.
I do think that we in the tech sector have an opportunity, an obligation, and we will lead the way, this transformation that we're seeing every organization becoming a tech organization, we're leading that.
So I think that we're in a really great spot.
I don't listen to the pundits and what people are predicting about the economy right now, because I do think we're gonna get over this.
And what I would say on this, the development, to Rob's point about community, I think is impactful. I think that people are looking to other people to find the way, they're looking to experience, share their learning, looking to learn from others that have been there, that have the scars to show it.
And so we're all learning from each other, which is wonderful.
I think there’s opportunities to expand there. I think there's an opportunity certainly for more people to come to the watering holes, maybe they each go to their own specific watering hole, or the watering hole that solves for a particular area. So, I think we're going to see more of that in this world of channels and ecosystems.
And I think that more people are going to try and do what Rob is doing and what some of my clients are doing in terms of bringing it all together finally, and removing the stovepipes and then trying to figure it out.
"You're cabling it together, so to speak, in terms of technologies, but ultimately, I think we're going to see a more robust system, just as we saw in the martech world. We're going to see a more robust set of tools and approaches to do what we need to do, which is effectively driving a partner led business, which we all know is the right approach, as opposed to a direct only approach"
Rob’s predictions for 2023
And Rob, what does your crystal ball look like for 2023?
Yeah, all of the above, definitely an increase in marketplace business and increase of the ecosystem and the trifecta approach.
I think the impact of that, we're starting to see already, the fruits of the labor that we put in for 2022.
You can just hear it amongst the team internally and how they're talking and you can hear it amongst the partners as well, and I think that's generating a lot of excitement.
I'm really looking forward to our company kickoff and then we've got a big customer and partner event coming up.
One thing that we haven't touched on is distribution, and having worked in distribution, I'm still a big fan of distribution, but I have very high expectations of what a distributor can do for me.
Because I know they can do a lot, and so I'm really driving that and what is really exciting to me is that the distributors are shifting their business models to more of a service-oriented approach as well, you know that the old transactional model is not going to sustain them.
We know just as the shift in buying habits and marketplaces and everything.
So what we're seeing and what we're pushing for is really empowering and enabling our distributors from a services perspective.
One of the big challenges we have is, how do we ever scale fast enough to train enough partners, to enable enough partners, to certify enough partners to meet the delivery demands that our customers have?
We can't do it alone.
So, we're using distribution to scale our services enablement, like we would have used, and do use distribution to scale our sales capability, right?
So, this, to me, is really exciting, and we have different distributors around the globe that we work with.
But, they're jumping into the pool with us and adding to their capabilities to provide that service enablement arm that our partners need.
So, that, to me, is going to be the future of distribution.
Much more of a services hub than a sales hub.
Resellers in 2023
You actually beat me to it because I was gonna ask, in this expansion of the channel ecosystem, what's going to happen in 2023 to the distributors, to the value-added resellers, to the influencers, to the digital natives that are around the solution all the time?
My thought was that we would see a drop in distribution, but I agree with you now that I've kind of heard your perspective that yes, distributors are going to just simply play a new role.
We look at co-sell, we look at influence, we look at referral partners. What about the reseller, the system integrator, do you think that's a growth segment or do you think we'll start seeing that start to drop away?
Yeah I think we always talk about the demise of the VAR, probably have been for I don't know how many years, but they just keep chugging along and we have VARs that are super valuable to us.
And if they don't want to get into the services game for whatever reason, that's fine with us because we match them with the partners who don't want to touch resell, all they want to do with services.
So that's a great marriage, there's absolutely a role for them.
We have system integrators who want to do both, right?
Some of the big, big companies have shifted from almost a pure sales model to 50% or more services now, those are great partners.
So I think they all still have a huge role to play for us.
The other value of the distribution is still that longtail because the longtail never disappears, right?
You're always going to have new partners coming in.
We get flooded with partners who want to join our network and be part of the BeyondTrust partner ecosystem, but we can't flood our camps with all those new partners.
So, we're asking the distributors to take them on and we're enabling and empowering the distributors to properly onboard them, and bring them up into the family, and let's see what they can do.
And that's kind of old-school distribution too, of something that the distributor can do.
Beneficial tools for partners
Now, we talked earlier about all of the different tools that we have available and the ones that we're really helping the partner ecosystem.
So, let's talk about cross-platform Integration, and Vince maybe I'll ask you, you know people have this partner portal, their partner relationship management, their account mapping tool. They got a tool for measuring this, they've got a tool for measuring that. Where do you think about cross-platform integration, and bringing it all together into a single pane of glass, if you remember that concept?
Do you see that as a 2023 result or progression?
Again, going back to the earlier conversation on the data, I think it's the same discussion point, like how are you going to pull it together.
I do see that people today are, you know, there are tools that allow systems to talk to one another like Zapier. And there are people who are living in a world where they have many different SaaS applications. And there seems to be an acceptance of that, I guess, is what I would say, rather than pulling it all together in a single pane of glass.
The pane of glass is the data, as we discussed earlier, and I think your point, that's where you can altogether.
There are some analytical tools out there, certainly, that you can take advantage of,
Microsoft, has a power platform, there's tons of low-code, no-code tools out there that allow you to get to the data.
And so, you do that, today, I think, and you are still building it yourself.
Some people are looking at using some of those other tools to build solutions.
And I think that's what you'll see evolve. My prediction for 2023 is you're probably starting to see more of that happen.
Media platforms for partners
What about the evolution or the influence within partner ecosystems of not only social platforms, but other digital media, social and other digital media platforms?
Do you think that has an influence on the ecosystem model over the next 12 months?
I'll go there since I probably spend more time than any of you there.
I think LinkedIn has certainly evolved as the platform of choice from the business perspective.
It's become the town hall for all of us to go and we have the opportunity to get in front of our audiences and have meaningful conversations that are not shaded by other aspects or people coming on and doing other things.
But coming at LinkedIn, as an example, in the right way – many times your organization would do the posts, right? It wouldn't be personally, Paul or Rob.
"Now, people are bringing their vulnerabilities and their live's to LinkedIn in a way to attribute themselves to their organizations and tell their story, and using those tools as social tools and social selling is really what's happening in the best sellers today are social sellers and I've had the privilege of having worked with a couple of them and had them on my podcast."
And then those people that get it and organizations that get it, will also take advantage of that media.
A gaze into the Future: Emerging Technologies
For sure, so, another one, how about leveraging more emerging technologies?
I'm talking about artificial intelligence, VR, blockchain, does this have a place in the partner ecosystem?
And is it something that we're going to see emerge in 2023?
Well, I've had the opportunity over the holidays to play a little bit with the chatGPT.
And it's, it's astounding what it can do if you direct it in the right way, so I do think there's an amazing amount of power under the hood, taking advantage of that is certainly going to be one.
I'm not as clear on blockchain and virtual reality playing a role. Virtual reality is playing a role in some industries, but it's very vertical-specific – manufacturing and some simulation areas.
Rob, one of the things you talk about is these distributors doing training and in the past, here's your choice, you bring them into a classroom and you teach them in front of everyone else, you go to their office, you do it that way, use these online e-learning platforms.
Is there a play? Do you create a better relationship if you can do your training through virtual reality?
I imagine there is Paul, you know, that could be the next great thing that comes out as an easy way to do that.
We certainly, as we're looking into this year, and it could be a tough year from an economics perspective, right?
So, what impact does that have on everyone's travel budgets?
Last year, we did a ton of in-face learning.
And we were initially planning to do that, but it's not just our own budgets, it’s our customers’, our partners' budgets as well.
So, we've got to do a lot more instructor-led virtual training. But how do you make that engaging so that they're not multitasking and signing off, or just daydreaming?
That is a huge challenge that we've got to figure out and I think that the virtual world is here to stay and we've got to find ways, or smart guys have to find ways that we can do it more effectively.
Well, it'll be interesting to see the impact of it.
You talk about the Open AI, Vince, does blockchain have an influence on the way that we transact, not only with our customers, but with our partners?
And then is there an avenue where we can now do in person, virtually?
We did it over Zoom and Teams for two years during Covid, why can't we just make it a little bit more interesting and engaging, or immersive with these emerging technologies?
I've played with HoloLens when I was at Microsoft and when we released HoloLens.
You've seen what Meta has done with their platform, throw a lot of money at it.
It’s going to be interesting to see what Apple does with democratizing the technology the way they have with other technologies and what they bring out there because that might be the play ball that can get the device price down to a point where it's economically feasible to do as Rob said, to do that training remote and still get people engaged, that will be the play.
Your point on blockchain, super, super critical to the transaction later on.
I think that will be the next wave, and it will be in that area, in this decade of the ecosystem.
So, as parting thoughts, any final predictions, Rob, for 2023?
I think you should buckle up, hold onto your seats, it's going to be a wild year, but we're super excited about it. We got a lot of things planned, and then there's always the unexpected.
So this one business guy that I really looked up to, and always gave me the greatest line, and he was a sailor like me, and he's like, ‘Rob, always be prepared to attack.’
Very true, very true. And Vince, I'm with you, I'm an optimist.
I think commerce continues regardless of what the economy says, any final predictions for 2023?
I'm an optimist as well.
You know, we talked about events, Rob mentioned events being canceled or moved digitally, but yet you saw at the end of the year, a couple of really big conferences that had massive attendance.
So I think that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for organizations, as you pull back, everybody pulls back, and this creates a bad time.
So I just think that we all need to lean in a little bit with caution.
All right, for sure.
Well, thank you, Rob, thank you Vince for being guests on the show today.
Let's make sure we get together and around 12 months' time, see if our predictions came right or if we miss the mark, so thank you both.
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