WTG, MicroCorp, TBI, PlanetOne Reflect on Channel Partners' History

Much has changed in our show's 22-year history, but some remains the same.

James Anderson, Senior News Editor

March 11, 2019

7 Min Read
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Step into a time capsule with us.

It’s 22 years ago, it’s the first-ever Channel Partners show. Five master agents who pioneered the event and continue to attend it are in the room. Some of the names and faces are different, but there are still many important similarities.

Some of those pioneers will share their recollections of this event at the upcoming Founders’ Forum, April 10, at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo in Las Vegas. It’s part of the revenue and supplier portfolio track, sponsored by Nextiva. Intelisys co-founder Rick Dellar, WTG CEO Vince Bradley, MicroCorp CEO Karin Fields, PlanetOne CEO Ted Schuman and TBI president Geoffrey Shepstone will participate.

Quy Nguyen, founder and CEO of Allyance Communications, will moderate the discussion.

We asked several of the panelists to recall memories from the first Channel Partners shows and dish out predictions for future ones.

Hear from these speakers and 100+ more at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo, April 9-12, 2019, in Las Vegas. Register now!

We have edited the transcript for clarity.

Channel Partners: Do you remember any moments vividly from the first meet-up?


WTG’s Vince Bradley

Vince Bradley: The first show in Chicago was lightly attended, but we all were very excited about what it could become. it was really nice to to connect with just about everyone since not so many were there. One thing I do remember vividly was what the commercial speakers were doing for their companies and how we had to really work that in the beginning or it would have gotten out of control.

Ted Schuman: I’ve been connected to this conference for as long as I can remember — back when it was called Virgo Publishing’s “The Agent Show,” for the history buffs in our channel. So here’s my vivid memory, which was without a doubt a humbling and memorable moment in my career that we can all laugh at now, and many laughed at then.


PlanetOne’s Ted Schuman

I was emceeing the show, and back then the conference had no more than 200 attendees. Well, I had just gotten done moderating a panel and was on my way to the restroom, not realizing my mic was still hot. On my way to the men’s room, the publisher of Virgo stopped me. She said, “Ted, he’s up there pitching!” — speaking about one of the providers currently on stage. I replied with a little fire in my voice, “I told that ass**** if he pitched I’d shut him down.” Needless to say my colorful comments to her came down as the voice of God (via my mic) and were heard loud and clear by everyone in the room — including the relentless pitcher on stage. Not knowing what to expect, we walked back into the room and it erupted with laughter and applause; clearly everyone was thinking what I was saying.

That was back in Tampa, right when the show really began to take off. Once the master agents descended onto the conference, the show quickly …

… bloomed to 1,000 folks and took on a life of its own from there.


TBI’s Geoffrey Shepstone

Geoff Shepstone: The first time I attended CP seems like a lifetime ago. TBI attendees wore matching black slacks and black Polos with the TBI logo; we looked pretty sharp and created quite the buzz.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle salespeople had to overcome back then was the need to validate the channel’s existence before a customer would even speak with you. The ability to sell a carrier’s solutions without being employed by said carrier was baffling; now it is well understood and a value-add to carriers and customers alike. TBI exemplifies the success of the channel as evidenced by [our] growth, from a handful of salespeople to 250 employees dedicated to supporting all aspects of an agent’s business.


MicroCorp’s Karin Fields

CP: What’s one significant way in which the show has changed over the years?

Karin Fields: Companies didn’t have booths on the trade show floor; they had six-foot tables. The shows were more like semiannual high school reunions.

The most significant way in which the show has changed is how our industry has evolved. Twenty years ago, the products and services we were selling were predominately voice-centric — no real value to customers beyond saving them money. Now the products, providers [and] solutions are technology-driven. They are truly valued and needed by customers.

TS: It has grown from a single show focused on a novelty, to an impressive, two-part event series focused on the acumen, advancements and convergence happening within the telecom and IT industries. The show is bigger, the stage is bigger and the stakes are bigger. Early on, “The Agent Show” represented a small community. Now, under the Channel Partners brand, the Vegas show has grown to be the telecom channel’s “must-attend” mainstream event.

Vince Bradley: [It’s] now a world class event – just look up from the expo floor – with a truly global list of exhibitors with “Fastballs” and other great content. It’s also nice that we can now actually charge even for the expo hall (as it was free in the beginning), getting better quality agents as a result.

GS: The overall feel of the show has changed as the channel has grown; when the channel was smaller, the show was more intimate. Recruiting new partners was like casting a giant net — quite a few new agents and even a couple new vendors. Today, we are well informed on who will be in attendance with booked calendars long before the event begins. Much of this is because the Channel Partners Conference & Expo has evolved into …… the premier event for the channel community. Masters now make a larger investment to be present not only on the expo floor but with meetings, trainings and parties.

CP: What trends do you expect or hope to see in our channel community over the next decade?

GS: Adding real value to the agents, as opposed to just aggregating commissions, is a trend I hope continues. When master agents show a willingness and commitment to investing in their agents by offering true value – marketing support, training and education, white-glove operations support – the industry as a whole will continue to grow.

Another important trend is recognizing that retention is every bit as important as recruitment. Investing resources accordingly is a crucial differentiator that will continue to separate the successful and growing master agents from the herd.

KF: When I first started in this industry. Telecom agents were literally thought of as used car salesman. Who could get them a better price for [long distance]. Now partners are truly the trusted advisers for businesses. They are sitting at the table with enterprise customers discussing not just their networks but their infrastructure, security risks and concerns, how they communicate with their customers across multiple [spectra] and much more. Providers are investing and will continue to invest in the indirect channel because that is how customers want to buy these services in this age of digital transformation.

Vince Bradley: Expect more strategic M&A, and AI and IoT are poised to explode. [I] hope that security products and services will “keep up” with the explosion from that AI, IoT [and so on].

TS: If you’re asking where and what to pay attention to — clearly convergence is an area where we need, as an industry, to pay more attention and find ways to bring in new partners, providers, IT brands and alliances, as well as to seek out the wisdom and opportunity unconventional partnerships could potentially bring to us and our base. We don’t need more of the same. We need more crossover from the IT space and vice versa. Convergence is here, but the opportunity continues to grow and remains widely untapped. Players from the telecom and IT channels need to use this platform – this show – to bring all of us together.

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About the Author(s)

James Anderson

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

James Anderson is a news editor for Channel Futures. He interned with Informa while working toward his degree in journalism from Arizona State University, then joined the company after graduating. He writes about SD-WAN, telecom and cablecos, technology services distributors and carriers. He has served as a moderator for multiple panels at Channel Partners events.

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