No Bats in this Belfry!

A conference theme of ‘Differentiating ISPs in a Crowded Marketplace’ would appear to be a big ask for any ISP but Zen navigated through that maze with ease as Editor Ian Hunter reports.

I’ve attended many a partner conference over the last 30 years as both a presenter and a reporter so the trip up the M40 to the Belfry for the Zen event was a well-trodden path.

This one however turned out to be a really informative event that was a master class in organisation by Zen’s Head of Marketing Andie Walton and her team who laid on a cornucopia of presentations and practical, interactive workshops for the 60 plus delegates attending.

It was good to see the top brass from Zen play key roles and Richard Tang, founder and CEO did not disappoint with his presentation which apart from knocking me back a little to hear that the firm had just completed a £50m turnover year also provided an insight on the competitive battlefield ahead for ISPs – he detailed the forthcoming fight for market share of fibre connectivity that will take place over the next five years.

Against a conference theme of ‘Differentiating ISPs in a Crowded Marketplace’ Zen is positioned as an independent stable provider focussed on offering a premium service.  Zen invests heavily in recruiting experienced people from the industry, training them to give them the right skills and adopts an approach that is all about ‘solving customer problems’ without a heavy focus on KPIs (average call length, number of calls per agent and maximum call length etc.)

Zen did not duck the hard questions either such as ‘does the channel get lost in price and technology and lose sight of easing partner and customer pain?’

There was a lot to talk about here – the race to the bottom e.g. Broadband and Ethernet pricing, and the technology hype? Zen’s focus is on what are the customer and partner benefits and fundamentally understanding the knock on effect that the cloud is no use without good access – customers want to get what they pay for and that is reliable service, professionally supported and no contention.

Zen says there is a trend towards a one-stop shop as customers reduce the number of suppliers. This was seen as both an opportunity and a threat where partners want a supplier that’s easy to do business with so they can focus on providing the service wrap.

I mentioned the workshops earlier and I had, given our interest this year on portals, booked myself in to a session that focussed on what developments were happening on the Zen portal.

Well this was fun; it was interactive and broken down in to two teams of half a dozen where it felt a bit ‘Apprentice’. I had to contribute ideas with the team for new features and functionality and get them up on the board. No-one got fired before dinner thankfully and we should look forward to a new version of the portal later this year as a result – and if it’s good I’ll take all the credit and get a job with Alan Sugar.

So here’s another tough topic Zen covered – In a highly competitive industry, what’s the secret to longevity in the channel?

Zen says that for partners it’s about making sure they demonstrate they are adding value so the user is clear on the benefits of buying from a channel partner and not taking customer relationships for granted. It’ hard to win new customers but it can be very easy to take customers for granted and quickly lose them!

Interestingly Zen cautions partners on the challenge of diversification to increase wallet share vs. spreading yourself too thin and becoming the Jack of all trades but the master of none.

Zen Awards

Reseller Partner of the Year won by Nexus

Dealer Partner of the Year won by IT Support Business

New Partner of the Year won by RHM

Rising Star won by Phormium IT

Solution Sale Partner of the Year won by Myson Pages

Spirit of Partnership award won by TSG

Ed Says…

For service providers differentiation is about making sure you stand out from the crowd, providing lots of choice for resellers and demonstrating what’s different about your service.  In Zen’s case they point to the quality of their service as being their key differentiator and this will continue to be the case.

And, as Andie Walton said, “I also think in recent years the fact Zen is privately owned and crucially is stable is very attractive to channel partners stung by partnering with a provider only for that company to be acquired or have a significant change of direction that affects the quality of the service.”



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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine