(Disclosure Note: Frequent readers will know that I do not use this space to actively promote our company. This post speaks to company-related meetings and what was learned. I hope you will find it useful.)

The past several days have been a storm of wall-to-wall meetings. All were productive, all were important and all were very instructive. It began with our User Group meeting ten days ago, which saw 16 customers from all types of networks come together for a day and a half of planning, brainstorming and networking. Last week saw four key partners make the trip to our global headquarters in Sarasota. I came away from the five straight days of meetings invigorated, motivated and very optimistic.

The User Group meeting was designed to be the catalyst for the design and build phase of our next major release. We have learned over the years that the most used and most useful functions within our application have been customer-driven. Our job is to design and deliver them in a manner that is flexible enough and abstracted enough to provide value to all users. This ensures the single image, multiple-tenant value proposition of the SaaS model that we employ, and of course minimizes (eliminates, hopefully) forks in the application itself. The User Group is the natural venue for taking the temperature of our expert customers and for setting priorities going forward.

The key sessions were ones in which we presented a laundry list of things we’ve heard, both vicariously and through direct communication, that customers want, followed by our roadmap for the key features of the next release. Amazingly, items that we thought were contentious were not, and new capabilities that we thought would unsettle some people due to new concepts within the application were received rather calmly. We had long discussions on tactical enhancements versus strategic shifts, allocation of time and resources, and emerging trends in the industry.

Here’s what I learned. Our customers, large and small, old and new, and across vertical markets make up a real community. We must make it our job to support and enhance that community in order to optimize every single customer experience. You would think that would be intuitive, but until you see how effective that community can be, it does not really hit home. But now it has, for sure. If customers want to interact with each other, we have the responsibility to make it easy and effective. And we will. It is often easy to become cynical when you are on the receiving end of a fire hose of development requests. But when we brought everyone together, we learned that customers are willing to be patient if we communicate well. Essentially, we seem to have earned their trust. We don’t take that lightly or with even a hint of cynicism. It is the Holy Grail in our business: trusted first with powering their networks, and then with taking them to the next levels in a consistently excellent way. We can’t breach that trust and hope to succeed.

Following the User Group meeting, which included a great dinner, two long nights and one hit-and-run accident, we welcomed four key partners to our offices over a three day period. Naming names wouldn’t be prudent, but I can say that for me, the meetings were a sure signal that our quiet company is being appreciated beyond the loyal customers we had entertained only days earlier. We were able to communicate our plans, prospects and strategies and match them up with those of some impressive partners. We gained a number of very helpful insights into the industry and the world outside of our insular solution space. Three things were clear:

  1. There is no single company large enough to dominate this space today, even as consolidation has begun. The imperative of creating a partner ecosystem is obvious.
  2. Despite rumors of one large company leaving the space altogether, all signs point toward some very large players organizing to leverage what they see as a wide open, growth business. The lure of big game is what will bring the big players to the table. In many ways it is a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the increasing presence of everyday names legitimizes the industry and removes barriers.
  3. Like the customers, the partners thrive on communication. A little trust also goes a long way.

Change is in the air, and established players in the space crave it as much as potential new entrants. After a week of active listening, we’ve learned that proactive communication will be an important part of the path to the next level, both for individual companies and the industry as a whole. Since we are all in the communication game at some level, we’ll hope the shoemaker’s children are not barefoot.