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Coronavirus Threat: Big Wake-Up Call for the Channel

Because personal contact is limited, it's important for partners to focus on social selling.

Edward Gately

March 13, 2020

9 Min Read
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While the coronavirus is officially a pandemic, for channel partners it’s just the latest indicator of a massive change taking place, and how they respond could make or break their businesses.

In the second of a two-part series, we focus on the bigger picture of how partners respond to their customers’ needs during the coronavirus pandemic, part of the bigger “new normal” that isn’t going away once the virus is contained.

Janet Schijns, CEO of JS Group, said there are three things partners can do for themselves and their customers if they’re not well-prepared to assist their customers in dealing with the coronavirus.

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JS Group’s Janet Schijns

“The first one, obviously you need to strengthen the network now because the workload that’s put on by everything going virtual and everyone going remote is substantial, and by my gross estimates and with my experience in the business, I’m going to say at least a third of their customers and the partner businesses have insufficient bandwidth to support what’s needed,” she said.

Second is “security, security, security,” Schijns said.

“As people begin to work virtually, it has become very critical that you understand that data at motion is data at risk,” she said. “If you don’t have a security practice, partner with someone who does have a security practice. If you do have a security practice, now is the time to really look at data in motion and figure out your solution.”

And third, partners need to promote digital solutions to their customers, and provision and supply them, Schijns said. Video conferencing is a great example, but that extends beyond just the capacity to have video, she said.

“It extends to how you work together in a virtual environment,” she said. “Simply holding calls with video conferencing or replacing your event that you were supposed to do in person and now you’re going to do virtually, and doing a series of webinars — that is not working in a digital normal. That is replacing a physical event with a video conference, which all that does is remove your participants from networking and other opportunities. So you have to change the process for it to be digital.”

In addition, because personal contact with customers is limited, it’s important for partners to focus on social selling, Schijns said. Experts now are outperforming their peers who aren’t by 77% — and that was pre-coronavirus, she said.

“I can’t even think what it is right now, but it has to be well over [77%],” she said. “But you have to learn not to just send a direct message or post something on LinkedIn. You have to understand how to craft content, how to gain influencers in contacts, how to engage with them, and how to actually conduct your sales process in a virtual world. That’s going to include a lot of video. It is also going to include you being able to make a connection with someone without shaking their hand. To me, the biggest challenge the partners have right now is they’re not good at social selling in large part.”

For partners looking to sharpen their social-selling skills on the cheap, Hootsuite offers free and low-cost courses, and LinkedIn Sales Navigator is helpful.

“And the smarter vendors … at least are launching programs to support their partners to learn how to do social selling, to have the content which is critical, to practice influencing and engaging with customers, and then working on demand generation — so paid campaigns promoting their partners as experts,” Schijns said. “And if you’re a vendor … shame on you if you’re not coming up with something in your MDF program right now to support your partners’ transition.”

Regardless of what happens with the coronavirus, things aren’t …

… going to go back to normal with everyone who’s been allowed to work remotely “happily going back to an office,” she said. In fact, this is the “tipping point we’ve been waiting for” with remote workers as the “new normal,” she said.

“After coronavirus, you’re not going to see it go away because the tools and the things that … the partners provide and the vendors supply are so much more productive than the old ways,” Schijns said. “I think you’re going to see widespread adoption of tools that have not been adopted before. I think you’re going to see the partners change their businesses to provide those digital tools. Those that already have will be very successful now. Those that haven’t will have to catch up. And I think you’re going to see customers say, ‘No, this is our new normal, and you need to find a way to sell, service and support us in the new normal.'”

And the time for partners to act is now, she said.

“If I were a partner, I would today be calling whomever they trust is their business adviser and recrafting my business, marketing and sales plan immediately to this the new normal,” Schijns said. “And that’s what we’re seeing the partners that trust us are doing. The vendors and partners that we work with are saying we need to do a virtual market action planning day, we need to change our business plan or marketing plan, or sales plans, right now. And it’s not for the next 90 days, but for the next three years.”

You don’t have to look far to understand why businesses, educational institutions and entire municipalities are looking for remote work solutions right now, said Scott Anderson, Intermedia‘s chief marketing officer. Even though businesses and institutions of all sizes are sending people home, they must continue to operate, he said.

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Intermedia’s Scott Anderson

“As so many managers and business leaders are grappling to support remote work environments with little or no forewarning, the tools to support that environment are required,” he said. “That’s where Intermedia helps. We provide the tools for distributed organizations to operate effectively regardless of location, device or time of day. Whether individuals want to email, call, video conference, chat  or share files — we make it easy for them to do so.”

Cloud-based unified communications (UC) companies offer the tools for continued collaboration and communications with this distributed work environment, Anderson said. Businesses aren’t stopping while they change their operational models on the fly. The right cloud communications technology allows for continued operations regardless of employee location.

“Intermedia’s customers and partners are already using cloud-based UC tools, so the shift they are making may not be as extreme as businesses doing it for the first time,” he said. “Nobody wants to slow or stop business — there are still customers to serve, and employees must still collaborate regardless of location. Face-to-face meetings can still take place, even if you aren’t in the same room, thanks to cloud communications.”

Lifesize, the video conferencing provider, said organizations impacted by coronavirus globally are immediately eligible for an unlimited number of free licenses to use the company’s cloud-based video collaboration platform for six months, allowing them to implement remote work policies during the global health crisis. The offer allows both …

… new and existing customers to turn to enterprise-grade video meetings and collaboration capabilities at scale.

Lifesize this week announced it has merged with Serenova, the CCaaS and workforce optimization (WFO) provider,

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Lifesize’s Craig Malloy

“We are in the midst of a massive, permanent shift in how we work, which will have near-term and long-term impact on large organizations, teams and contact centers,” said Craig Malloy, CEO of Lifesize and Serenova. “Our commitment to keep the world working extends well beyond this moment in time. Helping organizations rethink how they empower globally distributed teams, connect with customers and partners, and continue to get business done during trying times is a core goal for our company.”

Lifesize’s cloud platform supports video, audio and web conferencing for one-to-one and one-to-many meetings. Lifesize users can connect and collaborate through apps for iOS, Android, Windows and Mac devices, or natively through web browsers including Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Microsoft Edge and Mozilla Firefox.

MetTel said it’s helping to equip its customers’ workforces to be as productive at home as they are in the office. To meet these requirements, MetTel is providing key solutions and services, including: cloud firewall with remote VPN; TrueUC, which includes calling, chat, desktop sharing, voice and video conferencing; and cloud PBX, which offers IP phones that can be used from home when connected to home broadband.

Max Silber, MetTel’s vice president of mobility and IoT, said most businesses in the United States don’t have a full work-from-home contingency plan. Even if they can get in touch with their employees by calling them on their personal cellphones, they may not be prepared to have them working remotely full time.

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MetTel’s Max Silber

“A full-time remote setup involves deploying company-issued mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, configured for secure access to the company data they need to do their job,” he said. “The focus should be on deploying devices that can enable secure access and collaboration over any available form of available communication, whether Wi-Fi or LTE.”

With its SD-M product launched this week, MetTel can secure the data generated by hotspot devices and LTE routers to keep data safe and secure. As part of the new SD-M cloud service, MetTel has instituted bonuses to agents who sell the new SD-M and other mobility offerings.

“Technology has been the enabler for remote working for quite some time, and we had seen a constant shift among large enterprise to use remote working technology as a way to hire difficult-to-find talent in a hot job market,” Silber said. “It takes a major event like the coronavirus, however, to realize just how necessary it is to have all the business employees remote-work-enabled.”

Other companies in the channel are helping their customers deal with the coronavirus, including:

  • Peerless Network is helping businesses transition employees to work from home with voice solutions via its cloud PBX offering. With cloud PBX, enterprises of all sizes can manage telephone extensions, direct inward dialing (DIDs), services, routing, configuration and inventory over a cloud-based IP network via one system.

  • To support Quebec-based companies and workers, Facilis Global, a Canadian company that has developed remote collaboration services, has made its Mybys suite available for free for two months. The Mybys suite includes screen sharing and instant messaging. The service also can be used in conjunction with a conference call bridge or any other type of telephony.

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About the Author(s)

Edward Gately

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

As news editor, Edward Gately covers cybersecurity, new channel programs and program changes, M&A and other IT channel trends. Prior to Informa, he spent 26 years as a newspaper journalist in Texas, Louisiana and Arizona.

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