Guest Column | September 28, 2020

How The Channel Is Responding To COVID-19 Challenges

By Wayne Monk, ASG Technologies Group


The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly touched every sector of business – across every industry – to some degree. Most organizations have been forced to pivot quickly to keep business going amidst unprecedented challenges: the surge in remote work, economic uncertainty, and borders closing. As these changes continue, organizations need to consider: which are effective interim responses, and which might work in the long term?

This question is especially important for companies with channel partners. The channel always has centered around in-person interactions and frequent touchpoints with customers and prospects. Not only has the pandemic impacted the types of business exchanges that are viable, but the way one company reacts to that change can affect the business of its channel partners. The channel functions best when partners have strong collaboration, communication, and alignment – and this is more important than ever during disruptive times. In fact, channel partners will benefit from learning how other companies have adjusted their sales and customer strategies.

So far, the channel has reacted nimbly. Here are some of the top changes that channel partners are facing – and managing – during the pandemic.

Connecting With Prospects Virtually

As soon as states began issuing stay-at-home advisories, channel partners’ first question was: how do we work virtually? With little notice, customers shut down their offices and were not permitting visitors. Channel partners had to quickly adjust from delivering hundreds of thousands of resources at a customer site to feeling somewhat incapacitated. Before the pandemic, many channel professionals felt they needed to be in the office or in the field to accomplish their job. They especially believed that meetings needed to be conducted face-to-face to make personal connections with customers and prospects.

However, channel professionals quickly honed their virtual communication skills, using video and collaboration tools such as Zoom and Slack to replace in-person meetings with digital ones. Simultaneously, with fewer in-person meetings, people have become more available than ever. No one is traveling, so it’s easier to reach them. Channel partners should use this increased availability to build relationships more deeply – focusing less on business and more on people. With COVID-19 concerns, it’s valuable to stop and ask how people – and their families and colleagues – are doing and how you can help. Instruct sales teams to show compassion. Knowing that conversations around the water cooler and in the kitchen have been eliminated, people value human interaction even more.

So far, channel partners have done a good job adapting to virtual communications – a trend that may continue beyond the pandemic. As industry pros have seen, prospects increasingly prefer to self-discover rather than speak with reps. COVID-19 has perhaps reinforced this shift, showing that channel reps don’t necessarily need to meet face-to-face with prospects during the sales cycle. That said, the current all-virtual approach is not here to stay. Once it is safe, the channel may shift back to balance the virtual and in-person meetings, because the latter will always be the most effective for creating rich and trusting relationships.

Pursuing New Business During The Pandemic

Building new relationships during the pandemic is not so simple, however. During uncertain times, companies are only spending money on what they need. Even with promising sales opportunities – where there are commitment and budget – the executive team may have issued a spending freeze. Decisions are being made at lightning speed, and vendors’ ability to forecast business has been dramatically impacted.

To win new customers, channel partners must focus their sales strategy more on business outcomes and business justification. They must identify and understand the customer or prospect’s business need because there is probably already money behind it. Then, the sales team must be able to communicate how the vendor’s solution will deliver an outcome that is aligned with the prospect’s current initiatives and goals. If vendors can l qualify the product as a must-have, the client will be better equipped to justify the expenditure to their executive team.

Vendors should make sure that all channel partners are on the same page about this sales strategy, especially through enablement programs. One of the benefits of not spending time traveling to meet with clients is that many partners are now able to enrich their skills by taking on-demand, vendor training to secure additional accreditations or certifications. At ASG Technologies, we saw an uptick in sales and technical enablement, as well as increased demand for training labs and workshops. This enrichment is one of the more positive byproducts of the pandemic.

Anticipating Future Trends

Beyond immediate sales strategy for existing solutions, companies need to analyze what customers will buy (and what they won’t), what they consider must-haves, and what the business reasons are behind those decisions. For instance, at the onset of the pandemic, every vendor was focused on helping clients become remote-work-ready and enabling a virtual, mobile workforce. For many vendors, that meant moving any workloads deployed on-premises to the cloud. Companies that had existing cloud projects were less impacted by the stay-at-home disruption. Moving forward, vendors should communicate with customers and prospects about the agility of a hybrid IT environment, in which some projects are on-prem, while other apps, services, computer networks, and storage is in the cloud. That way, companies can leverage the convenience of cloud being a utility – which they can just turn on and avoid staging and setting up infrastructure – with the high performance of the mainframe. In the face of disruption, having this option will help companies pivot more quickly.

The other trend vendors should focus on is the rise in digital automation. Early in the pandemic, customers complained that they could not complete certain tasks – such as closing their books – because it required several people. Offices that digitized their data and automated mundane tasks were better prepared for the pandemic – and will be more equipped for the new normal. If companies aren’t driving digital transformation across every facet of their business, they are at risk. Vendors should position themselves to address this need and help customers drive more return out of their business.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, the channel has remained resilient in the face of significant change. By taking the time to adjust strategy, implement new tools and practices, and focus on sales and technical enablement, channel partners will enter the new normal as a united front. It will be important for partners to continue closely monitoring how the pandemic shifts the climate not only in the channel but the world at large. That way, they can stay one step ahead of incoming trends, disruptions, and opportunities to build and serve their customers’ needs.

About The Author

Wayne Monk is Senior Vice President, Global Alliances and Channel Sales at ASG Technologies and is responsible for establishing strategic partnerships, indirect channels and other key routes to market. Wayne has 30 years of enterprise solution sales, marketing, and channel management experience with high growth technology companies. Wayne has held many sales and channel management positions with Seamless Technologies (acquired by Avnet), HP Software, Mercury Interactive, CA, MainControl (acquired by MRO and then IBM), and NCR Corporation.