Guest Column | March 1, 2021

Engaging With Channel Partners In The Age Of COVID-19

By Larry Newman, Axis Communications

COVID 19 Coronavirus

Although the development of a vaccine has provided hope that the COVID-19 pandemic may soon draw to a close, the effects of the crisis that defined much of 2020 have reverberated into the new year. The economic fallout associated with the virus has forced businesses across all industries to make major adjustments, both to protect their employees and customers and to maintain business continuity.

At a time when face-to-face interaction is strictly limited, maintaining an appropriate level of partner and customer support has been a challenge—especially for companies that conduct a large amount of business via channel sales. Businesses and their channel partners have had to continuously evaluate what is working and what isn’t amid the pandemic. And while manufacturers and partners alike no doubt look forward to a return to normal, some of the adjustments forced by the pandemic seem poised to stick around.

Relationship Building Amid COVID-19

Trade shows have traditionally been a great opportunity to meet a wide range of channel partners over a short period, and the inability to conduct these events due to COVID-19 restrictions and the need for social distancing was a blow felt by many industries. The pandemic has highlighted just how important these regular opportunities for manufacturers to interact face-to-face with their channel partners and other industry professionals have become.

Many trade shows were reimagined as virtual events—and organizers deserve considerable praise for the adaptability they displayed in orchestrating this shift. Unfortunately, virtual events simply don’t provide the same networking capabilities as in-person events. The chance interactions, side conversations, and opportunities to demo new products simply cannot be translated to a virtual environment. The opportunity channel partners have to talk to executives they might not otherwise interact with at events creates spontaneous brainstorming sessions that might result in new partnerships or even tangible product innovations.

Accounting for this has been a learning process. While many businesses were initially optimistic that virtual events might bring in a wider audience of attendees previously unable to attend in-person events, they simply don’t have the same draw. Ultimately, just because something can be virtual doesn’t mean it should be, and businesses looking to strengthen relationships with channel partners and end users have had to shift their approach.

Finding New Ways To Connect

Like any other, the security industry has faced its share of challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but security is something that people and businesses invest in both when times are good and when times are bad—albeit for different reasons. Difficult decisions have been made across the industry as security providers work to navigate the treacherous waters of the pandemic while identifying new ways to facilitate relationship-building opportunities between manufacturers, channel partners, and end users to replace those currently rendered unfeasible.

To that end, business agility has become increasingly critical. With partners unable to attend large events or travel to centralized headquarters, one solution that has gained considerable traction within the security industry is that of smaller customer service locations capable of accommodating product demos, service appointments, and other safe, socially distanced interactions. With customers unable to come to businesses, businesses have had to come closer to their customers, and the results have been promising. Channel partners and end users who value individualized attention and support have been able to get the information and assistance they need on a more personal scale, while manufacturers have benefited from the direct feedback that these interactions enable.

This is an area where channel partners have helped manufacturers considerably over the past year. Many businesses rely heavily on their channel partners to identify potential opportunities based on their more intimate understanding of the needs of end users—especially at a time when those needs can change rapidly. It has become more important than ever for manufacturers to provide their channel partners with the education and knowledge they need to help them identify these new opportunities. For instance, businesses that are no longer fully staffed have found that digital security is more important than ever, as they can no longer rely on employees to notice if something is amiss. Manufacturers and channel partners have had to be both knowledgeable and responsive to each other’s needs—something that has strengthened many working relationships and helped provide end users with much-needed support.

The need for increased education has prompted another positive development: increased emphasis on eLearning. Although it’s impossible to fully replace hands-on experience, digital learning programs can not only fill in gaps—they can create a broader, more equitable playing field. Smaller integrators that might not have the budget to attend huge conferences or fly across the country for training now have the opportunity to learn about new products that their customers might find valuable. Just as remote learning has helped countless people earn college degrees, the security industry (and others) has invested heavily in accessible, self-paced programs that not only help partners become familiar with new products but help manufacturers identify up-and-coming integrators to work with.

Moving Forward With New Innovations

Although face-to-face interactions between manufacturers, integrators, and end users are missed, the lack of conferences and other networking opportunities has been the catalyst for many positive changes. Within the security industry, there has been a shift to embrace both the broad audience enabled by digital initiatives and the individualized focus of small-scale, location-based interactions. In both cases, these new initiatives have brought businesses closer to their partners and customers than ever before—and both appear poised to remain long after the pandemic is over. Channel partners have played an important role in helping manufacturers navigate these difficult times, and the relationship between them should continue to evolve in new and interesting ways as we move into the future.

About The Author

Larry Newman is Senior Director, Sales, Americas for Axis Communications.