By Larry Newman, Axis Communications
The COVID-19 pandemic forced a lot of businesses to make significant changes to their operations. The shift to a largely remote workforce impacted the day-to-day lives of employees, but it also impacted how businesses interact with their partners. When the shift to virtual operations occurred, it became more difficult to forge new relationships with vendors, integrators, and customers. Hands-on, face-to-face interaction was the lifeblood of many industries—the security industry included—and the inability to engage in those interactions posed a significant challenge.
While building new relationships amid the pandemic was not impossible, these added challenges made it more critical than ever for businesses to strengthen and maintain their existing relationships. It was important for enterprises to understand that their partners, integrators, and customers were all facing similar challenges, and to work with them to find new ways of working together to address them. This new level of interconnectedness has built stronger bonds between businesses and their partners—bonds that should persist long after the pandemic ends.
Facing The Worst Of The Pandemic
The problems caused by the pandemic are well documented, and the supply line issues that have plagued countless industries remain a challenge. But manufacturers should realize that while their partners and customers are aware that these issues exist, they may not always understand their full scope—or implication. Not all shortages were driven by the pandemic, for instance—and some customers have been surprised to discover that even as vaccines continue to roll out, shortages of items like CPUs and microchips persist. Some issues were not caused by the pandemic, they were merely exacerbated by it.
This means setting expectations has never been more important. In some cases, partners and customers have become more tolerant: everyone knows that the past two years have been challenging, and most people are willing to forgive minor inconveniences. But as time goes on, those same parties—understandably—expect a return to a high level of service. Even without face-to-face interaction, clients expect to receive the same level of attention and service that they always have. In fact, many even expect service to be more responsive, because employees working remotely are perceived (rightly or wrongly) to have more free time and be more readily available.
In my company’s experience, this led to an increase in cold calls from clients—and while it was sometimes necessary to correct the perception that employees were sitting idle, those increased interactions were always welcome. Those interactions can improve relationships between businesses and their partners by fostering honesty and open communication. Customers and clients may not expect face-to-face visits the way they did in years past, but they do expect virtual connection. And with virtual fatigue setting in, businesses need to find new and interesting ways to maintain those connections.
Fostering Increased Understanding
Many manufacturers sell their products via distributors and integrators, and manufacturers need to understand the unique challenges that the pandemic posed for those businesses as well. With in-person interactions limited, it wasn’t always easy for integrators to meet with their potential customers, and labor shortages due to the pandemic and its economic fallout meant that things did not always run as smoothly as in the past. With supply chain issues piling onto these existing problems, it became difficult for integrators to set expectations with end customers. Supply chain delays, limited availability, and delayed lead times all contributed to this problem.
Unfortunately, fads often surface during difficult times, and some organizations opt to focus on their immediate bottom line. This can lead to shortsightedness, one example of which was the rush to adopt thermal cameras at the height of the pandemic. Make no mistake, thermal cameras are an extremely useful technology—when deployed correctly and used for the right purpose. But some sellers promoted thermal cameras as an effective means of conducting mass COVID-19 fever screenings, which is something they are poorly suited for. Pushing technology on customers when that technology is not suitable for its intended purpose is never a good idea—it may result in a quick buck, but ultimately erodes trust in not just the technology itself, but the manufacturer, integrator, and anyone else involved in the process of selling it to the customer. The relationship between manufacturer, integrator, and customer is an important one, and maintaining it requires honesty from all parties.
Part of this comes down to education. Integrators expect to be appropriately informed by manufacturers so that they can pass that knowledge on to their customers. Integrators should be up-front with manufacturers about the information they need, and manufacturers must avoid exaggerating their products’ capabilities. This requires long-term thinking that goes beyond short-term profits—after all, integrators that know they can trust a manufacturer are more likely to return to that manufacturer in the future, and customers who know they can trust their integrator to provide helpful and accurate information are more likely to listen to that integrator’s product recommendations.
Organizations that recognized this are likely emerging from the pandemic in a position of strength. Those manufacturers that fostered stronger communication and understanding with the integrators will have stronger relationships moving forward, and those that doubled down on long-term investments like research and professional development are now in a better position than ever to create better products and generate more leads.
Strength Through Relationship Building
Ultimately, it is incumbent upon manufacturers to project stability, reliability, and guidance—and integrators should be able to trust them to provide the resources they need to be effective. Organizations must recognize the critical role that their partners and integrators play, not just in helping them sell their products, but in helping them strengthen their brand reputation. The COVID-19 pandemic is a challenging time for everyone, but the organizations that recognized the opportunity to focus on long-term planning rather than short-term gains are now reaping the benefits of that decision. The pandemic highlighted the value of relationship building, and both manufacturers and integrators should make it a high priority even after its end.
About The Author
Larry Newman is Director of Sales, Americas at Axis Communications.