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How Covid-19 is impacting channel engagement

How Covid-19 is impacting channel engagement

What does social distancing mean from an ecosystem perspective?

Credit: Dreamstime

No matter the platform, the conversation surrounding Covid-19 is prevalent around the world. Regardless of opinion, the decision to be socially and ethically responsible and cancel travel, events and large gatherings forces us all into a new normal both personally and professionally.

For those operating in the technology channel, the question arises, in the age of coronavirus, what does social distancing mean from a channel perspective?

After much consideration, I suggest this means quickly evolving people, process and technology into something that is adaptable, agile and responsive - consistent with a new Digital Normal, or rather Channel Normal.

Impact on CAMs

For those who relied in the past on events, face-to-face communication and socialising at the hotel lobby bar post conference, now is the time to start thinking through how that changes.

In terms of social distancing, how can you continue to manage channel sales and relationships in a personal way, when we can no longer be in person (indefinitely)? Because personal contact with customers is limited, it’s critical to focus on social selling.

According to JS Group research, experts who social sell are now are outperforming peers who aren’t by 77 per cent - and that was pre-coronavirus. The time is now to adapt and evolve, quickly.

For the next 30 days, and probably much longer, channel account managers (CAMs) are home bound across the world. And what if this goes on for a year? Today, a CAM can be considered a critical component to a business; they are a relationship manager who wear many hats.

At times they are a hunter, on a quest to seek, on-board and engage a constant funnel of new partners. They are also farmers, nurturing current partners, helping them to flourish, evolve and grow. They are critical in managing the business evolution from creating and managing pipeline funnel, order taking, customer experience and quarterly business reviews (QBRs) to managing and reporting on the business partnership and its success and opportunities.

While relationship management will remain critical, they will also require Relationship Management 2.0, and have to evolve to the Digital Normal, or Channel Normal.

The skill sets they possess and the way they have done business will need to evolve. A CAM used to be measured on engagement by airline status, miles logged and how many hotel nights collected - that will all be forced to change, for now, and maybe forever.

CAMs will need to have a new understanding of digital selling through social media and ecosystems. What are channel partners reading and listening to while in a status of quarantine?

Tricks of the trade might evolve to include clicks to conversions, social engagement, attribution and measuring partner influence in a way (and scale) never done before. CAMs will need to think quickly about moving beyond email and embracing LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, in addition to podcasts, blogs and webinars to redefine how and what they communicate.

New approaches

While it is a challenging time for many technology workers, many of us have already telecommuted and/or worked from home before - even if we have new cube mates filled with wee humans and endless Frozen 2 background music thanks to Disney+ and school closures.

Opportunities will also present themselves as technology evolves. There are innovative channel software companies which are helping with the evolution of forward-thinking channel companies redefining the way we influence, build a program and grow an ecosystem.

Additionally, we expect peer and social groups - such as LinkedIn and Facebook - plus Cisco Webex, Slack and Microsoft Teams to become more relevant in the channel for communication and collaboration. Video conferencing vendors such as Cisco, Microsoft, 8x8, Avaya and Zoom among others will continue to provide that face-to-face connection when we need it most.

“Partners need to promote digital solutions to their customers, and provision and supply them,” said Janet Schijns, CEO of JS Group. “It extends to how you work together in a virtual environment. 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 light of such market changes, channel processes will also need to evolve. The good news, we all know that channel programs need to be always evolving and have to be proactive and reactive to things going on in the world.

How do vendors better market through, to, and with partners who are now also 'quarantined' working from home? Traditionally the top way people sell in the channel is through 'hand-to-hand combat' such as events, in person meetings and QBRs. This is all going to have to change, at least for now.

Rise of virtual events / podcasts

Amid coronavirus fears, cancelling all events and travel and rescheduling shows indefinitely, virtual conferences are becoming more appealing. Historically however, virtual events have not been that appealing, or widely promoted. Now we don’t have a choice.

Companies — such as On24, CommPartners, VConference and Zoom — can reinvent this experience for collaboration and networking in a time of quarantine and social separation. They can provide virtual conferences where attendees can walk around virtual networking rooms and speak to vendors/sponsors in virtual 'break out sessions'.

With an enticing agenda, strong speakers (who can be streamed in from around the world), the right marketing tools, companies can reach even more people. When a conference is virtual, attendance isn’t limited by the size of a venue or who can afford to make it out.

People can tune in from anywhere in the world - in the office, at home or on the go - and at any time, if the event is recorded and made available on-demand.

Virtual conference platforms can also often say a lot about conference-goers, and help gather leads. They can inform which sessions were attended and for how long, which booths were interacted with in the virtual exhibition hall, and more. This kind of insight is invaluable for developing targeted content and for making the next virtual or in-person conference even more successful.

Podcasts are also an extremely popular tool for sharing communication, information and serving a community of listeners. Currently the channel has 64 podcasts in market, according to the research of Jay McBain at Forrester and Rob Spee of Outsystems.

At JS Group, we predict this will double every year for the next five years - as the new Digital Normal. One reason podcasts are so popular is that the format is uniquely situational to fit into busy lives.

Given that many listeners are already on phones when listening to a podcast, it's easy to share via social media and engage with other listeners, which helps build a channel community around the podcast. A virtual community is just what the channel needs today.

Together - with about six metres space between us - we can get through this. This is an opportunity to redefine how the channel conducts business and life in the short and long-term.

Michelle Ragusa-McBain is vice president of Global Channel Strategy at JS Group

Michelle is a highly visible thought leader in the global technology channel. Entrepreneur Magazine named her as one of the top four people to inspire women to pursue a career in technology and she was recognised by SMB Magazine as one of the 150 most influential people in the global IT Business Community.

Michelle also sat on the board of CRN Women of the Channel, serves as Chair Emeritus of Advancing Women in Technology for CompTIA and co-founder of Tech Worlds Half non-profit. She is also a longstanding member of the National Women in Technology Group, where she has given speeches for young women in technology — most recently at NC State & Hofstra University. She is a technology and social media enthusiast and an avid blogger who has taken her passion for women in technology, world travel, health and wellness to create awareness and inspire others. Email: mmcbain@jsgnow.com.


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