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The world has changed in the past few months as a result of the coronavirus, with millions working from home, social distancing making physical events almost impossible, and the web playing a vital role in keeping us all connected.
Crystal ball gazing is usually a pastime that starts much later in the year as the channel starts to think about what is coming round the corner, but it has already begun as questions are asked about what will be the “new normal”.
Will home working remain prevalent? Will some events remain virtual? Once this is over, will reseller training happen in the traditional way? Those are just some of the talking points that are being discussed across all levels of the channel.
Ed Baker, senior director of Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) partners at McAfee, has been thinking a lot about how the channel has reacted to the pandemic, and it has already become clear that – in some areas – the changes could be permanent.
Covid-19 has forced a temporary cessation to all physical training, with vendors having to quickly step up with virtual alternatives. The main difference with digital education ist hat it is something that can be consumed in segments. Resellers are not having to send staff offsite for a few days of intensive training, and that is likely to have a lasting legacy.
“There has been a huge uptick in the volume of virtual training we have been asked to do,” said Baker. ”We have given them the opportunity to dip in and out. We have set up the things we offer into bite-size chunks and there has been a huge increase in the demand.”
This sense of flexibility is likely to remain permanent, along with the widespread awareness of the depth of enablement tools that are being offered by vendors.
The rates of involvement with online training has raised eyebrows across the board, with resellers showing real hunger for knowledge.
Cisco shared its experiences around its Black Belt Academy offering in a partner roundtable session in June, with Jose van Dijk, vice-president of partner operations for Cisco’s global partner organisation, noting that the uptake had been significant in the lockdown.
“In April and May, we had 800 to 900 people joining each week,” she added. “If you look at the number of training hours consumed, in the month of May the consumption tripled from March, we have 35,000 learning hours, which is almost four years of training consumed in one month.”
Baker said that changes happening with training now would benefit the channel in the long term, as it encourages partners to increase their levels of training and allows it to happen in increments around their daily workload. “The industry has fundamentally changed there for the better,” he added.
Events and digital marketing
The pandemic has also drawn a line, for now at least, under physical events. As physical events were a big source of lead generation and a chance to curate existing relationships and create new ones, the topic of events has caused some fresh thinking across the channel, and budgets that would have been earmarked for stands, travel and fees have been redirected into virtual alternatives.
Baker said that there were times spent looking into a mirror at the end of a long day at an event asking the question of whether it had delivered: “Can I prove to myself that I got the return?”
The current situation has forced events to become virtual, but it has also turned a spotlight on communications in general, and there have been a number of positive examples of vendors, distributors and resellers reaching out to each other.
The success of those virtual events has also posed some questions. Before HPE Discover kicked off, the firm’s CEO Antonio Neri shared that 100,000 people had registered for the event. Other vendors have seen numbers of those interested in online sessions at much higher rates than last year’s physical events.
There are going to be challenges maintaining the physical while making sure that a potentially much wider audience is not alienated when things get back to normal. One vendor commented that it was interacting with many more resellers that were not part of its formal partner programnme, and it was now looking at ways to transfer them into more permanent prospects.
Baker has seen increasing innovation in attempts to grab attention and get the message across, as well as a rise in gamification to attract attention. Those tuning into the Exclusive Networks festival next week will see some of those techniques – quizzes, music and comedians – in action.
The final point from Baker is that the pandemic has changed the sales dynamic, and – with organisations working remotely – everyone has started to follow an inside sales model.
“One thing is crystal clear, the relationship between the customer, partner and vendors had to operate differently,” he said. “Everyone is inside sales and some partners are very good at doing that continually, but many often aren’t necessarily used to doing that.”
McAfee is sharing best practices with partners to help them deal with an evolving situation that is changing some of the traditional sales motion.
Sales units that sat alongside each other in call centres are now spread across their home offices, and departments that would have only been involved when the invoices needed to be processed have also had to change.
“Processes to place an order have adapted very quickly. Partners have had to adapt to software and processes that have changed,” said Baker.
From a technology perspective, most of these changes have led customers to a conclusion that they could benefit from more cloud-based applications and services.
“Customers are relying far more on cloud capability and that has pushed that a little bit faster,” said Baker.
The entire channel is trying to work out what the “new normal” is going to look like. There are many people processing the same thoughts as Baker at McAfee, trying to come to some conclusions about what we all be doing once Covid-19 is over. One thing is becoming clear – things will never be the same again.
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