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Supporting your channel during the COVID-19 crisis

26 March 2020 | Phil Brown

It is unquestionable that the COVID-19 outbreak is having a profound impact on every element of work and personal life. At this stage, most businesses are still working out what the impact is on them, in terms of their workforce,their supply chains, and demand from their customers. But the bottom line is that all businesses need to find a way to keep going during this time of unprecedented disruption.

For businesses that go-to-market through channel partners, the current situation poses new challenges. How do you engage partners when usual tactics such as events and face-to-face workshops are off-limits? How do you help them keep business flowing when they are short-staffed and their customers are distracted by other concerns? How do you ensure that you don’t lose valued partners due to short-term cash flow problems?

The temptation might be to retrench and cut back on all discretionary spend, but the lesson from previous crises is that businesses that continue to invest in, and support, their channel partners are best placed to reap the benefits when the economy begins to recover.

As distracted as we may all be, it is important to think about the longer term. Share of voice has a direct correlation to share of market, so by maintaining or even increasing your communications with your partners, you will be well placed to grow market share once the crisis is over and normal business resumes.

Here are a few ideas to consider:

Virtual events

Given that trade shows, roadshows and in-person seminars are off the table for the foreseeable future, maybe it’s time to explore how you can make more use of virtual events. Done well, these types of activities can enable you to engage with greater numbers of partners in a very cost-effective way, as well as giving you content that you can use for follow-up marketing initiatives. And rather than disappear from view, they allow you to keep communicating with partners and remind them of the opportunity you offer.

OneGTM client, PFU, recently utilised a virtual environment to showcase the launch of a new product, which enabled them to simultaneously launch across several territories, and to a large number of partners. The event format gave PFU the opportunity to share a wide range of content, such as use cases, product features, and technical specifications, with partners they would not normally be able to engage with. Another advantage over traditional face to face events was that partners were able to revisit the content at a time of their choosing, including those who could not make the initial launch event.

Reframing your customer propositions

Given everyone’s focus is understandably on responding to immediate challenges presented by the new coronavirus, your usual messaging may not cut through at the current time. But customers still have some pretty significant challenges that they need to urgently address, whether that’s giving everyone the tools to work from home, upgrading networks to cope with more remote traffic, keeping business critical systems running with reduced staff or finding ways to cut overhead costs and conserve cash.

With this in mind, what opportunities are there to re-frame your propositions and your messaging to address the issues that customers care about right now? This needs to be done sensitively – no-one wants to be seen as exploiting a health crisis – but if you can help your partners solve their customers’ most pressing problems, you’ll be offering real value to your partners and your customers, and strengthening your own position.

Compelling digital content for captive eyeballs

One implication of the current crisis is that people are going to be spending more time than ever online. With less time spent travelling and in physical meetings, people will have more time available to consume good quality content. And as well as amusing videos on the impacts of self-isolation and memes about the value of toilet rolls, they may also be taking the opportunity to explore business issues, or broader strategic thinking, that they don’t normally have the time to investigate. This is likely to increase even further the importance of digital content marketing.

Given that your partners may not have the resource or the bandwidth to create additional content, particularly at this time, this could be an area where you can add huge amounts of value. Whether it’s through eGuides, videos, podcasts, recorded webinars or infographics, compelling, insightful content will help your partners keep business flowing during difficult times and earn you greater loyalty in the process. And if you can create it in a way that makes it easy for partners to layer in some of their own proposition, even better.

A number of OneGTM clients, including Samsung and Equinix, do a great job of providing partners with content toolkits to support their marketing efforts, with a little help from us of course.  For a recent example, follow this link to see how we worked with Samsung to equip their partners with through-channel marketing and enablement tools.

New ways of selling

The social distancing in place across many countries is forcing lots of people to find innovative, new ways to engage with their audience, whether its musicians streaming gigs from their living rooms, or Prime Ministers holding cabinet meetings via video.

B2B sales is another activity that’s going to need to be re-thought in the current environment. Partner salespeople, who may be used to building relationships, uncovering and making sales via face-to-face meetings are going to need to adapt to doing sales meetings remotely. Some will find it easier than others.

As a vendor, this is an area where you could potentially add a lot of value to your partners and help keep the deals flowing. This may be as simple as circulating some helpful tips on how to run effective sales meetings remotely, or it could involve creating tools that sales people can use in those meetings, such as videos of product demos.

Commercial flexibility

While the above ideas relate to how to keep partners engaged and business flowing, for some that won’t be enough, and unfortunately, they will have more immediate issues to deal with. As enterprise purse strings tighten, and decision-making processes are delayed, cash flow will inevitably become a concern for some partners.

Vendors, particularly those with healthy balance sheets, could choose to play a role in keeping threatened partners afloat by varying commercial terms. This might be bringing forward rebate or MDF payments or extending credit terms for resellers. In more extreme situations, vendors might choose to guarantee loans. This sort of financial intervention isn’t something that any vendor is going to do lightly, but it may be better than letting an otherwise profitable and valuable partner go to the wall because of a short-term liquidity issue.

There’s no way to escape the fact that the next few months, and hopefully it is only a few months, are going to be tough for many businesses. To get through it unscathed will require creative thinking and a positive approach. These ideas don’t provide all the answers but hopefully they’re a useful starting point to developing your channel survival programme.