Should channel sales still be selling during the COVID-19 pandemic?

clock • 6 min read

Resellers and MSPs should place all their sales efforts on retaining existing customers and getting their business back on track, Fiona Challis argues

Should I still be prospecting and cold calling?

  • Should I still be sending marketing campaigns?
  • Where is the best place for me to focus my sales and marketing efforts whilst working from home?

These are all questions I am receiving on a daily basis from channel sales reps who aren't quite sure whether it is ethical to still be selling when many of their current and potential new customers are going through so much stress and turmoil in their businesses! Many of their customers are asking themselves:

  • How do we set our teams up to work remotely and manage them?
  • How can we help them stay productive, connected and motivated?
  • How do we still drive revenue throughout this pandemic and retain our profit?
  • How do we keep enough cashflow coming into the business?
  • How do we keep our employees safe?
  • How do we ensure our customer and company data is being accessed securely?
  • Can we make payroll this month?
  • Worse than that, many are being forced to lay employees off until this wildfire passes.

Many leading airlines such as Virgin have already had to ask staff to take eight weeks of unpaid leave. Leading manufacturing companies, hotel chains and retail stores are also following suit.

For many MSP's, service providers, resellers, VARs and channel sales teams this presents both an opportunity and challenge. The initial opportunity of setting customers and their teams up to work remotely delivered a huge spike in sales revenue with customers needing to buy more laptops, unified communications systems, collaboration tools, cloud seats, connectivity, back up and DR and cyber security solutions. However, it also created a huge spike in support tickets coming into MSPs' helpdesks with remote workers not being able to access systems working from home.

This initial busy period is now calming but many channel partners are now facing even more challenges with some customers:

  • Cancelling contracts
  • Limiting spending
  • Reducing MRR spend
  • Deferring payments
  • Asking for payment plans
  • Putting projects on hold
  • Proposals stalling and the sales pipeline not closing
  • Some may even go out of business meaning some reseller/VARs may be left with unpaid bills and some MSP's could lose a large chunk of MRR overnight

So as much as some MSPs, resellers & VARs have seen a spike in sales and revenue in the short term they are also at risk of losing more revenue in the long term. For this reason, and in my opinion, this is now the time for all sales efforts to be placed on retaining existing customers and their spend and getting their business back on track so that they see you as a valuable resource rather than a cost they can cut.

It is not a time for prospecting.

It is not a time for cold calling or sending cold marketing campaigns.

It is a time for serving and solving.

It's a time for channel sales teams to help their existing customers answer the biggest question they have which is ‘How do we use technology to keep our business running throughout these difficult times'

We are living in a new reality and things will most likely never be the same again however your customers need you now more than ever!! Your customers need you and your experience of how other businesses in their industry are overcoming the challenges they face today. They need you to provide insights, they need you to educate them on how they can get their business back on track.

It's also a time for expanding beyond your existing base and asking your existing customers ‘Who else do you know in your industry that is also facing the same challenges as you'. Reach out and provide as much free business advice as you can to those referrals.

Share your case studies and experience of how you have already helped other businesses in their industry to get their business back on track. Provide valuable insights and free resources as when this wildfire blows over …. they will remember that you were the company that was there to guide and help them through one of the most challenging times in their business. You will have their loyalty and you will be the first person they think of when they do need to buy more technology or outsource in the future. By serving these prospects today for free you will build a solid sales pipeline of the future.

You will still be selling but the messaging is different! It's about the educational content, it's about ‘here's what we are doing for our customers in your vertical so let us help you free of charge' then inviting them to book a free consultation call with you.

Now is the time to sow the seeds and be the connector and being careful and sincere whilst doing it - this is the role of channel sales today

So where should channel sales teams focus today?

They should focus on the here and now, in the getting your customers business back up and running and serving their wider base of referrals and providing insights and education to particular verticals or niche's that you serve in.

On a more positive note when the COVID-19 wildfire calms, when we come out of the other end of this I strongly believe that COVID-19 will actually accelerate digital transformation and channel sales teams with the skills to lead with business insights and sell the business outcomes of digital transformation will be the teams that catch this growth wave first.

I also believe that the value perception of working with an MSP has been massively underappreciated until now!! Many businesses are now realising that they could of very quickly went out of business in this pandemic if it hadn't of been for their MSP getting their business up and running remotely so once we come through the other side of this horrible situation we are in I believe many customers will see partnering with an MSP as an essential part of their business strategy and this will open up a lot managed services, security and business continuity opportunities for MSPs who can show how they add value to every layer of a customers business.

Bearing this in mind channel sales teams should also have a focus today on developing the sales skills that will be crucial to their success today and in the future.

The sales skills I believe will be crucial to channel sales success is developing advanced consultative selling skills known as business outcome selling. Developing commercial and business acumen so that channel sales teams have the confidence to have business discussions as opposed to technology discussions. 

The more business insights channel sales teams have into their customers vertical or niche the more valuable they will be therefore I believe there has never been a more important time to nail a niche or vertical so that you can understand the business challenges and outcomes of that niche and how you can add value at every level in the business.

There has never been a more important time for channel sales teams to learn how to become a true value add business partner to their customers instead of being a sales rep.

There has never been a more important time to learn how to build long term business and strategic relationships with your customers so that your customers see you a valuable business resource not a cost!!

And the time to develop these skills is now otherwise you could end up damaging existing customer relationship if you simply focus on selling products and services throughout this period of unrest that we are in!

Fiona Challis is founder of Next-Gen Sales Training

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