In the third of CRN's 'Meet the Shortlisters' series, we catch up with Jabra's North EMEA managing director Nigel Dunn (pictured) to discuss all things channel awards and how the company and its partners have coped with 'overwhelming' demand for its products and services during the pandemic
Q. Give us a flavour of your channel strategy - how long have you worked with the channel, how is your programme structured, how many partners do you work with etc
Jabra has always used an indirect business model, working with the channel since our UK operation commenced well over 30 years ago, when we were known as GN Netcom. Following a two-tier channel structure, we have good coverage of the market with our authorised distributor network and we work closely with a select group of around 30 Premium partners, where we have joint business plans, commercial benefits and commitments, training and effective account and marketing management.
We regularly communicate with our authorised reseller base, some of whom we support from the desk with sales, marketing and technical support. These 100+ resellers are our future up-and-coming premium partners.
We also frequently engage with our 2,000 strong long-tail digitally managed partners with email communications, to ensure they can self-serve via Jabra OneZone for e-learning training courses, sales tools and marketing campaign toolkits.
Q. What is the biggest benefit you have seen from working with channel partners?
The benefit is having trusted partners who work with us to clearly define a vision, strategy and plan and are fully engaged in this. This means we can plan and execute our campaigns, promotions and tactics to everyone's advantage. It enables both Jabra and our partners to grow, gain market share and provide a profitable business opportunity. Working in this way makes our partnerships stronger and meaningful.
Q. How have you supported your partners during the pandemic? Has it made you change your strategy in any way? If so, how?
Being agile is critical in turbulent times and the pandemic was one of the biggest challenges the industry has ever experienced. Jabra, to an extent, anticipated the first major wave in March by prepping partners to take increased stock into the UK channel. This enabled Jabra and its partners to satisfy the initial needs of customers. Priority was given to the NHS and ancillary services, blue lights and Government departments. A high emphasis was also placed on contact centres, as they needed to provide open communication with their customers during lockdown.
We also actively worked with resellers to find the best available solutions that could be provided to keep industries moving and allow firms to equip staff who had to work from home.
As lockdown eased and offices and meeting spaces had to be redesigned, Jabra has developed its technology to solve the problem of socially distanced meeting rooms, using its panoramic Panacast camera.
Jabra has been agile in redesigning products so that specific problems could be solved, providing solutions for end-customers and opportunities for our partners. By activating new campaigns, assets and engaging with partners, these innovations have been brought to market quickly.
Q. What has been your company's biggest challenge during 2020 and how did you overcome it? What role did your own teams play in that?
Without a doubt, the ability to manufacture and supply products to satisfy overwhelming demand has been our biggest challenge. The acceleration of digital transformations, work from home and rapid rollouts of new technology created enormous demand, particularly for our highly successful Evolve range. Jabra had to scale up its production post lockdown and logistically try to move huge quantities of product, via a constrained air industry, in record time.
Customers have been understandably demanding and it has tested Jabra and our partners. However, with our partners' help, we have kept an ongoing supply of stock going out to end-users. The challenge is far from over - digital transformation is still accelerating and will continue well into 2021. As such, servicing the market is still the biggest challenge for all vendors and partners supporting digital transformation.
It has been incredible to see the professionalism and patience of our partners in these unprecedented times, while our staff have tried their best to support and deliver, under very stressful conditions.
Q. What lessons have you learned from this year?
It is very hard to anticipate something like a pandemic. To some extent, Jabra planned for the first wave early and managed to service some of the most important and urgent requirements of emergency health workers, thanks to our partners. This was something we are all immensely proud of.
However, as the challenges of the growing demand across all industries due to the acceleration of digital transformation, it's become even more clear that communication is the most critical element of a successful partnership. The biggest lesson learned is that stress grows exponentially when communication and transparency is not effective. Getting the right information to partners to help them manage their demand and their customers was the biggest challenge and we will learn most from this.
Too often companies can mistake high sales figures as a sign of success and we learnt quickly that customer satisfaction is far more important than sales success, as one is transient, the other long lasting.
Another lesson we learnt quickly is that lockdown produced a kind of stress that was not easily relieved. Working from home blurs the edges between work and family life. The ability to take relaxing holidays was curtailed and it was harder for people to unwind at home, particularly if they were shielding, alone or living in a small space. You quickly learn that stress will spill over into work life and its good practice to provide some techniques for people to deal with this.
Jabra enlisted the help of Susan Macdonald and her ‘Little Bit of Calm' workshop programme to help our staff deal with stress, to delineate between work and home, to relax at night and keep healthy. I have learned that stress is always there, pressure just raises it - so it's a good idea to promote destressing techniques even in the good times.
Q. What has been the highlight of 2020 for your business?
The outstanding performance of our staff and partners. Through the most demanding of times, everyone has performed incredibly under stressful conditions both at work and at home. I could not be more proud of my team and our partners. We can, as an IT industry, feel proud of our contribution in helping business, Government and the country keep connected during the pandemic.
Q. What does it mean to you to be recognised for the shortlist/an award?
When I first joined Jabra at the end of 2013, we were a small supplier to the IT channel and finding it hard to be heard among our competitors. We targeted being excellent at what we do and making sure we stood out from the crowd. How we engaged with our channel was crucial and getting recognised for this was part of our plan to recruit more resellers and become an important piece of the IT jigsaw.
In 2020, Jabra has never been more important in the journey to digital transformation and our strategy from 2014 of ‘New Ways of Working' has morphed into ‘Work from Anywhere' but it is still essentially the same message - ‘Work is no longer where you go, it's what you do'. With that message, Jabra must be excellent at what it does, be meaningful and relevant to its channel and customers and recognition by awards remains a key part of this.
We are always immensely proud to be recognised, as it highlights that we are continuing to do a good job for our customers and partners.
Q. How do you think the industry will change as a result of Covid-19 and how do you plan to thrive/grow?
The journey to digital transformation is being fully embraced now. End-users have been slow in embracing what Unified Communications actually is - they regarded it only as a way to save money and essentially continue with the way they had always worked.
A great example of this was that pre-COVID, the vast majority of new telephony licences were sold with telephone handsets that effectively tethered the user to the same spot, just with a new device. The pandemic illustrated that UC has always been about making people more productive by enabling people to work from anywhere and so a headset has become more appropriate now.
This was a stark realisation, but it has changed people's thinking in what is described as the ‘New Normal', but to Jabra, this was what we had been saying for years.
Integral to this is a new style of management and leadership. What had held back the growth of digital transformation was the adherence to ‘line of sight management' - if you can't see someone then they can't be working productively. The pandemic has challenged the fundamentals of leadership and meant remote working for all staff has become a business-critical policy. The embracing of video has revolutionised management thinking and it will boost productivity without a doubt. It will bring on a radical rethink of what we still call offices.
The digital journey has begun, it's accelerating and it's unlikely to slow down. In fact, as we explore it more, people will find new ways and richer software and apps that will enable us to be more productive from anywhere.
The old ways of working are truly over. At long last, people no longer yawn when I say: ‘Work is what you do, not where you go.' It's now an accepted fact.