February is here already but at the moment 2021 seems a lot like 2020. We’re all still in lockdown, even as the vaccination rollout gathers pace. Snatches of conversation overheard on daily walks are all about when hairdressers and gyms might reopen, and whether anyone will get a holiday in the sun this year.
It’s all tediously familiar, like the early weeks of the pandemic repeated on an endless loop. It probably feels the same way for your business customers, whose waking hours will be dominated by the same intrusive thoughts. When will lockdown end? When will offices and workplaces fully reopen? Are we working as well as we can in the circumstances?
In this kind of atmosphere, attracting new business isn’t easy. Customers and targets may have put new investment on hold for the time being, to keep precious cash reserves in the bank. Recruitment might be suspended, with companies furloughing staff or making redundancies.
Keep the customers you already have
So with retrenchment the order of the day, what can channel businesses do? The first priority is to keep the customers you already have.
Many of them will be wary of making new financial commitments when the future remains shrouded in uncertainty, but you can at least take the opportunity to embed yourself more deeply into customer operations.
In the first instance, talk to your contacts about how they might use current services better, and become the go-to advisor on connectivity, security and communications. Be the outsourced IT resource your hard-pressed customers need and make yourself indispensable.
Customers will thank you for it, and opportunities will eventually follow. They might be tightening belts now, but they’re aware that at some point they need to continue their digitisation journeys. Studies in 2019 found that two of the top concerns for SME leaders were keeping up with technology and cybersecurity. Those concerns haven’t gone away.
If anything, they’ve grown. Remote working isn’t going anywhere, and home workers need to be properly equipped and resourced. Businesses know that, if they’re not in the cloud, or if their connectivity isn’t up to scratch, they’re in danger of being left behind.
But they’re also running a business in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic. They just don’t have the time to think too much about it.
Be an educator
That’s where good partners come in. Do the thinking for your customers and help educate them on the alternatives on offer. Avoid the hard sell and instead be a source of valuable bespoke information.
Start by reviewing what they already have. Is their connectivity still up to the task now that they’re connecting a remote workforce to the cloud? How is it coping with video conferencing, omnichannel customer services or a more sophisticated e-commerce operation?
If they’ve stretched their network to its limit and risk stuttering speeds and dropouts, let them know. If they’ve plenty of bandwidth to spare and don’t need to do anything, let them know that too. It’s always nice to feel reassured.
Similarly, if you think new ways of working have put a customer’s data at risk, make the case for a managed security solution that can remove a major pain point and free up time for more productive work.
If your customer simply won’t spend right now, don’t disappear. Can you offer a webinar on basic security steps for remote staff, or a regular email update on the latest phishing threats? Become a trusted advisor and you’ll reap benefits when businesses are ready to spend again.
Focus on OpEx
Of course, in many instances IT spending creates savings in the long run, through increased efficiency and productivity. Talk to customers and targets about cost-effectiveness but not in an abstract way. Make it concrete by tying it to the kind of business dilemmas they might be facing right now.
For example, a step up in Ethernet bandwidth might allow a B2C customer to automate routine customer service processes, freeing up staff time to create better customer experiences. That’s a hugely profitable investment.
And don’t forget that many businesses are having to do more with less in 2021. That’s a way in, because solutions that help them do it are the investments they are most likely to make. Hosted voice is one. It lets remote staff work more collaboratively and effectively, and it gives managers the real time data they need to maximise productivity.
What’s more, it could actually save customers money compared to clunky legacy systems, and it’s paid for on an OpEx, per user per month model, so there’s no front loaded spend. Do the maths for your customers, estimate costs and savings, and let the benefits speak for themselves.
In many ways we’re stating the obvious, and you probably do a lot of this already. But the measures that will resonate most forcefully with customers and targets this year will be around spending to save and doing more with less. Businesses will appreciate providers who come to them with tailored advice, helpful resources and a realistic sense of what can be achieved in 2021.