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Channel Chiefs easing up for a smoother ride

Notes from a C4 Check-in on May 19, 2020

After several weeks with their collective foot hard on the gas, channel leaders have eased up a little on the COVID-inspired workload and are finding the ride a little smoother.

In a conversation that brought 20 C4 members to a virtual board table, the mood was lighter than at the two previous check-ins with board members reporting the road to the new normal is beginning to take shape as governments outline their plans for the restarting of the economy.

Discussion themes

Remote work

The transition to working from home has been less bumpy than most expected. While sales team extroverts are anxious to get back to the office (“they miss being close to people and sharing a beer”) many channel leaders say the bulk of their staff- perhaps with the exception of those with school age kids – are content.  As a result, plans for smaller multi-use central offices are already in the works.

Although some leaders reported “screen fatigue,” it was clear video is making the telephone old school. Increasingly the channel leaders are hearing customers express a preference for video calls, even if no one turns on their cameras (although more are camera-ready than ever before).

The ball caps and the sweatshirts that were prevalent on video calls when the crisis first began are starting to give way to dress shirts and more typical business attire for senior leaders. With fewer “team” calls at all hours of the day and night, people are finding a regular routine and arrive for those scheduled calls showered, coifed and ready to work.

“It takes discipline to thrive in an isolated environment and setting daily goals helps,” suggested one leader.

People still embrace the more “authentic” communication with their videos from kitchen tables or home offices. One channel chief joked her skin had never been healthier because she hadn’t worn makeup in six weeks.

Has the COVID-fueled adrenaline worn off?

Attendees reported that they are still working harder than they did pre-pandemic, but not at the same fever-pitch than marked the first six weeks. The number of “team calls” has reduced dramatically and leaders who a few weeks ago faced 12 hours of back-to-back video calls, have learned to schedule time between calls – to actually get some work done.

“Productivity went up when we started having fewer group meetings. People learned they had to shut down a bit. You can’t work every night after supper and be at you best,” testified one channel leader.

“We may have over-toggled efficiency at the expense of resilience,” added another.

As the shutdown has lingered, people have stopped working for the sake of looking busy and started working smarter. “The feeling that they need to work because they feared losing their job has passed. They’ve stopped booking meetings before 8:30 am and after 5 pm.”

“Beware of busy work. It gets in the way of the important work,” added a veteran channel chief.

The lockdown has provided some companies the opportunity to tackle important projects that always got shifted to the back burner.

There was consensus that it was a challenging time to onboard new talent that need a higher level of touch than you can get on a team call.

Finances

If the pace of work is up, the pace for getting paid is down. Customers are asking for longer payment term, often between 60-90 days. The terms are being granted to help companies stay in business – and to maintain a positive post-pandemic relationship

There was interest, but little discussion about who had been taking advantage of the large vendor assistance programs.

Vendors are doing a great job of communicating, and existing clients are taking calls. There was agreement that getting a new client on the phone was the big challenge.

On preparing for the “New Normal”

Sales staff who are used to being on a plane and regularly meeting people over meals or entertainment opportunities will continue to feel the biggest changes. Outside sales has had to learn to act like inside sales, and that won’t be changing until very late in the year or early 2021. “Right now, we are all inside salespeople.”

Size may not matter as much in the future. Right now, there is “a level playing field for engagement” and that offers smaller, agile and focused companies the opportunity to build inroads with lasting impact.

There was speculation that the biggest immediate opportunities for new technology sales would be in restaurants and retail as those businesses would need technology fixes to offset expected social distancing rules that will remain in place until a vaccine is discovered.

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The meeting was conducted on Cisco’s Webex platform. Cisco has generously provided C4 with the use of the platform for all its virtual meetings going forward.