With the lockdown putting a stop to face-to-face meetings, James Harrison spoke with our sales teams to see how they have turned to online meetings, engaging content and other creative ideas to maintain close customer relationships, keep orders flowing and manage essential sales functions.

Many businesses are feeling the pinch as customers and colleagues grapple with the impact of the coronavirus. We are no different. We have had to adapt to new ways of working. For an organisation that advocates technology day in, day out, we have a significant sales function, and remote working and social distancing have created an exceptional challenge, and our field and inside sales teams have had to adapt to the new circumstances.

Maintaining customer contact

The initial concern was the loss of ‘face time’ with partners, colleagues and vendors, but we’re now driving all meetings virtually and have fully embraced video. While this will never replace the human side, everyone has been keen to engage with this way of working. From the top down, we’ve seen a real upturn in response and interaction from our partners and vendors to make sure engagement continues and distancing doesn’t impact business.

“It is important we continue to communicate as a business,” comments John Nolan, Sales Director Westcon UK/I, “and we’re using digital through the sales cycle, from prospecting and customer presentations to demos, collaboration on deal creation and solution design, opportunity management and virtual sales enablement.”

Adapt and innovate

Think creatively. We’ve learned that anything we did physically, we can do virtually. Meetings and events that we flipped to virtual include floor days, interactive demos, QBRs and even coffee mornings – the team in Spain schedule daily ‘coffee breaks’ to bring partners and colleagues together informally. They’ve proven to be really popular and something they wouldn’t have thought of doing before the lockdown.

Trust and empower

One thing is for sure – productivity has not dropped. In fact the blurring of the lines between work and personal life can lead to fatigue if not managed well. We have learned that trusting people to do their jobs is empowering, even in regions or teams where it’s not been the culture.

“We expected everyone to work from the office,” says Rakesh Parboo, CEO Westcon SSA, “but this has proved that we can trust and empower our staff. We’re going to take this new-found flexibility forward into the new way of working.”

Dealing with distractions

Home working isn’t always seamless. When there are connection issues or family interruptions, be patient and find ways to work around them. Distractions before the pandemic – like colleagues’ choice of home decor, what they’re wearing, interruptions by pets and kids – are no longer important. What is important is everyone is engaged, interacting and motivated.

Steve Clark, Senior Director Global Customers APAC, says: “We make an effort to make every meeting and session a little bit more interesting and enjoyable, such as using storytelling, and we’re more ‘present’ in meetings as a result.” He also recommends putting phones out of reach to remove distractions or the temptation to check email or social media.

Engage with video  

When people can see each other, they’re more connected, engaged and productive. Being able to see each other face to face brings back some sense of proximity and togetherness. Video also helps to avoid miscommunication, as you can still see visual cues and not rely simply on deciphering someone’s tone – important for sales conversations.

Despite this, video calls weren’t common within our sales teams, where “face-to-face is best” was a given. Having been forced to switch, everyone has been pleasantly surprised. “The face-to-face interaction by video is much better than expected and everyone is much more comfortable using it now – we’ll definitely continue with them going forward,” says Arno Beker, Managing Director Westcon Northern Europe.

Set up channels for casual chats

One of the biggest things missed by teams working remotely is the chance to chat and catch up with colleagues – especially for field teams who are often on the road.

Setting up separate ‘rooms’ in messaging apps for chats has been a good way to replicate this interaction, with colleagues popping in throughout the day to talk around the proverbial water cooler.

Don’t forget the fun factor

Replacing after-work gatherings with virtual ones has helped foster a real sense of camaraderie and keep people positive. These range from a simple video call to socialise and wind down after work, to virtual pub quizzes, happy hours or DJ sessions. We’ve tried them all at Westcon-Comstor! The idea is to replicate the real thing as closely as possible so that it’s as effective for connection as it would be in person.

Learnings from the lockdown

The real learning is that it’s possible to continue customer engagement and sales functions even without face-to-face meetings. Internal collaboration between teams has flourished, and we now keep in touch more than ever – both with team members and with partners and vendors. Managers talk about getting closer to their teams, knowing them better, even when they have worked together for some time.

As Peter Cooper, International Business Director, points out: “The blurring of the lines between personal and business has created a more human side to customer relations. It’s easier to get in front of senior decision makers in vendors and partners. They’re at home, no longer travelling and they have time for you. It’s creating much more meaningful conversations.”

Looking ahead

While not everything can be replicated virtually, with a bit of ingenuity, most things can be. With a bit of effort we’ve been able to create an environment where our people are still connected even though they’re physically apart.

By embracing technology, we’re not only driving closer connections, but carrying out critical sales functions like solution design and enablement, creating regular touchpoints with both vendors and partners.

We were able to support overwhelming demand for remote working solutions under extremely challenging circumstances, a real achievement that took a few people by surprise. They’ll be taking their learnings forward with their teams and the business.