Life’s Gift of Lemons: Managed IT Dealers Explore Takeaways From COVID-19

It’s tough to discuss COVID-19 in the past tense when it continues to linger well beyond its “welcome,” like a drunk uncle at a holiday cookout an hour after everyone else has left. However, roughly four months into our shared experience, industry dealers of IT-based goods and services have gained valuable experience in dealing with business-altering circumstances, including those of the singularly-unique variety.

As we continue our July State of the Industry focus on delivering IT during the pandemic, we asked our dealer panel what processes it has gleaned to be a more effective provider, along with any best practices that will be utilized going forward. As in the case of any major disruption—and 2020’s unpleasant event is unlikely to be repeated—the test of a dealer’s fortitude ideally adds a new layer of protection moving forward.

Chas Arnold, Novatech

Face-to-face selling has gone on for 200 years, in the estimate of Chas Arnold, vice president of managed IT services for Novatech, with headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, and he doesn’t see any reason for the practice to stop. However, what COVID-19 has accomplished is to force the hand of businesses everywhere to download, and embrace, video conferencing platforms. And while in-person meetings will undoubtedly resume once the pandemic clouds have parted, Zoom and Microsoft Teams, et al. have now become second nature in the business community and no longer are relegated to younger generations.

“We did a lot of work on the training side and virtual meeting aspect with Microsoft Teams,” Arnold said. “Now, I believe that my sales team is going to end up meeting a heck of a lot more people by camera this year than we would have had (COVID-19) not happened. I think it’s the norm. It’s interesting to see how the older generation is now doing video conferencing. I think our sales team will pick up the pace with meeting more people through video conferencing.

“At Novatech, we’re using it as a best practice to let the client see our face. Even if (the client) is not using a camera, I think it’s really sound customer service to have them looking at us while we’re talking to them.”

Clutch Partnership

The adage that trying times can show you who your real friends are has a business application. Some dealers found it difficult to position themselves for net-new business during the shutdown, which is where the value of a cemented relationship comes into play. Verticomm, the managed IT arm of Denver-based All Copy Products, demonstrated its pliability to valued accounts by offering 90-day deferments or postponing payments to allow clients to take receipt of needed technologies ASAP without taking the immediate financial hit.

Calvin Wanner, Verticomm

According to Calvin Wanner, director of IT sales for Verticomm, the value of a solid relationship cannot be understated. “Relationships are critical in any sales process,” he said. “Helping a client put in a solution that works for their organization, from the true solutions stack, to billing, to the overall mechanics of their business, cements that relationship.”

If there’s one thing that COVID-19 taught Applied Imaging as an organization, it is that there is no such thing as over-communicating. The Grand Rapids, Michigan-based firm learned that an operation with 12 offices can work just as effectively on-site as it can remotely, and having an unfettered pipeline of communication ensures everyone is on the same page, armed with the proper messaging and directives.

John Lowery, Applied Imaging

“Dealers should stay consistent and communicate more often than not,” noted John Lowery, president of Applied Imaging. “We were very transparent with new developments, policies, procedures and the state of the business. That provided a lot of comfort to all employees because it was heartfelt and honest. We are truly all in this together, so it’s important to keep the culture up and the anxiety low.”

Efficiency Boost

Working in a remote environment does have its benefits. Jeff Loeb, senior vice president of technologies at Cincinnati-headquartered Prosource, notes that he is able to have three meetings now in the time it used to take to have one. While the act of stopping in the hallway on-site to confer with teammates has been one of the sacrifices—which cannot be understated for its value in continuing to foster teamwork and culture—technology can pave the road to productivity.

Jeff Loeb, Prosource

Like Novatech’s Arnold, Loeb believes the value and appreciation of video conferencing is here to stay. “We’ve seen our employees and our customers become very comfortable using video conferencing through Teams, and incorporating video calls into the sales process, the quarterly review processes, and even just in daily interactions,” he said. “I think we will see that continue even as things open back up. And in transitioning from phone calls to video calls with our customers, we’ll be able to build stronger relationships and strengthen that bond.”

Erik Cagle
About the Author
Erik Cagle is the editorial director of ENX Magazine. He is an author, writer and editor who spent 18 years covering the commercial printing industry.