Transparency with customers is the best tool for retention, especially in uncertain times and periods of limited product availability.
LAS VEGAS — During the Channel Partners Conference, Arrow Enterprise Computer Solutions (ECS) director Jeramey James shared his best practices gleaned from channel partners across the country with the audience. James also offered how Arrow can help partners grow their businesses quickly and keep customers happy.
We had the opportunity to talk to James before his conference session. He provided insights on how the channel is coping with the uncertainties in product availability, supply chain, and delayed projects. Here, James discusses the importance of preparing for constant communication, investment in education, and cooperation between stakeholders.
The Channelist: Many industries and the world have been hit with different challenges, and right now, when there is a lot of uncertainty, what are your thoughts on the importance of the channel?
Jeramey James: I’ve been on the partner side my entire career, both with VARs and MSPs. And these last two years may have been some of the busiest times for my business because of the questions we were asked and the projects we needed to do. Everything became immediate because we all had to react quickly to projects that may have taken years before but were now accelerated into months.
And without partners to do that, many of my customers decided to pull the trigger on those actions during COVID. Especially as it relates to remote — I think that’s the obvious one, related to remote work or working from home — and the opportunity to do things around the real estate or physical locations that we didn’t have time to before.
I think that the channel was busy and, in my case and in many industries, more dynamic, perhaps even than in years prior. And they leaned on us more than ever before, I think, in these last couple of years.
The Channelist: Today, because of everything changing so fast and the problems we have with delivery, supply chain, and manufacturing, the semiconductor market has been hit hard. There is a chip shortage and now additional issues with raw materials.
What is the main lesson we can take from these constantly changing situations, and how can channels regain some control, especially customer confidence, again?
Jeramey James: I think it has less to do with technology and a lot to do with the human side. For all of us as consumers, for example, we’ve learned patience in a way that I don’t think we had to experience before. I know it’s obvious, but at the same time, it’s not a straightforward notion because we live very much in an on-demand world. But the other one is transparency with how we speak and with the information we have.
In sales, it’s easy to slide into trying to build confidence by overpromising. The reality, though, is that when we’re transparent with our customers, and they realize that we’re being honest with them and trying to set expectations, even when it’s not what they want to hear, we build a relationship that will far transcend this time, and we’ll have those customers still.
All of us will lose customers, whether it’s because of shortages in the supply chain. However, the person, the organization, and the group that is honest with their customers will keep them. Even during a difficult time, when the only answer is, “I’m sorry, it’s not available. It will not be available until Q4, and I know it’s Q1, and you have to wait.” They may not like it, but they appreciate the honesty.
And then there’s an opportunity to come up with something else. There could be lessons in logistics about… stocking (or) a better supply chain. It’s an expensive problem. It’s a risk problem. But it’s tricky to buy everything, hoard it, hope it’s okay, and wait for it to go into play; that’s not a good strategy. But I think that it’s less about what we can do with technology in these situations and more about how we set expectations and communicate.
And I believe that transparency comes with this requirement. We can’t go silent on our customers. We can’t let them wonder if the device is going to arrive or if the solution will be installed, and we can’t just keep promising that we’re going to get there on Friday when we know good and well it’s not going to happen.
For me, the lesson is learning to be a better communicator, but it’s also learning to be patient because there’s nothing we can do. And I don’t necessarily think that’s been a bad thing. It’s affected the economy in massive ways.
The Channelist: My last question is, how is Arrow helping the channel get the most up-to-date information, manage the crisis, and assist the VARs and OEMs communicating with their customers and going through this situation?
Jeramey James: Well — and that word — we’ve come back to communication again. That’s one thing I think Arrow’s doing quite well: letting our partners know the status.
There’s an old saying: If it’s not visible, it says it doesn’t exist. If we don’t make things visible or apparent to our partners and customers, we start not to exist. The communication piece is significant.
Education has become a cornerstone of distribution’s net new offering. And in my experience, distribution has not filled the role of an aggregator of knowledge. They have been the processor of things. They have been the delivery mechanism for the hardware from the manufacturer that I needed. But what’s shifting now is that there are so many manufacturers — those suppliers — that there has to be a way to teach and aggregate and help the partner understand the options.
Suppliers contact partners every day, but other partners do not contact partners. Instead, they’re approached by suppliers who only tell them about their products. If a manufacturer shows up at a partner’s door, they tell them about one product or portfolio. They don’t talk about how that particular product suite fits into the other 45 things that make up a solution. Distribution sits perfectly in that space.
As an aggregator, not only of technology but also of knowledge, we need to show the solution architects and the sales architects and business development to make better decisions and what things work together. We take the opportunity to change the way that we educate. And I think that there’s another saying that says those who educate, bond. But when we become teachers, people return to us because we taught them.
Any time we can teach, it’s a fantastic way to bond. We’re seeing this industry become better educators. We need to share the knowledge that we have, and we need to look at finding people that are good at teaching, who’re good at sharing knowledge, and that can educate our partners. And it might be technology-based, and indeed, it could be about process. It could even be about the operational side of the business — which we’re going to focus on now at the conference — how to operationalize a business and how to build a business that way.