The market’s purchasing behaviour has been visibly transitioning for some time as customers look for simple methods to deploy software and solutions across their businesses. In this feature we look to examine how the pandemic has impacted the way customers purchase their comms and IT.
As consumers, I think we have all experienced the ‘Amazon effect’ over the last six months. Although my personal shopping habits have been heading towards the online realm for some time, they are now officially there. For businesses we have been witnessing a similar, but much slower, change in buying behaviour. We have seen vendors and service providers create marketplaces for their partners to cater for digital services, but how has the pandemic impacted this trend?
Richard Betts, Chief Revenue Officer at Charterhouse Voice & Data, commented, “Within the SME market for Charterhouse (500-1000 employees), the impact of Covid on purchasing has essentially accelerated a shift in the sales process that had already begun: sending a salesperson to visit a customer in person is no longer necessary.
“Larger software organisations had already been doing this for some time. The sales process for the likes of Salesforce or SAS would involve running an initial appointment via video call, followed by an online demo of their software and closing with sending over an order form by email. No face to face site visits – and this was years before Covid hit. Covid has brought this trend to the fore for the rest of the market. Yes, organisations are now buying their IT and Comms online – but it’s far from the Amazon effect of placing your products in a basket and clicking to buy.
“They still need and want to talk to people, have a face to a name. They aren’t just looking for Comms. They’re looking for expert advice from professionals who can lead them through a journey to get the best solutions that work for their business. What Covid has changed is the way the sales process is delivered, using virtual meetings and demos to engage and interact with customers.”
Paul Taylor, Sales and Marketing Director at Voiceflex said, “There have been slight changes happening over a number of years with more applications and remote support available just online. The need for hands on site or the use of remote hands is on the decline and has been for a number of years. The quality of the equipment and software is far more reliable, most of the working population under 30 have grown up with computers and connectivity, thus have a better understanding of IT in general.”
The rise of self-serve
We have seen self-serve products hit the market in force. For small businesses in particular (sub 5 employees) the reasons for engaging a partner would appear to be dwindling.
Richard Betts commented, “Regardless of moving more towards an online sales and ordering process, the market is still looking for a consultative approach, and this is where partners can compete and add the most value.
“Customers simply aren’t experts in the technologies they’re looking for. They need a supplier they can trust to lead them through the minefield of technology to arrive at the solution the business needs. With many organisations selling the same products and services, we believe that truly understanding what the customer needs and developing a relationship with them is what adds value to our customers.
“The good news for the customer is that they benefit from a trusted partnership with a supplier that can lead them through their technology journey, but equally, the good news for our vendor partners is that they benefit from exactly the same thing. They are confident that we deliver an outstanding service with the technical skills and knowledge to design and deliver solutions to customers that require little or no involvement from them. Vendors want to have more partners like us: our technical expertise means our pass back is low. Working with a partner like us costs vendors less.
“So, for a technology partner, working with a reseller such as Charterhouse is almost like a self-serve model – it’s more or less comparable in costs.”
Paul Taylor added, “The self-serve model is going to continue to grow. Where the market sweet spot was sub 5 users, I can see this growing to sub 20 users over the coming years.”
Cloud-based partnerships are everything
One thing the pandemic has taught us all is that flexibility is everything. Having large on-premise equipment that can quickly prove to be too big or too small for your market simply doesn’t work any more. Of course there will likely always be a market for on-premise systems, mostly due to geographical location and/ or regulatory requirements, but the flexibility cloud can provide makes it the simple choice for most businesses.
How has this accelerated trend impacted the way partners are now choosing their relationships? Betts said, “Partners are first and foremost looking to see if their partnerships are cloud based. From a Charterhouse perspective, our next focus is on fully owning the customer relationship, being the primary point of contact for the technology and for the customer, and providing best of breed solutions to them.
“We aren’t looking to sell products that are just licenced to a cloud provider – we see our future as owning that customer relationship on many fronts, with different technologies that may be cloud based.
“By owning the customer relationship and having a client-centric approach, we’re seen as someone with a trusted pair of hands. Without our customers, and indeed our partners, there is no business. We nurture and treasure both relationships to deliver the very best solutions – and that’s where we truly add value.”
The future of purchasing
As our consumer spending habits have shifted dramatically could we see the sae sort of shift in the business world?
Betts commented, “We see an increased drive for the channel to be recognised as experts in their field with technical, qualified people leading the way to help retain the customer relationship. Without that, there is a danger of being seen simply as a commodity provider, far from indispensable, and there could be a much higher level of churn as a result.
We need to be consultative, own our customer relationship and have a multi-technology approach. This sits neatly within the trend for customers wanting to have fewer suppliers. Being able to be a supplier of choice that covers all a customer’s Comms needs – from networking to WiFi, the Microsoft layer to the desktops, the UC platform to their mobile phones – is most certainly the way forward.”
Taylor added, “COVID has focused the mind, it’s given the channel a breathing space to evaluate where they are and where they need to be. The channel will always be exposed to challenges and opportunities, COVID is no different; it has accelerated change in many areas. One thing is for sure we still have the need and desire to communicate, the communication methods have changed and the channel has adapted and provided platforms to assist their customers in making the change.”
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