Supporting Dealers Now and Beyond the Pandemic

June 2, 2020

Recently I had the opportunity to speak to Bob Skelley from The Channel Company and Andy Slawetsky from Industry Analysts about the strategies my team has deployed to support the channel during the coronavirus outbreak, and how we will continue post-pandemic as they approach the reopening of their businesses. These conversations were a really great way to reflect on where we’ve been and how we can succeed in the future.

Quick reactions to provide immediate help

Our first reaction when the pandemic hit was to check in on how our dealers were doing, along with their customers and staff. The first few weeks I talked to more than 100 dealers to understand what they needed and how we could help. We took it very personally that it was our job as a vendor to keep their sales people busy as owners did what they needed to do to figure out business continuity.

My team really got in front of people virtually, bringing training, tools and virtual sales calls, all within days of when this began. We wanted to keep sales reps educated by providing them with learning and tools they didn’t have time to find. It was important to keep them connected to their customers and to keep prospecting.

Eight days in we hosted our first webinar on how to use Zoom as a prospecting tool, and have had many more since then, with topics ranging from techniques for working from home to selling managed voice and impractical prospecting. We also enlisted BTA’s Bob Goldberg to update our dealers on the stimulus packages and changes in the HR/employment programs. Response has been tremendous, with nearly 600 participants in the latest session.

In the very beginning, we were also faced with some situations where we had to pivot quickly to step in and help our dealers flow our insight and expertise all the way through to their customers.

  • A few days into shelter in place, a dealer with its own print shop was approached by its local school district with a need to print nearly a million worksheets. Since so many students did not have laptops and WiFi at home, the only way to accomplish distance learning was to print and deliver physical worksheets. There was an immediate need for kids to stay engaged and learning, and we formed a task force to get the job done. Everyone came together virtually to make it happen via emails and conference calls. Not one person said “we can’t do this.” The printer turned the request around within 24 hours and volunteers delivered the worksheets. Together we were able to make a difference for an entire school district.
  • Another dealer reached out with a predicament from a healthcare customer. Once everyone started sheltering in place and working remotely, employees could not print documents due to HIPAA regulations. We immediately connected them with our healthcare experts to talk about options.

With the recent pace of work, this may be the hardest I’ve ever worked, but in some ways it’s been the most rewarding. I am extremely proud of my team. We made stuff happen, and dealers were thankful for time we spent with their sales reps. It’s all about what can we do together to get through this.

Taking a more proactive approach

Our next step was strategic; figuring out what the future looks like and how we will help dealers with solutions and products customers want. We started looking at the next wave of programs, what flexibility we can offer and how to make sure our dealers are equipped for their customers to go back to work. It’s all about continuity – we don’t want them to feel like this is stop and start. We are spending a lot of time and energy helping dealers find alternate things to sell and training them on how to do it successfully.

We’re not waiting for the economy; joint sales calls are up and we have already started blitz events for dealers. We recently worked with more than a dozen dealers in the mid-market space, training about 35 sales people on how to do effective phone calling to get appointments. We’ve developed new scripts for them, holding a contest around success booking appointments. We are all about filling the pipeline. We are holding these events regionally and have seen tremendous enthusiasm from the sales reps and great success setting appointments!

The evolution of remote work

There has certainly been a change in cultural acceptance around remote work. At Konica Minolta, we’ve been selling and pitching for a long time that “work is not where you are, work is what you get done.” As a testament to that mantra, we literally moved everyone overnight to their home offices with the technology and tools they needed.

A majority of our sales teams were working remotely prior to the pandemic; they do so to be close to where their customers are located. The big change for them was being in an office all day every day, when they were used to waking up Monday, getting in their car or on an airplane to visit customers, then returning home at the end of the week. More than that, it was the philosophy of not being on the road and in front of customers, but still having to perform as well, if not better. We’ve had a lot more live communication between staff through video, and made it fun with contests like who has the best background around a particular theme.

Perhaps not all functions will even need to come back to the physical office. I am surprised at how many people want to return as they miss the environment and seeing people’s faces. I think the return to work will be a mix, with some offices going more remote and others staying connected through the office. The good news is technology is amazing compared to what it used to be, such as the ability to connect to someone through video.

Impacts of technology on day-to-day business

So much has already changed, even just with how we are communicating. With the shift to more remote work, a simple phone call does not seem to suffice any longer. I think moving forward it will be rare to pick up phone as people have become accustomed to and feel more connected over video.

COVID-19 has accelerated the need for companies to adopt collaboration technology even faster. We are working in the cloud more than ever before, sharing files rather than emailing them as attachments. So many of the tools we’ve touted, we’re now actually using, and it’s making a big difference.

All the new solutions we are bringing to the table through partnerships with other technology companies such as Google Cloud and Dropbox for Business are going to be absolutely critical for our dealers to know, to understand and to resell. We’ve been spending a lot of time just in the last two weeks talking about how to use those tools. We need to develop and perfect, sell and deliver the right experience for customers.

Making decisions to better face the future

Our CEO Rick Taylor and his executive team deserve an incredible amount of credit for making decisions to move our business forward. It’s the product mix and the diversification that is so critical, for us and for our dealers. For Konica Minolta to continue selling copiers as the primary strategy was just not a good plan. Ten years ago, Rick made the decision to acquire All Covered, which has propelled us into the IT space. And it’s the thousands of little decisions after that that put us where we are today. It’s been a series of little and big, and risky, and not so popular decisions to be where we are today where we have been able to keep everyone employed and working, and repurpose when we can. We have also been making decisions the last few years about what is the right size to be, how many people do we need to succeed and grow, and making some decisions about SAP to remove some of the administrative pieces from the picture.

Our message to dealers about Digital Transformation has become more relevant than ever before. And dealers have responded and are more open to pushing the envelope. New needs arise that we never even considered before, like heat mapping and contact tracing to keep tabs on people in our community and who might be sick. Our MOBOTIX thermal cameras use heat sensors to detect temperature, and have recently been deployed at hospitals to help frontline healthcare workers assess patient symptoms faster. Our new reality is like the Mission Impossible movies come to life.

While we don’t know what the next two months, and even after that will look like, it will continue to be about making the decisions that I trust will be the right ones for our employees, our dealers and our customers. I have no doubt that at the end of the day that is exactly what we will do.

Looking ahead

This industry was built on people with ingenuity, willing to take risks and look at something a little differently, and our channel is full of incredibly smart entrepreneurs. $100 million companies do not happen by chance, it comes from those who see technology and know what to do with it. For companies willing to put themselves out there – and I include Konica Minolta in that group – we are well positioned for the future when we do come out of this.

I do believe there’s no “bounce” coming; we have to build it back. We are going to have to work really hard to get to what the future will be. It’s a matter of rallying the troops and getting to it – figuring out the building blocks to keep the momentum going. And we want to be part of what’s being built to help customers. My job is to offer dealers as many options as I can, and let them pick and choose what they think they will be good at selling and what their customers need. We will train them, provide marketing, and off they go.

It’s not going to be easy. And while it’s going to be rough ride I feel good about the people in it, the products in it and the commitment to it. Those are the three things I think will make a difference. It’s certainly not going to be boring, but as a glass half full person, I think if it was boring it would not be as much fun. There is a lot of opportunity for people to do good things, and I think that’s what we’re all about. Now is the time the good people are going to shine.

Laura Blackmer
Senior Vice President, Dealer Sales

Laura Blackmer joined Konica Minolta in 2017 and is responsible for the sales and management of Konica Minolta’s extensive dealer network that represents and sells KM’s award-winning products and managed IT Services. Prior to Konica Minolta, Blackmer held a similar position at Sharp Corporation for nearly five years. After Blackmer graduated from Colorado State University in December 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, she accepted a sales position at NCR Corporation, leading her back to the East Coast. In 1988, Blackmer joined Hewlett Packard Company where she found her calling in working with HP’s channel partners. Her 19-year career with HP included management and executive positions across many of HP’s products including PCs, servers and printers. After a brief experience at a NYC-based services start up, OnForce, Blackmer spent time with her growing family, raising her four daughters with her husband, Rich, in New Jersey. Blackmer rejoined the workforce in 2013 by accepting a position with Everett, Washington-based Intermec Corporation, as U.S. director of channel sales. Her three years with Intermec were focused on redefining Intermec’s channel strategy, programs and engagement. In 2013, she joined Sharp and continued her focus on people leadership and change management for channel-focused organizations.