The value of face-to-face channel partner communication
Flexible working is here to stay, but that doesn’t mean we have to stick to video meetings
Few people will dispute that remote working has been the true success story of COVID-19. Without the ability to fall back on digital collaboration tools, many businesses would simply have been unable to function, and entire industries would have ground to a halt.
Organisations have realised the value of flexible working for staff satisfaction, productivity and cost savings, and those that refuse to offer some degree of flexibility will quickly find their best talent being snapped up by employers that will. Our eyes have been opened to the possibilities of working from home, and many will resist going back to a fully office-based model even when there are no longer any government-mandated reasons not to.
However, it hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows. In 2021, the Royal College of Psychiatrists warned that England was experiencing a “mental health crisis” as the isolation and stress of lockdown took its toll on individuals. There’s a reason that, although they don’t want to come back in every day, most people are still keen to have the option of going back into the office again – as well as returning to physical events like the upcoming Channel Live 2022. This is because human beings are inherently social creatures.
While tools like video chats are a good way to stay in contact with those we can’t physically see, humans crave in-person interaction. A study by Microsoft of its employees’ response to remote collaboration during COVID found that 67% of staff said their needs for spontaneous interaction were not being met, and these unplanned social moments have been highlighted by numerous surveys as one of the things we miss most about working with people face to face.
These moments help us form bonds and relationships with our colleagues, and this also extends to partners across other organisations. Remote meetings are fine for discussing the technical aspects of a project, or for hammering out the finer points of a contract, but when it comes to building deep and lasting relationships with partners, there really is no substitute for being able to sit down face-to-face with someone or catch up at a trade show.
This is partly a result of how we process information. Albert Mehrabian’s foundational study of body language found that, in conversation, our speech makes up less than half of the impact and message that’s taken away from the conversation by those we’re speaking to, with the majority made up of nonverbal signals like our posture, eye contact and other subtle cues.
Many of these non-verbal cues are lost over a video call, where you’re usually only able to see a person’s head and shoulders. Speaking to someone face-to-face gives us a much better gauge of how a person is feeling, and how our message is being perceived. Conversely, it also allows us to convey our sentiments with much greater weight and impact, increasing the likelihood that it will be favourably received.
This is particularly invaluable for channel businesses, whose survival depends on connecting with clients on a personal level. Channel firms rely on providing a white-glove service, custom-tailoring solutions to their clients’ specific needs, which means they need a deep understanding of their priorities and motivations. Without the ability to connect with them on this deeper level, the advantages of that personal relationship are somewhat lessened. As such, the loss of trade shows like Channel Live over the last two years will have been felt by many in the channel.
A more practical consideration is that remote meetings aren’t always subject to the same unspoken social contracts as when talking to someone in person. In a physical meeting, most people wouldn’t feel comfortable checking their emails or filling out their to-do list while someone else is talking, for fear of seeming rude, but multi-tasking in virtual meetings is a common problem.
The result is an audience that may not be giving the conversation their full attention – not necessarily because they’re not interested, but because they’re time-poor. Physical meetings, on the other hand, compel participants to leave any other commitments at the door and focus solely on the person they’re talking to, and what they have to say.
Logistical concerns also have a role to play in the choice between physical and virtual meetings, particularly for channel firms that deal in physical equipment and hardware. Spec sheets are useful for cross-checking against compatibility and feature requirements, but when it comes to demonstrating equipment – such as how to connect and mount a wireless access point, or the drive configuration options offered by a particular storage array – being able to put the customer in front of the actual unit itself is the most effective approach, especially for those who are visual or kinetic learners.
This is one of the main reasons that trade shows and expos like Channel Live remain such an integral part of the channel ecosystem; they allow potential customers to evaluate a large number of solutions in a single sweep. Another reason for the continued popularity of physical events, though, is that they’re an excellent opportunity to meet new people, whether it’s peers to share ideas and strategies with, potential customers or future partners. Many promising new relationships are forged over coffee or drinks at physical industry events, and they offer unrivalled networking potential.
Channel Live 2022 is the perfect opportunity to explore that potential. The UK’s largest IT channel event brings together representatives from the country’s top vendors, distributors and service providers in a safe, controlled physical environment to share knowledge, insight and expertise. Taking place from 30-31 March at Birmingham’s NEC, this free event is a chance to get face-to-face with partners both current and future, to reestablish those all-important relationships and forge new connections. The IT channel is fundamentally powered by people, and in the rush to remote working, it’s important to remember that personal relationships work best when we can meet each other face to face.
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