Partner strategies, digitalization of partner activities and overcoming barriers of COVID-19
Bjarne Brynk Jensen has worked globally with Danish and international companies, governments, and the private sector as a consultant in export related matters for many years.
In this interview, Bjarne gives his view on what challenges exporting companies face during the current situation and how they can benefit from this experience in the future.
What areas are focused on right now?
Helping small and medium-size companies to establish and build partner strategies. 70 to 80 percent of small and medium-size enterprises really depend on having an agent or distributor abroad. Finding them and building a successful partner strategy is a challenge for most of these firms.
How do you see the situation for the export businesses right now?
A lot of them are struggling. Given the pandemic, some industries have been negatively impacted, while others have flourished. Although business in general must cope with difficult conditions due to the lockdowns, customers not being able to visit, and so on, I find that a lot of companies also have developed new ways to reach out to their clients. The clients that I am working with are doing quite well, surprisingly well and hopefully this will last.
And what do you think is the most crucial task at the moment?
I would say reaching out to clients and sales partners abroad. Communication is critical given the myriad of constraints businesses face. Specifically, interruptions in one’s supply chain is a common issue, which is to say, not being able to get the products. On the other hand, maintaining sales is also challenging due to a lack of spare parts, and problems with distribution – how do I get the spare parts to put into my product? So, it's on both ends, the supply chain and the sales channels, not being able to travel and source or travel and sell, is a big struggle.
You said that your clients were doing quite well but how do they solve those problems?
A lot of them have been able to switch to virtual meetings, not necessarily because they wanted to, but because they could no longer travel. Another critical strategic component is focus, determining which products, customers or distributors, countries or regions or countries hold the greatest promise and investing time and energy in developing those aspects of the business.
What is the best advice you can give your clients?
Begin with a review of your business model, practices and strategy (implementation). Be prepared to adjust your sales approach in order to provide support to your main stakeholders. Determine which are your A clients and maintain all the business they have right now. First, internally discuss what makes an A client. Consider the pareto principle where eighty percent of the revenue comes from twenty percent of your clients. These entities are your main stakeholders. Place your primary focus on them. Reach out to those clients and ask how you can help them. Ask them how they are coping with the Covid 19 situation., and how you can help. Then last but not least in any crisis you should look at opportunities, how you can reinvent the way you're doing things and once you're over the shock phase internationally, you have to be innovative with your products, and services, in your way reaching out to your clients. Winston Churchill said, “Never waste a good crisis”. That's what a lot of my clients have been able to embrace.
To which extent do you find them ready to make these changes and do you find that they are ready to invest in them as well?
Frankly, most of us fear change – that's human nature. During the first wave (March to June 2020), many businesses avoided investing in new technologies, hoping that things would go back to normal. Eventually, most of us realized the pandemic was not going to go away and then rushed to implement changes. However, these days many of my clients report that their Boards now support to marketing budgets for going digital.
Do you think they have a hard time to overcome some barriers to become more digital?
Yes, of course. I mean any psychological barriers are the first thing to overcome. Although we don't always admit it. A certain kind of fear, do I ever get back to my normal work routines, are my clients finding new suppliers while I'm not visiting. There's a whole layer of fear that we have to acknowledge. Realize that it's there and then we work into becoming okay with it. What kind of skill set do I need? Even that is sometimes associated with a little bit of fear of: Can I do it? Can I change my way of doing business? Fortunately, a lot of companies are doing quite well and are ramping up.
You just said that your experience was that the board was willing to raise marketing budgets. How do you find, speaking about barriers, transforming mindsets and fear, is it easier for a company to kind of join forces together? Considering that there traditionally can be silos within organizations, between marketing and sales. Do you find it easier now to stick together and fight? Well, any crisis makes people say okay how can we get through this?
That's again the psychological part. The upside of any crisis is that we stick together. When it comes to digital and virtual meetings, because again you cannot have physical meetings, all of a sudden when I do virtual meetings and the like, we're sitting together like right now. if this interview was a sales meeting you would be the buyer, I would be the salesperson and it would just be the two of us in the room. But all of a sudden if I do a virtual meeting, I might as well call in my colleague from production and say: my client has a problem, or can we reach out to the lab and is it actually possible to mix this yoghurt differently and make a new flavour so we can immediately ask people in the lab and the technical departments if it is even possible. If you have a client relationship that you already have established, then in any projects it's easier to invite marketing people in or technical people and I even encourage my companies that I work with to do that. I encourage companies I work with to really think a little bit broader when it comes to how can we position ourselves. Not just as salespeople but having different experts, maybe even reaching out from marketing, and not even just having your own marketing people but thought leaders, someone that is doing really well in the industry, we can invite them into webinars and then videotape that because that can be reused. Clearly, the situation has become a catalyst for change.
In earlier times, visiting a client abroad required boarding a plane, usually alone. Now, the whole organization can attend meetings. How do you see this development influencing business?
Interestingly, this approach builds loyalty. Formerly, contact was limited to sales agents and buyers. Now, more people can interact during video conference calls which helps both sides to add experience, expertise, and often promotes new relationships. Before, I normally worked with agents and distributors, almost never meeting the end user. Today, agents invite me to virtual meetings with their customers, or to online training, conferences, and so on. This trend is becoming a powerful tool for all stakeholders.
Are you saying that the whole Covid 19 could bring us closer together?
While building relationships virtually can be difficult, we have the tools necessary to make better use of technology. We need to pay attention to lighting, audio, camera quality and the like. However, our focus should be on how to best utilize the medium. Examples include including team members with different areas of expertise, experience or perspectives in virtual meetings. Making use of platforms that increase the efficiency of our goals and relying on how the relationships we are building can help all parties to achieve their aims.
How do you find your clients coping with the challenge of using digital tools?
I think they are doing a good job in areas where they have experience using digital tools. However, marketing is an area where businesses are struggling with basic tasks such as lead generation and new client outreach. Clearly, they need to develop and implement digital strategies to support lead generation, outreach, and conversion. Using webinars is a great start.
Webinars can be used to generate leads – use SoMe and your networks to spread the word of the event.
Convert webinars into microlearning with training videos – that can be repurposed.
The advantages include changing hats - becoming a thought leader rather than a salesperson. Participants are already interested in the area/subject/content and will likely invite colleagues to join the event. With practice, patience, and follow through, your events will attract additional interest and could become a mini trend that becomes both popular and a benchmark in your industry.
Could you talk more about how to produce effective webinars?
First, identify your competitive advantage, specifically the knowledge or ‘know-how’ that sets you apart. Next, start working with your main stakeholders to find out what they need from you. Analyze their input, and, using their input, start making presentations to them. This approach meets two needs: 1. Supplying the information your A clients need, 2. Gives your team a chance to begin making webinars in a low-risk environment where everyone feels comfortable, can practice, and make mistakes. Remember, in the beginning, online presentations and webinars are stressful. Working with established clients makes this step easier. Later, your team will be ready to work internationally where the stakes are higher.
Your advice is to start practising with your existing partners?
Yes, because they deserve it. You both have invested and built a relationship. Because of this unique association, your existing partners need your support – and you need theirs. Spend extra time with them, discover what they need, their feedback will help you to identify your strengths, and begin planning a communication strategy that includes webinars. One example, I had a client was doing videos of an agent or distributor doing a fantastic job in one country, making a video out of it, and giving that knowledge to agents and distributors in other countries.
Can transmitting or facilitating become a competitive advantage?
The example of a client using videos of best practices in one country to inform their agents and distributors in other countries is a case in point. I think businesses need to spend more time being innovative and exploring how to use digital tools to serve their clients’ needs - that is the best way to build client loyalty and stronger relationships these days.
Let’s assume my business has followed your advice and is ready to begin using webinars. How do we get the most traction?
In a word, ‘repurpose’. Record your webinars and cut them into bite-sized pieces that can be reused for training, viewed by individuals or groups that may have missed the event, SoMe posts, and more. Let me give you an example. I had a November seminar scheduled in Berlin, unfortunately, it was cancelled. Rather than losing an opportunity to reach my intended audience, I prepared a webinar, which was recorded. Individuals who couldn’t participate were able to view the video. The result, everyone saved half a day of training - time that we used to achieve our goals during the next session.
How many of your clients do you think are videotaping their webinars right now?
Not enough. Live webinars that are engaging and well produced are interesting to participants because the attendees are in some way vested in the content. Unfortunately, longer videos are less compelling when recorded.
Do you see a way to remedy this issue?
Webinar content is a very valuable resource, but one that needs to be prepared properly. By cutting webinar content into bite-sized pieces your business can use this resource for sales and marketing, customer, partner and supply chain training, SoMe posts, and more.
How does uQualio®, the cloud-based video eLearning platform fit into this paradigm?
Well, I see uQualio® products and services as ideally suited to meeting the needs of companies that are planning to increase their use of digital tools and utilize webinars as part of that strategy. Leading the way better use of resources, uQualio® provides users with simple, easy to use tools to enhance communication through video eLearning, interaction, gamification, quizzes, testing, monitoring individual and group results, reporting, and more.
You now have your own studio. Can you tell us how you that came about?
I spent many years working with people face to face – something I have always loved. Before, I focused on changing behaviours through interpersonal connection, i.e., physical proximity and the immediate feedback both parties feel. Now, COVID-19 has created a new set of challenges for us all, and my business model clearly needed to change. The immediate impact for me was two-fold: 1. My travel itinerary was dramatically reduced, 2. I converted my living room into a studio. In my case, and I believe for many of us, the decision to focus on digital connectivity was forced upon us – but how we use this dramatic change to our advantage will define our paths forward.
Looking forward, where do you see business going post COVID-19?
Considering business, travel, education, and past habits, I believe we must reconsider how we spend our time and energy. COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to work more efficiently, more equitably, and make better use of resources generally. In some ways, we face a nearly ideal situation where more stakeholders can directly participate in the business process – from initial stages to signed deals. We, you and I, businesses, and communities of all sorts, now have the ability to interact, individuals to lend his or her expertise, and those valuable streams to be appreciated, recorded and shared with others. I look forward to better times to come. I believe we should embrace change, and use it to build a better world.