Asif Khan, Channel Director, MEA, Mitel Networks speaks to Anita Joseph about the new normal brought on by the pandemic and the need to stay relevant in a market that is fast changing.
How has COVID-19 changed the channel market dynamics? What is the biggest change that the pandemic has brought on?
The Covid-19 pandemic has indeed brought in sweeping changes everywhere. Perhaps the biggest change has been in the area of IT spending. According to the leading marketing research agencies, in the pre-COVID days, spending was more on areas such as government, finance, manufacturing, utilities, transport and so on, but now with COVID having ushered in a new normal, spending has shifted from these traditional verticals to two major ones: healthcare and education. These are the only two industries where spending has gone up, as compared to 2019. Right now, there is a major need in the market for collaborative communication and remote working solutions, smart digital workspaces as well as endpoint security and management solutions. There is a need for flexible home working solutions as well. This trend is likely to grow until December. This is actually a good thing because the region has been waiting for this development for a long time. So, the changes have been positive.
At a time when spending (both consumer & commercial) is being curbed, have channel partners had to lower their revenue growth expectations for the foreseeable future?
I wouldn’t say that revenue expectations haven’t gone down, they are just being realigned to suit the latest market needs. Many leading vendors are actually hiring because they have aligned and grown according to market demand. It is only those organisations that haven’t innovated or realigned themselves that have had to downgrade their revenue expectations. Now, organisations go by relevance; what is relevant to the customer and to the market. Everything else they discard.
Mitel is a channel-driven company, the channel plays a very important role in our business, to take our products to the end customers. Most channel players these days are experiencing a dip in revenue because they still haven’t figured out what the market needs, and have stuck to traditional business patterns. Those partners who have anticipated this change are doing well, but those that haven’t aren’t performing well.
What support systems and technology tools are channel partners putting in place to stay competitive and add value during this critical phase?
Today’s technology is geared towards remote working, collaborative efforts and enhancing the online presence. All traditional models have changed, now it’s all about offering a smooth and seamless virtual experience for the consumer and being receptive to their online needs. So yes, there has been a dramatic shift in the technology offerings as well. It’s like the world was moving in a different way before Covid19, everything was more physical, but now, everything has completely shifted to the online space.
Mitel is adapting very well to the change & it has built up 7 solution pillars which are relevant to today’s situation. We build solutions for different industries such as contact centres, healthcare, hospitality, SME & mid-market and all-in-one UC, centred around remote/home working options. We built that relevance early enough and was ready by the time the market needed it. So, what we did is that we strengthened our core platform and built all these solutions around it. We are also ready to roll-out UCaaS and CCaaS in the MEA region shortly.
How are channel partners incorporating planned and existing marketing programs into their new working strategy?
Marketing strategies have of course changed. Earlier, there was a lot of investment in physical events such as conferences and seminars. But COVID has taken it all online. Therefore, marketing strategies have also gone online-with emphasis on communication. There isn’t too much marketing spending in the traditional sense, it’s completely digital-that’s made things quicker and easier. There is also a lot of promotional activities focused on knowledge transfer, training etc. Social Media is also playing a much bigger role than before, with LinkedIn, Facebook and other channels. Companies are spending in this area.
Mitel is also making use of this trend and leveraging its collaborative meeting platform, MiTeam, especially in the region. Mitel has been focusing completely on online communication, especially with webinars, both for channel partners and end customers. We also conduct training and email/social media campaigns. Mitel is also working very aggressively on country-specific online workshops, POC initiatives and knowledge transfer programs to enable our channel partners & end customers on various tools & technologies available with us. We also focus on developments in Cloud space to make our channel community ready.
Mitel is investing in demand generation using various tools such as tele-calling, social media and webinars to align more with our partners and stay ahead of the latest market trends and developments. Healthcare & Education, Hospitality, Contact Centres, SME & Mid Market & Cloud business will be the key focus areas for Mitel this year in Middle East & Africa. We create our marketing strategy built around these segments to effectively communicate with our end customers & partners.