IT Sales in the Pandemic Era

By: John Gunn, Director of Strategic Partnerships at FastSensor

If you told me 18 months ago that I would be participating in helping businesses reopen during an ongoing pandemic and leveraging technology to track employees to flatten the curve, I’d never have taken the bet. We are all learning together how to manage our businesses and survive the hardships of the pandemic in many different ways.

The reality of the situation is that demand is greatly reduced — or completely gone — near-term for many of the primary products and services we were providing. Substantial transformation is occurring, and this is a good time to begin an ongoing dialog about the subject to assist your clients in the process. 

Sell What’s on the Truck

One of the first lessons I learned as a reseller was “sell what’s on the truck.”  With the pandemic, you would be surprised how big a need there is for things you already sell. About 75% of IT leaders expect a second coronavirus wave to drive even more cloud adoption, so look at how to leverage this in your business.

Cloud phones (VoIP) have been around for years, but with remote workers needing to be an extension of the actual office, 8×8 and RingCentral can give clients the opportunity to extend service to home workers and portray a sense of normalcy by having a business phone at home.   

It’s the same concept with Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, RingCentral Meetings, Verizon BlueJeans, and Skype for Business. These services are enabling remote meetings and presentations at a greater pace than ever before.

Enhanced cybersecurity is also a strong need during the pandemic for a number of reasons.  Security attacks are increasing, phishing and scams are up 300%, malware and ransomware are a very real threat to employees and businesses.  Security is even more necessary now as there are bad actors pursuing your client’s data and your money.

On the hardware front, don’t forget those laptops, dual monitors, monitor stands, ergonomic desks and other desk accessories that are needed to work at home.  These hardware staples are in demand. Just ask about work-from-home strategy to unlock these opportunities.

And surprisingly, video conferencing is finally taking off.  We’ve all had access to these at some point and avoided the video features, mostly doing “Death by PowerPoint” webinars until now.  The need to connect during stay-at-home orders has caused all of us to start using video.  And you know what… we like it.  We’ve learned that face-to-face can be done effectively via video meetings.  Who knew?  Web cameras also have been growing as a category. Don’t be afraid to backorder when everyone is out of stock.

Right now, there is a great opportunity to discuss reopening strategies with your clients. Work with your customers to explore how they can upgrade or shore up their defenses to do business during the pandemic. Chris Walton, CEO of Omnitalk and a senior Forbes contributor for the retail industry, comments, “Retailers must transform and innovate to survive. There is no handbook of best practices to follow during the pandemic, but focusing on the customer experience, employee and customer safety, and being open to creative ideas is the best bet.”

Primed to Profit

In some cases, companies have been primed to profit with a product line that had a slow start waiting for the market.  Contactless payments, for example, are rapidly growing right now. The number of consumers using contactless tech has driven slow adoption, with many businesses avoiding upgrades for certification or other reasons. According to Visa, only 20% of payment cards today are NFC-enabled but are predicted to reach 50% by year end. Furthermore, 80% of the devices deployed support contactless for the “tap” portion of the transaction, but the software has not been updated, still requiring a manual signature and physically touching the “next” button. This can be configured by the provider, so look at this as an opportunity to provide a paid update service for a safer customer experience.

BOPIS (Buy Online Pickup in Store) or curbside pickup are also in growth mode. Wrap with mobile tablets, MDM, and payment devices to create a solution.

Keep in mind that kiosks, ATMs, digital signage, way-finding signs using capacitive screens designed for human touch are problematic for virus transmission control.  Contactless touch technology is a growing need. You can find them today on some Olea kiosks with integration components available from many manufacturers. This includes a variety of interfaces, such as sensor-based hand gesture navigation from Kiosk Innovations, voice ordering from Verifone Zivelo Kiosks, voice control from 22Miles, and IR navigation from Zytronic.

One of the most relevant technologies finally hitting its stride is UV-C, a recent tool used in healthcare for destroying bacteria and viruses, now moving into the mainstream wherever we work, live and shop. There are industrial-sized UV-C room sterilizers that can deliver a 5-minute dose of UV light on a timer. This can be a service offering or an item to source and sell.  There are also UV lights with motion detectors that can sterilize a tablet kiosk or other device between uses, without having to install a new screen.  As one example, look to UV Angel for the UV-C, and Compulocks for the mounts.

Pivoting to Profit

Possibly the greatest joy we’ve had in the last three months was watching the creativity of companies leveraging their expertise in a new, non-PPE way, with a focus on returning to work.   With 30 million people out of work at the date of this writing, and just beginning the reopening phase, there is a hard road ahead, and innovation, creativity and drive will keep us going until there are effective treatments and a vaccine. There are too many solutions to cover, but here are a few relevant to your industry.

There is a strong need for various forms of Occupancy monitoring and Social Distancing Monitoring. My own company, FastSensor, was like many and lost the majority of its revenue expectations for 2020 until we innovated and came up with an adaptation of our primary AI driven behavioral analytics product, now modified to measure and trigger alerts for social distancing, which has continued to evolve into the ability to do contact tracing.

Samsung is partnering and releasing an ecosystem of kiosks, digital signage, thermal sensors, social distancing sensors, hand cleaning kiosks, and more, targeted at making public spaces safer by proactively educating, monitoring and alerting staff to clean the environment if a customer has an active temperature exceeding the designated threshold. FastSensor ADAM and BlueForce are key ecosystem partners in this endeavor encompassing a variety of technologies. This is a pivot from CMS and digital signs into an ecosystem which solves problems that can sustain other capabilities bringing business ROI after the pandemic ends.

Modifying the environment based on observation and data is a good place to start, as well as notifying patrons about social distancing via a mix of audio prompts, digital signs, and customer engagement. Having store personnel remind people in the moment can be very effective, but can potentially create friction with customers. Thinking through current methods with distancing markers and affixed static or digital signs everywhere, this potentially creates a Caution Fatigue problem which could lead to people ignoring the messaging. For this reason we use a “last mile” approach giving flexibility in the communications portion to fit a variety of needs and avoid over-messaging caution.

Occupancy and social distancing are hot topics right now but only the first step in a complex solution to help keep transmission contained. Compliance driven initiatives warrant some research on your part to align with specific customer needs. There are occupancy counters on the market, and many are a simple counter and a kiosk or sign, but only somewhat effective in their primary task when coupled with social distancing floor signs (just Google social distancing products). These replicate what your grocery store is doing, but there is technology to go beyond this to measure if patrons and employees are observing social distancing so the environment can be adjusted for the safest results.

You’ll find a variety of solutions, but take the time to look at them carefully. Apps are readily available to record social distancing and in some cases, do proximity or contact tracing at a corporate level, but with recent changes by Google and Apple due to privacy concerns, tend to drain battery life on phones using third party apps. Competitive solutions include self-contained BLE contact tracers from SafeDrivePod, and other distancing and proximity tracing designed for regulated environments, or employee tracking wearables but many have limitations in capabilities or scale. The two main categories are public facing solutions versus employee driven solutions, and we can help with both.

The New Abnormal

For an extended period — possibly through 2022 from many estimates, it will be necessary to pivot your business and sales strategy and get creative with your marketing messages so that the client sees your business as a solution partner. Most of the solutions discussed here are available through the VAR channel to put in your toolbox of solutions. 

Look at the resources available from the RSPA Crisis Resources page, as well as your peers and vendors in the Retail Solution Providers Association, as a place to start. Remember, we can all get through this together until the new abnormal becomes normal.