Before COVID-19, in-person interactions ending in a handshake were the mainstay of long-term customer relationships. Now, Zoom meetings have replaced face-to-face meetings and hand sanitizer has become a substitute for handshakes. Yet, despite the transition to a mostly virtual environment, distributors report that they are thriving — and many say they will continue to adopt virtual practices even after the pandemic.

“We’ve tried to make the best of the situation,” says Nick Morris, CEO of Western Paper Distributors Inc. in Denver. “We can fight it, or we can embrace the change and find the parts of it that can make us more effective. We’ve chosen the latter.”

Seemingly overnight, the company began using virtual platforms as sales consultants and service techs quickly abandoned in-person meetings and began working from home. Morris soon found that the sales team was in fact more productive. Not only were video apps an effective tool for sharing information, but sales reps were able to see more customers during the course of the day.

Like most distributors, Morris does not view virtual meetings as a permanent replacement for in-person communications. However, he believes that a hybrid approach will continue to benefit the business long after the pandemic.

At Kelsan Inc., Knoxville, Tennessee, sales team members were already participating in virtual monthly meetings prior to the pandemic. Currently, the company has biweekly virtual meetings with its sales people in each district to discuss new products, goals, supply chain issues and more.

“The meetings are conversational, so we’re getting that back-and-forth engagement,” says Justin Clark, vice president of sales. “What this all comes down to is how can we continue to communicate and have people feel like they’re part of a team even though we can’t be together in person?”

Secure Connections

In order to keep in touch, a growing number of distributors are using video collaboration services, in particular Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Both are similar in functionality; however, Microsoft Teams is frequently used for internal collaboration between employees, while Zoom is popular for external communications with customers and suppliers.

According to Clark, Kelsan Inc. migrated to Microsoft Teams during the pandemic to improve productivity and communications among employees using features such as video, chat, screen sharing and the ability to modify documents in real time.

“One of the reasons we like Microsoft Teams is its security features,” says Clark. “When you invite someone to a meeting, you send them a secure link, and they have to click that link to join the meeting. No one else can jump on that call.”

Indeed, in the early days of the pandemic, security and privacy concerns about video conferencing apps made headlines as an increasing number of people started using Zoom to conduct business. It was not uncommon for uninvited guests, known as Zoombombers, to infiltrate meetings and “bomb” attendees with inappropriate content.

Fortunately, these problems are largely a thing of the past. Zoom has boosted security and implemented several changes to secure video calls, including the use of passwords and virtual waiting rooms to ensure that only invited guests are allowed into meetings. The host can also access Zoom security tools to lock the meeting once it has started, remove and/or report participants and disable private chat.

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Preventing Video Conferencing Fatigue