Corinne Zudonyi

Before COVID-19, I'd spend about half the day looking at a computer screen. Whether searching industry news, researching an article or new product idea, or actually laying out a magazine, only about four hours of my day was screen time. The other half was spent on face-to-face collaboration, idea exchange or the fortunate opportunity to meet up with readers.

Today, my full day is spent in front of a screen. Industry events, working with my team, collaborating with other departments and all my conversations with readers are done through Google, Teams or Zoom. Don't get me wrong, I'm fortunate for the capabilities to still connect, but it's just not the same.

Gone is the ability to pull someone aside at an industry event, just to catch up, or walk up and introduce yourself to someone new. Even if facilities are open, sales calls come with their own set of restrictions. Virtual meetings are the next best thing, but making connections in a virtual space does not come easy, a realization that salespeople across the country are fully aware of.

But it doesn't mean distributors should give up the fight. Connections are critical right now — even if they're virtual. With product shortages, changing regulations/reopening procedures, and budget and staffing shortages, end users are looking for help anywhere they can get it. Distributors who sit on their laurels will find their customers seeking help from big box stores, e-tailers or even a competitor down the street.

Distributors who are thriving are those who have adjusted during this pandemic. As outlined in our cover story on page 6, now is the time to demonstrate what it means to be a real partner to your customers. Use technology to your advantage by adding online training to your websites, hosting conference calls/forums to offer advice on process improvements, and sending emails to share news of product availability, for example.

Establishing and maintaining strong relationships now will build a sturdy foundation for a reliable customer base in the future. Plus, a crash course in technological opportunities can't hurt future business either. Personally, I prefer face-to-face, but video chats are the next best thing for those looking to make a real connection.