Our 2020 Frank Award winners dish on the positives from 2020 and what’s in store for 2021.
Pictured above in alphabetical order, Laura Blackmer, Jim Coriddi, Jennie Fisher, Josh Lane, Scott Maccabe, Mike Marusic, Jim Roberts, Oscar Sanchez, John Schweizer.
Our 35th Anniversary Awards celebration coverage continues with a conversation with executives from the nine companies honored with Frank Awards in 2020. They recap the latest initiatives from their organizations, what has them optimistic for 2021, and their advice for dealers on how they can get their businesses back on track after a challenging 2020.
Participants include Laura Blackmer, SVP channel sales, Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A.; Jim Coriddi, vice president, dealer division, Ricoh USA, Inc.; Jennie Fisher, SVP, general manager, office equipment group, GreatAmerica Financial Services Corp.; Josh Lane, president, ACDI; Scott Maccabe, president & CEO, Toshiba America Business Solutions & Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions; Mike Marusic, president and CEO, Sharp Imaging and Information Company of America; Jim Roberts, president, DocuWare; Oscar Sanchez, president & CEO, Kyocera Document Solutions America; and John Schweizer, vice president, channels and business development, ConnectWise.
CR: It has been a difficult year for everyone, but what has been the highlight of the year for your company in terms of new product introductions, new initiatives, etc.?
Blackmer: Looking at 2019 and 2020, obviously, we’ve had two very different years, a somewhat regular business year in 2019 and a year marked by COVID-19. Highlights include our amazing growth in the areas of Managed IT, Managed Voice and business solutions, and seeing dealers truly differentiate their business models through these offerings to their customers, all of which was accelerated during COVID.
We’ve also seen continued growth of our production offering, particularly in industrial print with wide format and label, including the AccurioWide 160 and 200, Accurio Label 190 and 230, and the Precision Label Series, PLS-475i. Again, dealer adoption of this technology is really encouraging and impressive.
We’ve also found new ways to communicate and connect with dealers during COVID, despite the challenges and inability to see each other in person. We’ve engaged with dealer sales reps through webinars, online trainings, and even had some fun with a Jeopardy! contest in the Midwest. These have all been great ways to engage during what has been a difficult social as well as difficult business environment.
Coriddi: At last year’s ConvergX, Ricoh’s Partner Leadership Forum, we introduced a number of initiatives to help Ricoh Family Group (RFG) dealer partners better support customers along their digital transformation journey. We saw these trends taking shape and worked closely with our dealer partners to help them capitalize. We knew these tools would be needed in 2020, but we had no idea just how quickly they would become crucial. A lot of companies’ transformation timelines quickly went from 2-3 years to 2-3 months. Suddenly, everyone had to accommodate the remote worker with secured, efficient workflows. As a result, demand for IT services has dramatically accelerated.
ConvergX 2019 had put plans in motion to deliver more resources to dealers online, and the sudden shift in how people work made updating and sharing those resources urgent. We talked with dealers on the ground and customers of all types. Those conversations became the foundation of a strong understanding of what businesses need to succeed in the new world of work – and how dealers can help. Since ConvergX, we have been working closely with dealers to better map their portfolio to customer needs and train them on new offerings. Now, with so much changing so fast, we put that infrastructure to work, providing relevant resources, including a Business Continuity Playbook, to help dealers be the trusted partner customers need at this crucial moment and as they focus on forward progress.
Fisher: At the onset of the pandemic, we were quick to react to the needs of our customers and their customers. In the early stages, we came to the table with payment extension solutions for the end-user that offered protection of dealer pass-through monies. We were very careful to include our customers in the negotiations we were having with end-users. While this may have slowed our response times, it was critical to preserve the relationship with their customers.
At the same time, we focused on solutions to help our customers close transactions in their funnel and market new opportunities as customers entertained purchasing again. While a number of these solutions were focused on financing, one highlight was the launch of MPSecure – an opportunity to help our customers educate their customers of the risks associated with employees printing in an unsecured work from home environment.
MPSecure focuses on three key areas of risk: the network, creeping costs, and document disposal. The customer resources include an informative whitepaper, educational video, and marketing toolkit, providing our customers with a suite of out-of-the-box solutions they can use internally as well as externally to promote to their customers.
This idea was born from our focus on security, business continuity, and the obstacles presented by the pandemic, and proves that during difficult times we continue to innovate and seek ways to help our customers. As the work from home trend continues, we believe that the talk track around MPSecure will resonate with our customers and their end-user customer to generate sales leads and close sales.
We continue to evaluate innovative ways we can bring value to our customers as they strive to create greater future success, whether it be related to financing or not. Stay tuned for our next introduction.
Lane: This year has been anything but ordinary, inside and outside the industry. It has left many of our partners and their customers looking for a “crystal ball” to help navigate the future. For ACDI, we saw an opportunity to accelerate our development efforts around cloud and data enablement for our customers. ACDI’s StoryBoard has been our internal “crystal ball” to project trends, sales potential, product adoption, customer churn, and several other KPIs. We launched that offering to our resellers in beta mid-summer, and the feedback has been tremendous.
Being able to combine disparate software platforms through a single pane of glass is an eye-opening experience. Inside of our industry, significant digital transformation should drive insights and real actionable data. Outside of our industry, Business Intelligence is being adopted at a growth rate of 30% year over year to help map financial outcomes and productivity. Intelligent data is critical to long term growth and planning. “You can only manage what you measure” is a phrase we live by at ACDI.
We invested in the technology and people for our partners and customers to help deliver a best-in-class experience. StoryBoard, as a solution, requires minimal proficiency in business analytics. Machine learning, predictive modeling, and robust data visualization are just the tip of the iceberg for StoryBoard. Just as IT services emerged from existing synergies of IT support for print technologies and customer networks. Storyboard helps deliver more insight into a relationship with business data. These are conversations that our teams are already having with their customers regarding spending, contracts, systems, and processes. StoryBoard will help expand the business and industry for today and tomorrow.
Maccabe: Though 2020 has certainly been a very challenging year for business across the spectrum, we continue to closely collaborate and support our valued reseller partners to the fullest extent possible by listening and responding to their needs in this new environment. Toshiba is particularly helping dealers navigate today’s challenges with support in four primary areas: finance, product, marketing, and enablement.
Financially, we’re offering resellers affordable pricing and financing options on office and home printing products, software and supplies. And Toshiba’s updated product suite enables dealers to provide options that address the new work-from-home and social-distancing challenges within an office. Four new models were released within the past two months. Toshiba’s latest light-production multifunction printers (MFPs) deliver high-volume printing with peak performance, and our newly minted A4 MFPs combine the power and functionality while better fitting in smaller office settings. We’re additionally continuing to provide innovative, end-to-end digital signage solutions and expanding our label printer line. We began 2020 with the release of new rugged point-of-sale receipt printers for bar, restaurant, and hotel environments.
For enablement, we’re expanding our online sales curriculum with impactful content featuring live and recorded webinars, courses, and training sessions. Toshiba is additionally hiring leading sales and financial experts to educate resellers on-call campaign best practices and CARES Act details. Toshiba is furthermore expanding our Vertical 360 (v360) program delivering in-depth information and insights empowering resellers to become subject matter experts across many industries.
Demand generation via marketing is another area in which we’re assisting resellers, whether helping resellers better engage current and prospective clients virtually or by building dynamic presentations with Toshiba’s new StoryTeller platform.
Ultimately, our team is simply committed to helping our reseller and client businesses to the best of our ability. Please let us know how we can help you.
Marusic: This year has been exceptionally difficult for everyone in our channel, especially our dealer community. We have been fortunate as a company to be doing relatively well, and we believe it is due to our focus on the dealer community. It has been a downturn in business, but not a slow period of work. Our efforts to support the dealer were a big part of what we dedicated ourselves to during the spring and summer. At the same time, we kept a rigorous product launch schedule and have introduced a complete line of printers that are very timely considering the new work from home environment. If I had to pick a highlight it would be how the team banded together and kept focus. We knew early on that our number one emphasis had to be on supporting the dealers. Across all areas of Sharp— sales, training, service, product management, marketing, and even finance—the team was quick to market with updates and changes designed to support the dealers. Across all areas, we made sure we were in constant communication with the dealers to ensure that we were providing them the tools they needed to get through this period. I feel how partners treat each other in the downtimes is really the best indicator of a true partnership. When I hear the positive feedback from the dealers about our efforts, I am exceptionally proud to be a part of this team. Now we have to keep it up.
Roberts: Establishing ourselves as leaders and educators as well as digital solution providers was a very fulfilling role for us this year. Following the lockdown in March, with businesses scrambling to stay open and manage remote workforces, we really leaned into the educational angle in April and May. We took the pain points our sales teams in the field were hearing and launched a Business Continuity and Mobile Workforce Webinar series to offer meaningful solutions for existing and potential customers. This turned out to be the most popular and well attended educational webinars we have run, with over 7,000 registrants—that is about double what we have in a (normal) year!
As businesses began to return to work in the July-August time frame, we once again were proud to offer a solution to offer contactless employee health screening. Our eform was designed specifically to help manage the employee screening in compliance with the CDC guidelines. It was a simple process that we offered all our customers and involved scanning a QR code with their camera for downloading a form, answering the questions, hitting the “submit” button and within minutes receiving a response that either denied or allowed access to their place of work.
Being able to meet the increased demand for cloud usage, thereby ensuring data security and business continuity to our customers, was another achievement we were proud of. To give you an idea of the kind of demand we are talking about—DocuWare cloud usage increased globally by 24.3 percent compared to the same period in 2019.
Sanchez: It has been a difficult year, but for Kyocera it’s been a very exciting one too. This year we have launched our new production inkjet device, the TASKalfa Pro 15000c. It’s proved a hit immediately, and we’ve seen great results. Our dealers and our customers already have big expectations for what’s ahead. It’s a new segment and new technology with a unique position in the market. It’s what really sets us apart from other companies in the industry, and we think it, and subsequent innovations will be at the core of our product portfolio for some time to come.
Schweizer: We’ve seen continued and steady growth with our office technology partners, even in the wake of COVID-19. One of the biggest new initiatives for ConnectWise has been an increased focus on cybersecurity education and training for our partners and solution providers across the industry. We were already in the process of ramping up all of our training, including our IT Nation Certify cybersecurity courses and certification early in 2020 before COVID-19 hit, and then we had to put more emphasis on securing remote workers. We also had to quickly pivot to offering that training in a virtual format. To date, we’ve had more than 5,000 solution providers receive certification on our cybersecurity courses, including 50 from the office technology vertical.
We’re also really excited about the ConnectWise Manage integration with eAutomate that CEO Juice created this year. We’ve seen great success so far and know it’s only going to get better and better.
CR: What are you or your company working on that has you optimistic about 2021?
Blackmer: Our new product lineup continues to be very impressive, and we are working diligently to craft solutions around those products for our dealers to sell in specific verticals. Our ability to develop the product, the solution, and the marketing and sales components allow us to deliver full vertical packages. We hope these will be recession-proof and provide dealers with a real edge against their competition.
Coriddi: Nobody knows what to expect next year. What we do know is organizations will have to provide an agile work experience. At Ricoh, we’re laser-focused on this, and we’re providing tools and insights to our dealers to do the same for their customers. Dealers can be uniquely agile and flexible at the customer level. Their strong relationships make them well positioned to address their customers’ changing needs. This is an opportunity for dealers to transform their digital marketing and sales strategies to address their customers in this new virtual footprint. They have strong customer relationships. That trust carries over as dealers’ portfolios evolve, growing to include more management of customer information flow. Organizations know Ricoh dealers can help them focus on moving forward.
Fisher: Our strong focus on enhancing our technology infrastructure and integrations has remained a high priority through COVID and is preparing us to emerge stronger than ever! We have a relentless emphasis on consistently meeting and exceeding our customers’ service expectations. As a result, we will ensure we are meeting these expectations in the way our customers desire as we evolve our technology and automation.
We have also remained focused on implementing an inbound marketing strategy that better serves how customers are making purchase and partnering decisions today. The age of the salesperson having complete control of the buying journey is one for the history books. Buyers have become more sophisticated and educated through access to online information. As a result, sales and marketing alignment is critical to an organizations’ abilities to evolve their customer acquisition journey to better fit the way their customers want to be engaged today.
COVID has also provided us with ample opportunities to provide educational content to help our customers more successfully navigate through the pandemic. Our industry presence has adjusted to more online and virtual formats, and we continue to embrace and engage with the channel in new and innovative ways. I see this continuing into 2021.
Lane: In 2021, we are eager to strengthen relationships with our existing partners through deeper dives into data, expanding services to accommodate cloud products and specific partner programs that drive customer success. StoryBoard strengthens our productivity, profitability, and value across all business applications, and it affords our partners the same benefit. Most importantly, with PaperCut software working within all verticals serviced by the channel, it offers an “in” for StoryBoard and quickly expands beyond print, generating more opportunity for value-added services that our reseller partners are eager to provide.
From the beginning, it has been crucial to meet our partners where they are. Now, more than ever, companies are shifting their servers and business applications from on-premise to hosted in the cloud, where hardware and services become virtual and where scalability becomes effortless. We are building a Platform as a Service for cloud-based software applications that will accommodate system uptime, ensure data security, and support remote backups. This shift has also empowered our professional services team to engage on a deeper level. For ACDI, it’s an essential offering because no two environments are the same. Therefore, flexibility and adaptability are the keys to user adoption and market penetration. We don’t expand if our partners don’t. We are uniquely symbiotic in that way.
Our final push is customer success. Some of the top software companies in the world understand and implement customer success as a differentiator. We recognize that you never stop working to win your customers. We are taking this mindset and explicitly honing in on time-to-value, early warning signs, frictionless contact points, software utilization, and innovative training courses. We are eager to engage, both virtually and in-person. This year, we had an option to hunker down and wait out the storm or pursue value innovation; our team chose the latter and collectively outperformed in almost all areas.
Maccabe: We are particularly looking forward to supporting our reseller and client community by presenting them with new hardware, software, and technologies in the new year. This includes A4 color MFPs enhancing the work from home experience, improving device management, and servicing with predictive analytics and cloud technology while bolstering client security.
Toshiba’s upcoming A4 color MFPs will be ideal for printing from home in 2021. Beyond comprehensive print, copy, scan, and fax functionality, the devices provide similar levels of security and cloud app access as larger MFPs.
Deploying predictive analytics will help Toshiba enrich the customer experience. Our e-BRIDGE CloudConnect tool is managing even more devices, enabling us to pull meaningful data to better maintain print fleets. This benefits dealers by increasing service scheduling efficiencies while better enhancing the management of parts inventories.
A mobile app to better manage their fleets is another technology we’ll unveil in 2021. This will allow end-users to easily view the status of each device, toner levels, retrieve meter data, view training videos, and place and track service calls via mobile phones and devices.
We are also working on supporting Microsoft’s new cloud print solution, Universal Print. Microsoft Universal Print eliminates the need to install print drivers and doesn’t require any on-premises infrastructure.
Increasing our security capabilities is another primary focus, making it easier for customers to establish and maintain consistent security policies for their devices. Being notified should a device become out of policy assures customers are compliant with company directives and regulatory standards.
Moreover, our team is hopeful we’ll have the opportunity to visit in-person at LEAD ’21 scheduled for May in Las Vegas. If public safety prevents the event from taking place, we will continue to deliver rich online opportunities to educate and connect with our dealers and clients.
We’ll continue working diligently to ensure we properly support all Toshiba resellers and customers however possible in the next year and beyond.
Marusic: The unfortunate impacts of COVID-19 have highlighted what Sharp has been talking about for the past few years: the Smart Office. We never looked to diversify away from our core business, but rather augment what the dealers already offer. If you think back to our dealer meeting in October 2019, we highlighted the changes we expected to see in 2020. Of course, we never anticipated COVID-19, but the work from home trend and technologies such as Microsoft Teams were cornerstones of our general session. I look back and think about how much time we spent explaining “Teams,” we had so many questions about how it could help in collaboration. Who would have thought that just a few months later we would have the entire business world focused on using Microsoft Teams?
So, when I look forward to 2021, I am confident that we have a head start on the competition because we were not just talking about the trend but introduced products around it. Our collaboration with Microsoft created the Windows collaboration display from Sharp, which leverages Teams in a fully integrated way. Quite literally it is designed around Teams. This is a product that dealers can bring to their customers and help them navigate the new hybrid workforce. We also introduced Synappx, which is software that augments a company’s investment in technology and a mobile workplace. Is there anything more timely? Finally, we have two ways people can use our MFPs in a touchless manner – either with Synappx Go or using the Amazon Alexa App that is integrated into our MFPs. What company can say they introduced three new technologies in the last year that so uniquely apply to the current work environment? As we build on these products, we will be able to provide a tremendous opportunity for our dealer community.
Roberts: We have seen an acceleration in the number of companies wanting to go digital, and that has us optimistic about the future. COVID-19 certainly raised awareness for the need to invest in secure digital tools for a mobile workforce. Our focus is still on supporting our partners, and as our network extends, we want to offer the same level of support to partners whether they are half-way around the world or just around the corner. “Support” now means also offering our services in more languages. Since mid-October, our Knowledge Center, website, and sales brochures are available in Japanese. We look forward to being able to continue to meet our partners needs in any way we can.
Our Preconfigured Solutions team has been working harder than ever to ensure that if a business wants to go digital, they can make the transformation with minimal downtime. In November, we introduced our new default document template so companies can start their digital transformation by capturing and storing all their documents immediately. This includes predefined index fields by document type, subtype, company name, contact name, and more with all the security measure users expect from DocuWare such as controlling the access rights of the documents, etc.
Sanchez: At Kyocera, we are continuing the transformation of our organization. Our new management team is almost complete, and we’re making significant investments in technologies, like our new web platform or marketing automation tool. These have been essential steps to help us to take the next steps forward, such as our new partnership program that will increase the value we provide to our dealers.
Schweizer: ConnectWise has established the office technology vertical as one of our pillar initiatives in 2021. Office technology dealers grow their MSP businesses at an incredible rate. Dealers perfected the as-a-service model over the last 50 years, and this expertise transfers amazingly well to the MSP space. ConnectWise will focus on best operating practices, sales enablement, and selling with initiatives for dealers in 2021. We have a team dedicated specifically to dealer success and they work with nuances specific to the MSP inside the core dealer business.
And, between the cybersecurity education offerings and our ConnectWise Fortify product offerings, we’ve put so much emphasis on cybersecurity in 2020 that we anticipate it will provide significant new revenue and profit streams for our partners.
CR: What advice do you have for dealers to get their businesses back on track after a significant downturn?
Blackmer: Get back to basics. Understand the markets you are in as well as the baseline metrics you are driving toward. To me, the absolute best way these dealers can shore up their business is to make sure their customers are satisfied and look for ways to continue to sell their Managed IT, Managed Voice, and business solutions and offerings they haven’t yet explored with them. The best thing dealers can do is make sure their existing customer base is locked in and looking at ways to grow. Take care of customers, train, and pay attention to the financial basics that are so key to being successful in this business. Figure out what you do best and stay focused on that so you can do it better than everyone else.
Coriddi: This is a challenging time, but it is also a time of opportunity for dealers. First of all, having a strong digital presence is paramount as they need to be prepared to approach customers virtually. That’s a different experience than dealers’ traditional channels. A more consultative approach can go a long way. Organizations are changing their processes, so they’re looking for knowledgeable partners. Dealers can take this opportunity to expand from a trusted technology provider to a workflow management consultant and reliable collaborator, providing the low-touch, high-efficiency solutions customers need right now. These kinds of offerings build a closer, longer-term relationship with customers, and subscription pricing models give organizations more financial flexibility while keeping revenue flowing for dealers. Dealers can help their customers more successfully manage information, uncovering hidden problems and removing obstacles to seamless productivity. Bundled, more comprehensive solutions can help simplify complexity. Similarly, with high-quality production print technology becoming more affordable and intuitive, production print can be a smart addition for dealers. Organizations are eager to drive efficiencies, and bringing tasks in-house with production capabilities set up – or even managed – by a trusted dealer partner can help organizations lower costs and become more self-sufficient.
Fisher: I don’t know that there is any advice I could give them they are not already thinking about or working on. I do know that regardless of what we do—sell technology or finance it—we are all facing similar challenges. I also know that as we continue to navigate those challenges through the pandemic, it is critical for us to focus on and prepare for the future. If organizations have not done so, now is an excellent time to review their business plan and strategic objectives and ensure they have a solid plan and process in place to meet those objectives.
Lane: Invest in human capital. The individuals who drive results daily are the ones who can make or break the process to rebuild after such a significant shift in daily operations. Ensuring that the right people are on board is one of the most critical aspects of returning from any loss. If we think of our company as a football team, we can’t celebrate wins without recruiting the right players for the position. If we don’t have the right players, we will lose, period. Surround your players with winners, invest in resources so they can do their jobs well, and never miss an opportunity to coach them on the sidelines. When you get the right people in place, make sure you are nurturing their growth and success. It’s also critical to create an engaging and energetic culture. We’ve created an internal fantasy league with our team and have our entire organization playing along. With our pre-sales and post-sales employees as the players, we take activity insight to a whole new level. Gamification is real, and despite everything, it is much-needed fun.
Maccabe: Stay close to your customers while listening intently to what they need. Many businesses are going through turbulent times and may have an entirely different set of needs. Some may have decreases in demand, or employees working from home, others may have sharp increases in business. Whatever the change, your clients will remember what you do for them in hard times and will reward it with loyalty for years to come.
Marusic: A little statement of the obvious to start. EVERYTHING has changed. While the fundamentals of our business can return, and people will use paper again, this COVID-19 period has accelerated the decline in use. Dealers need to diversify into these other “information” and “collaboration” products. They are extensions of what the industry has always done, provide ways for people to share information and collaborate with each other. But they need to get started.
Second, don’t fall back into the inventory trap with your OEM. Your cash is your most valuable asset, do not have it tied up in inventory by doing a “deal” that requires you to stock up 3-4 months of inventory. Almost ten years ago, Sharp started down the path of a new supply chain process and improving our dealers’ cash flow by not forcing them to load up on inventory to get the correct price. The “load them up” is intoxicating for an OEM, and it transfers the pressure from the manufacturer to the dealer, so it is a popular path for all of us to take. In a time of low interest rates, it was not easy to explain why this is a bad model. But as we entered this period, our dealers were in great shape to weather the storm. Our model did not have to adjust, and dealers kept on going. Things will get better, but we can’t fall back into that trap. Cash is king.
Roberts: It’s a great time to consider becoming an authorized DocuWare partner! DocuWare has a comprehensive partner program in place to support and work with our dealer network. In the first 90 days, we build a customized marketing and growth plan for that specific dealer and their customer base. It involves sales and implementation training for dealers, along with certifications they can earn. We are out in the field alongside our partners, helping them sell, and we also provide the behind-the-scenes technical expertise so that dealers can focus on closing more deals and building their reputation in the industry. There are a lot of businesses out there still waiting to be digitally transformed.
Sanchez: My top recommendation in these difficult times would be to be creative. In times like these, no one can afford to be complacent, and we have to be proactive. That’s why I always recommend looking for new revenue streams, like production inkjet or IT Services. That’s just what we’ve done at Kyocera, and we believe that not only will it help us through this difficult period, but it will also give us firm foundations for a brighter future.
It’s also crucial to keep yourself informed. It’s the only way to understand market dynamics like a more accelerated shift towards A4. Kyocera has a strong A4 line-up and we want to reinforce our value proposition in this segment, and I think dealers need to re-evaluate what they are offering in this market segment. For many, A4 has taken a back seat for some time, but right now it’s what our clients are demanding.
Schweizer: Dealers that are committed from the top down to the managed services provider segment will continue to recognize a new stream of profitable aftermarket. The MSP business is thriving and growing—if you aren’t in the market, you’re late; if you are in the market, get focused. And lastly, cybersecurity isn’t a fad, it’s a requirement.
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