The pandemic caused manufacturers and dealers to reassess day-to-day business operations, go-to-market strategy and the ways in which to best serve and support customers. However, this also provided manufacturers with the opportunity to get creative in order to help dealers find new and out-of-the-box ways to continue providing value to existing customers and entice the onboarding of new ones. 

evolution future

Back in March, businesses and employees were required to adapt to remote work very quickly, and in some cases overnight. Remote collaboration technologies such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams became the new avenue for communication between coworkers, partners and customers. Many manufacturers invested in these platforms, increasing competencies and establishing best practices to ensure channel marketing and sales teams could easily transition to this new way of working.  

Manufacturers quickly rolled out various webinars on topics such as how to use remote technologies and ways to keep staff productive, as well as training on products and solutions. Ultimately, the industry directed efforts into strategizing, compiling and creating educational tools and support to help partners remain successful in the variable marketplace. 

Webinars have been perhaps one of the most popular avenues for providing channel partners with sales, marketing and training support throughout the duration of the pandemic. Now, there are libraries of recordings that partners and their sales reps can access at anytime, anywhere. 

In addition to online, self-paced service training, live, instructor-led virtual training was offered as well. To accommodate social distancing protocols and limit exposure for technicians and personnel, virtual hands-on service training was offered to walk partners through disassembling and reassembling products and cover differentiators and updates between product generations. Programs like these resonated with dealers because they no longer had to take technicians out of the field and put them on a plane to receive training. 

From a sales perspective, the market saw a large shift toward desktop printing, starting with A4 devices. At the outset of the pandemic, there was a growing demand for printers best suited for work-from-home and learn-from-home environments. Unable to meet in the traditional way, manufacturers and dealers turned to social media and marketing to drive awareness and deliver solutions to meet this need. 

Not long afterward, new guidelines were released for dining establishments to reopen, including signage clearly indicating safety protocols; larger than standard, high-quality prints for menus that doubled as placemats; and mandated and branded signage. To meet these requirements, restaurants and eateries sought out desktop or small footprint A3 devices.

In addition to the channel evolving, technology is evolving as well. More than ever, a dealer’s ability to provide print solutions ranging from desktop to the print shop is key, as is a manufacturer’s ability to deliver highly reliable, economical, efficient products that help improve overall service capabilities and profitability. This ability resonated with not only existing partners but with dealers that were considering bringing on a new product line or beginning a partnership.  Expanding into new markets such as supplemental production has proven to be a well-embraced source of new revenue driven by high color page volume — yet another example of quickly adapting and succeeding. 

Analysts, dealers and manufacturers will agree that we are seeing perhaps a permanent change in the way printing is done in the office. For many years, the industry focused on a centralized print workflow. Looking ahead, we will see the scales continue to shift from a centralized print model to distributed printing. As offices where workgroups have traditionally gathered have dissipated, the move toward desktop printers to service individuals in remote work environments will continue.

This market shift is supported by a significant uptick in A4 product sales, both stand-alone printers and MFPs. This past year, the demand for A4 products skyrocketed, both for hardware and ink. We expect that to be a permanent change to the industry. 

While the near-term focus has been surrounding A4, that doesn’t mean that the demand for A3 products is going away. The industry is going to continue to evolve and ultimately, it is a matter of how a product is being utilized and how it is placed, in addition to where the share of the page volume is going.  

Moving forward, it will be important for dealers to continue to be flexible and be able to provide the right product set at the right time. Dealers appreciate the diversity in a print portfolio to help them cast a wider net. Having a balance of A3 and A4 products is fortuitous. 

Looking at the road ahead in the ever-evolving office technology industry, flexibility and the ability to adapt will continue to be paramount. 

Joseph Contreras is Commercial Marketing Executive, Office Solutions, for Epson America Inc. He oversees portfolio management, strategic partnerships, software integration and support, and sales and marketing programs for Enterprise inkjet printing solutions.