At the post-pandemic new normal, the way we are doing sales is not the same as it once was.
Before COVID-19, building up a client relationship involved series of touches via emails and phone calls, following by personal meetings and addressing questions of both sides. For large institutional clients and professional associations, there would usually be festive Grand Product Launch party with speakers, networking and further demos and incentives and a happy hour for the selected customers to further strengthen the emotional bond with the new product (and to boost sales) while rubbing elbows during and exclusive wine tasting.
Since mid-March 2020 however, all of the social, sales and networking events have become things of the past.
As the lockdowns being gradually relieved, people are still unsure, whether the worst hast passed or is yet to come, with health and safety remaining top priorities. Instead of engaging personally with the potential customer, taking time and effort to outline the added value of your product or service in a personal meeting, a video collaboration tool is used. To the sales people, who are used to rely on building relationships in “the real world”, acing their performance targets may be unusually hard at the beginning.
A lot in sales is about personal relationships and charisma. The concern of many sales colleagues is, that this no longer applies in the virtual world. But this is not true. Technology or not, the personal relationship is the absolute key, but building it works differently. What does it boil down to?
1. Sharpen your senses to pick up the non-verbal cues even when working remotely.
When you meet your prospects virtually, much of the non-verbal information is lost:
– You don’t see how busy your counterparty is – a full waiting room or the desk full on urgent ToDos might be outside of your Zoom view.
– You might miss their limiting physical condition or the bad mood more easily.
– The relaxed or tense posture might slip your eyesight when concentrating on the face only.
How can you get this information and senses anyway? Ask questions. Start as you would do in person – with the personal touch and the genuine interest in the people across the screen. Do your best to pick up the mood and to understand where you need to start. Watch carefully for the cues of interest or irritation.
2. Choose the appropriate presentation form.
– Make a webinar, if you want to share new information about the product. An online format offers the possibility to address many potential customers in one go, something that is much more time-consuming in individual appointments. You can get people talking and collect customer feedback directly.
– Plan a dedicated personal appointment, if the offer is customer- specific. Tailor the offer to match the clients interest as much as possible.
3. Make sure to be more structured in the way you plan and deliver your meeting.
In a face-to-face meeting you will most likely have your potential client with you for the entire time planned. In a virtual meeting it is more difficult to keep the attention and the engagement, but at times to even count on the physical presence for the whole hour, as expected, as it is easier to get distracted or even end a call early if the content does not invoke interest or does not match the expectations.
– Set the time frame for the meeting and chose the appropriate agenda – will it be a 10-minute call, or a half an hour of the dedicated time or a longer meeting with the extensive questions’ session at the end? Make sure to be clear about the agenda beforehand, so no disappointments needed to be handled in the meeting.
– Know the participants. When meeting online, some additional people might be invited, than in a face-to-face meeting (for example same function, but a different location). Make sure you can cater to all participants.
– Understand your own goal for the meeting – an introductory relationship building will be different from the expected deal closure – and aim for that.
4. Build the rapport.
You are a professional and you know how to engage and what to ask in order to find out the needs and expectations of your prospective buyers. Luckily for you, it works in the virtual world just the same way, it does in the physical one. On the other side – if you have not established a good personal relationship, your best content will simply fizzle out.
5. Have good content.
There is absolutely no excuse for bad content. If your pitch is not clear and up to the point, if you cannot keep the attention during the time granted, you are out in the digital world.
Luckily, you can leverage on the technology and make the content presentation better, than would ever be possible in the personal setting – a video demo, a clickable prototype, or and interactive presentation will engage your audience in front of the screen much deeper, and with more senses and emotion, than if were in the boardroom.
6. Be prepared.
Yes, it is below your dignity to appear before the potential client not fully ready. But while online, we are much stricter about our time and attention – on both sides, yours and your opposite’s. Therefore, here it depends on how well you can convince your counterpart of your offer in a concise and structured way. Good preparation for an online appointment is much more important than for an on-site appointment. Here is why:
– You have to grab the counterparts’ attention and keep it until their curiosity is aroused and they starts asking questions, specifying needs, until a conversation begins. People’s attention span has become very short and we find it harder to concentrate on the media than when the whole person facing us. Try to concentrate everything you want to say in 3 minutes of speaking time.
– Since you as a salesperson are used to working with all your senses, customer conversations on Zoom are probably not so familiar to you. Good preparation will give you a feeling of security.
– Test the technology beforehand. Be competent with your tools. If possible, use your applications (your zoom account, google hangouts or other). If the customer insists on using their corporate account, e.g. Microsoft teams, take time to familiarize yourself with the settings. Technical problems can always occur, but if you are sure of your content and technical competence, it will not psychologically throw you off track.
7. Do the follow-up.
Explicit attention is required when it comes to the follow-up. Again, this is no different from an on-site appointment: you don’t want to leave without having the answer to the question “what’s after”. If in an on-site meeting you can signal your intentions by your body language, in a virtual meeting, your need to vocalise it – make sure you don’t hang up until you have agreed on the next steps: when is the next appointment? What are the open questions? How can you continue to support your customer and by when should the whole thing happen? Take notes during the meeting and make them directly available to all involved parties, so that you don’t have to “tune the protocol” afterwards.
8. Use technology to your advantage.
Virtual sales meetings and virtual sales pitches are not worse, limited or inferior versions of the face-to-face meetings. They are just a different format and have different advantages and rules. Always prefer a video call to a phone call. Of course, a conventional telephone call is absolutely fine, especially when it comes to short spontaneous queries or feedback. But remember – your presence is key, and a video call implies much more presence than a telephone call, an e-mail, or a text message do.
Use the technology you feel comfortable with. A smartphone is fine if you only make video calls. A tablet or a PC is more convenient if you want to take notes at the same time (while sharing the screen with the participants). Some people have found that two screens / two devices are more comfortable: one is for the video camera, the other for work. Once you have gone through the whole technical process beforehand, you will be familiar with the features you want to use and will be able to better judge whether a whiteboard, a shared screen collaboration, etc. is a good idea or whether you would rather stick with a simpler format.
Assess your counterparty on the technical competence issues. Interaction is always great, but it should not overwhelm your potential customer. Do not underestimate this. Especially to younger salespeople with a technical affinity, use of technology comes very naturally; a non-technical person on the potential customer side may have difficulties logging in, finding the microphone or switching between the apps. Be prepared to give very precise instructions in case technical support is needed.
9. Other aspects of preparation: appearance and background.
If you work from home, your professional and the private spheres can sometimes intermix. Take time to think about your clothes and hairstyle before turning on the camera. If you don’t want to give away so much of your privacy, many tools offer the possibility to show a virtual background. Here you can not only hide the background, but even show relevant content, such as your branding, product advertising, etc.
Pay attention to good light. You would wish to appear – literally – in the best light. Be positive and engage with your counterpart with all your senses, even if you are “only” seen through the camera. Feelings of well-being, mood, presence are radiated unconsciously by our body and perceived unconsciously by our brain.
10. Work as a team.
Missing the hustle and bustle of a lively office might be especially daunting for sales reps, but remote work is no reason to be a lone wolf. Embrace the experience and support of your colleagues. Practice team selling and engaging with each other for the “test runs”, exchange of ideas and feedback. Together you can become a customer acquisition powerhouse while building relationships with new leads and closing deals, no matter in the office or virtually.
How have you and your organisation transitioned to engaging with clients and prospects in the virtual setting? Please share your story.