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March 18, 2021
By Heather Harlos
Let’s face it, in-person engagement with customers, partners and prospects is the ideal environment for building relationships and creating a positive experience. Most of us in sales feel that it’s easier to close a deal or forge a new relationship over a drink, a shared cup of coffee or dinner. Building connections in the virtual world has many challenges and we have seen individuals succeed or fail during this pandemic on the basis of how well they adapted.
While many of us look forward to the return of face-to-face meetings, you may be surprised to find out that for many buyers, virtual engagements are now preferred to in-person. More than 70% of decision-makers prefer virtual over in-person engagements with salespeople, according to McKinsey and Company’s October 2020 report which surveyed 3,626 decision makers globally This sets a clear goal for those of us in sales: We need to create the optimal virtual selling experience.
So now we must ask, what does this mean for building relationships with vendors, managing existing relationships with customers and cultivating new relationships with prospects? It seems daunting, but there’s good news. With the right training and tools you can create a virtual experience that will allow you to not only maintain but exceed your sales goals for the year.
Let’s take each audience individually and highlight some key expectations for each group.
We’ll start with vendors. They’re the easiest group. Most of us are pacing the floor waiting for the green light to get on a plane and go see partners and customers again. But remember, travel most likely will not be as open as before, nor will budget allocations be the same. So right here we need to look at two key areas of engagement and how to approach them.
Marketing: Map out your strategy with multimedia tactics, key ROI metrics and a long-term plan. creating a closed loop strategy when requesting funding. Budgets have changed, as have how activities are approached and approved. The more focused and thoughtful you are with your request, the more likely it is to be approved.
Product: This comes in many forms, from engineering to sales training. Have a regular cadence with your key vendors, understand their internal structures and identify your champions in the organization. They are there to help you with everything from sales calls to health checks. They’re an extension of your team and should be approached in the same way.
Now let’s move on to your existing customer base. Just as vendors who are eager to see their partners, I am sure most tech providers cannot wait to visit their customers again. As much as we all want this, we can’t forget that a lot has changed in the past year.
Businesses have downsized offices or gone fully remote and have becomes accustomed to spending time with their families rather than happy hours with their partners. So some of your key contacts will not be in an office or may have a different mindset about spending time with suppliers vs. family. Many IT professionals, your customers among them, now view time spent outside of work differently and it will be extremely limited. Therefore, three key areas that must be addressed when requesting a live or virtual meeting.
Are you seen as a technology supplier or adviser? You need to be the CTO-on-demand. You must be seen as a part of their team to whom they actively look for guidance, not for just replacing the latest piece of equipment or software. To achieve this, you must understand their business and sell solutions, not products.
What is the plan? With time now more valuable than ever before, think through carefully what you are planning on covering in your conversation. Why does it matter? How is it going to help the customer be more successful or profitable? Calling just to say hi or check on the family is fine, but for any meeting, you’re going to need a business reason to get added to their calendar.
Does this require an in-person visit? We’ve all heard the phrase about the meeting that could have been an email. Well, your customers are going to apply that same thinking to live meetings that take up much more of their day than a video call would have.
I saved the hardest for last: building relationships with prospects. It’s always been challenging and in a virtual world…
…it is even harder. You need to get a little more tactical about creating an experience that your prospects will connect with. That’s what separates exceptional companies in a virtual world from those that are just ok. To be exceptional, you must master four areas with your prospects.
Customer experience is still No. 1. Just because you can’t meet at an event or over dinner doesn’t mean that relationship building isn’t possible. In your next virtual meeting, I encourage you to use creative and thoughtful ways to connect instead of jumping immediately into sales mode. Did you notice their background? Is there an interesting picture, book or musical instrument you can ask about? You should also have your camera on and use a notable background. That will enable your client to get a feel for who you are as a person.
Know their business. There’s nothing worse than getting on a call you had misgivings about accepting, only to realize that the company requesting the meeting has no idea what you do or what industry you serve. Take time and do the necessary research before you even think about requesting a meeting.
Lighting, eye contact, and appearance matter. Have you ever had to sit in a virtual meeting with someone who’s difficult to see? To keep that someone from being you, I recommend investing in a ring light and positioning your camera so it is eye level or just above, in line with the screen. And look into the camera, not at yourself on the screen. Make a connection with eye contact.
Ditch the PowerPoint. Nothing can bring a productive conversation to a halt faster than a lengthy PowerPoint. Always start by listening to your partners and customers. How can you possibly expect them to believe that you can help if you haven’t taken the time to ask questions and discover what they need? You should be solving a problem, not selling a product. Identify the BDQ (billion dollar question) that will help you to identify the gaps that need to be filled.
One last tip: Your vendors and suppliers can help you succeed in today’s world of video meeting and virtual events. For example, we at Bitdefender worked closely with virtual selling expert Mark Edwards to develop a complete course designed to help partners excel at virtual selling.
Our new virtual business world has many opportunities. Learn how to take advantage of them.
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