As companies rush to protect their employees from the spreading Coronavirus [COVID-19], there are a wide range of impacts to the business. With the cancelation of conferences, restriction of non-essential travel, reduction of company events and the establishing of remote work arrangements, there’s a real possibility that in-person customer meetings will be canceled or, more ideally, moved to virtual meetings. This is the new “normal” for the coming days, weeks or even months.
The majority of the companies’ sales and marketing leaders are still tasked with generating revenue and keeping their pipeline and topline strong. The reality is that our current environment is driving risk in every deal. Good leaders are paranoid and are overly concerned about their pipeline and effectiveness of their sales organizations in this new situation. Customers and prospects are going to be more cautious in their buying decision and sales reps aren’t going to be able to be face-to-face to help leverage the relationship to close the deal.
So, it is now more important than ever that we perfect our video conferences skills to make sure our stories come through and that our selling style isn’t lost. Effective communication during this time can even be a differentiator. Every video conference is an opportunity to accentuate your brand and limit the impact of not meeting in person.
How you run your virtual meetings will be more critical than ever. Video etiquette isn’t typically a part of sales training or enablement. Here are 7 tips on how sales can improve the chance of closing business remotely:
- Get into the meeting early and set the stage: Don’t be shy and ask explicitly for a Video call upfront. Maybe even add the term “video conference” to the calendar invite subject. Phone is better than email, but video helps bridge some gaps. Using video conferencing (such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, Join.me and LifeSize) helps to create a more personalized conversation and increase the level of participation. Join the meeting early to set up your image how you like it. Being the first one in also tells those joining that it’s OK, if not expected, that they turn on their camera too. Always offer a properly formatted click-to-dial phone option should one be needed.
- What you wear sets the tone: Just because the office is closed does not mean what you wear and how you appear changes. Therefore, how we appear – including what we wear – needs to be the first step in connecting with your customer. For human nature shows that without the establishment of trust, believing the truth will be an uphill battle. What you wear and how you appear on the video is even more crucial when your audience can’t see how you walk, physically engage with others and get a sense of your energy. It makes a huge difference to come across put together (at least above the waist), ready to take the helm and 100% dedicated to their needs. When the world is chaotic on the outside, they need to see ‘normal’. When you get dressed that morning, think, “What is my story today? What conversation do I want to have? What do I want that first impression to be with my client? What style will compliment my brand and my company’s brand?”
- What they see behind you matters: What they see in the background shouldn’t be ignored. This backdrop is an opportunity to give insights into your personal world with vulnerability and authenticity. All too often we get on a video call and we are instantly hit with negative reactions and distractions. Some may have backlighting that makes you want to look away or lighting so dim your eyes strain to find their face. Some only have half their face showing and others have so much clutter behind them that all you do is peruse their bookshelves. It’s ok to have some personal effects behind you, but also make it clear that this is your work space and you’re thinking about how to do business.
- Always start with an ‘ice breaker’. Any great meeting starts with establishing a sense of a community and connection. Don’t skip it just because you’re not face-to-face. Icebreakers are discussion questions or activities used to help participants relax and ease people into a group meeting. Build in the time as it can create a positive group atmosphere, break down social barriers, motivate, and get people to know and trust one another. And it’s OK to talk about Coronavirus a bit. Everyone is thinking about it. Better to address it head on from the start. It’ll give you insight to what’s going on in their personal world and how it may be affecting their business.
- Stay front and center… not too close, not too far. Keep your own image on video on top so you can see what you look like and be sure that they can see you from the waist up. Try not to be too close, no one wants to see every detail of your face. Don’t be too far, you’ll become distant from them and, subconsciously, detached from the meeting. If you’re using two monitors, make sure your active camera is on the same screen as your video conferencing app. This setup prevents you from looking like you’re staring at something else while talking to the people on the other side of the line. Finally, be mindful of your headset – ‘Air Traffic control’ isn’t necessary. Big headphones can be distracting and take away from the rest of your presentation. So, if you don’t have a quiet environment, use discreet, subtle headphones (like Apple AirPods). Don’t forget to charge them, but no matter what, have a wired back up.
- Limit your screen sharing to keep everyone focused. We have all experienced this. Once you see a slide pop up, we see this as a chance to multi-task, look away and/or tune out. When you share your screen and the slides take over, the images of everyone’s faces shrink. We innately feel an immediate disconnect with the meeting. Therefore, limit your screen sharing and slides so that participants are engaged in all their senses. (What they see, hear and experience.) You can always offer to send your slides after the meeting with next-steps.
- Everyone participates. Everyone. As we all know, it’s common for the presenter or one or two attendees to dominate the discussion while others sit back and tune out. Just because you can see them on the screen, doesn’t mean they feel part of the conversation. Calling out people by name keeps them engaged and ‘on their toes’. It lets them know that their opinion matters and they need to stay involved. Establish your own method to call on them. This might include starting with the least senior of the group, or by order on the screen. And as the meeting ends, take a poll with each of them to make sure they each know the direct next steps and mutual success plan.
At the end of the day, sales is about building relationships. By shifting how we run meetings and ways to communicate effectively – it will be the sales teams that can adapt that will come out on top. Let’s be honest, the Coronavirus will eventually be behind us….but not the need to work together in a world where we are connected via our screen…video conferences are the way of the future. Even when we’re allowed to shake hands again.