How good are your virtual relationship skills?
No doubt, the past six months have drastically challenged the way we establish, build, and maintain business relationships. For many of us, WFO (work-from-home) and online meetings have been the norm for many years, but for the majority of knowledge workers, it became the new normal overnight. All of us, however, had to get used to virtual-only meetings rather than in-person meetings.
Rather than attending a conference, in-person meetings, or stopping by at a customer on our way from A to B, we now pretty much solely rely on virtual events and meetings. Travel by plane has become an interesting adventure within the U.S. or Europe, never mind on an international level. You never know whether upon arrival, a new regulation forces you into self-isolation for two weeks and makes all your plans disappear in thin air. Or, looking at the latest U.K. restriction, ruling out any meeting with six or more participants, nixing all in-person events for the rest of 2020.
What to do when we can’t rely on a friendly handshake, pat on the shoulder, or late drink at the bar? How to replace the sticking our heads together over a terrible coffee or a heartwarming whiskey? Are our relationship-building skills ready for the all-digital way of business bonding?
Are You Fit for the Digital Relationship Age?
I’ve been sitting through a lot of virtual meetings and events recently. I have never been so dead by PowerPoint in my life as in the last six short/long months of 2020. Oftentimes, I ask myself, who’s buying while dying? And then there are the clowns that start every meeting with endless jokes and small talk before they get to their unimportant point, wasting 50 minutes or more of my online life. Every now and then, a highlight! A virtual event bringing specialists together, no slides, just an intelligent information exchange. Love it. And then there are other meetings, where you learn from your industry besties how they try and help their customers, or encourage their sales teams NOT to sell. Yes, sales teams are being told NOT to sell. Why? Because someone has a vision called customer care and focus on what is needed.
Of course, customer care should always be part of the game. And when you go and see your customer, that’s a big part of it already. You check-in, shake a hand here and there, sit down, with or without a presentation, review a status, work on the outlook, introduce new products and services, and gradually move from courtesy call to sales talk. How forgiving in-person meetings are! Try that during a conference call, with or without video, and the outcome will most likely look a lot different. And above all, you can’t just say “hi” to Bob in finance and Millie at the service desk; either you invite them to the call, or you won’t meet them at all and have that, “Would you give your boss a nudge to sign the deal?” watercooler twinkle.
New Business in a Changing World?
What about new business? Will the old cold-calling work? Email? “It depends” is probably the best answer you can get. If your business can deliver what is needed in times of crisis, then you’re a winner. If neither your hardware nor your software, nor your services offerings hit the sweet spot, sales teams are facing an impossible challenge, and neither the lack of in-person nor the overload of virtual meetings are to blame for it.
What’s the Outlook?
Will we all be living in the digital world going forward? I don’t think so. Although I have a bit of a reputation for loving digital processes, meeting and greeting people is not a process. In fact, I’m trying hard to make sure I use the word physical distancing, rather than social distancing, as I don’t want to be socially distant from anyone. And I am already looking forward to even the smallest “real” event, the aftermath at the bar, the grumpy early morning breakfast conversations—they all are so much more heartwarming than a “Can you hear me now? Can you see my screen? Please, unmute yourself so we can all enjoy your wise words.”
And eye contact, I miss that real, ice-breaking eye contact.