On Virtual Buying

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Zoom, Teams, Webex seem to rule our professional and even our private lives. We have gotten to this place through the shut down, but are now discovering the value of these tools in working with each other. Without a doubt, these will become an important part of business going forward. Without a doubt, the tools will continue to be refined, enabling us to do more.

Having said that, I am discovering some gaps–challenges that impact our effectiveness. Here are a few:

  1. So much of what “happens” in meetings has little to do with what is said. It’s the behaviors, the body language, attitudes expressed by others participating in the meeting. It’s difficult to “read the room” using these technologies.
  2. There are the side-bar conversations, the discussions while getting coffee, during breaks, at lunch, that are important continuations of the discussions. The informal communications that surround a meeting are often where we get the most accomplished. We’ve not yet figured out how to conduct those conversations. Sure we can have a separate Zoom meeting later, but we’ve lost the immediacy of the side-bar conversations, inherently extending the process of what we try to accomplish in those meetings.
  3. So much of decisionmaking, or even progress that we make is through “getting together and hashing things out.” Now much of that is moved to asynchronous conversations. All necessary, but all extend the time involved in moving to decisions and taking action.
  4. In the “old days,” we complained about the amount of time we wasted in bad meetings. Meetings with no clear objective, meetings in which people are unprepared, meetings in which we don’t have the right participants. Virtual meetings have not eliminated these bad meeting practices and, in fact, may have amplified the problems these create.
  5. Engagement in these meetings is a problem. We know the problem with meetings in the old days, where people were distracted by mobiles, doing emails, and other things. These are accentuated in these virtual meetings. With real meetings, there’s tremendous “social pressure,” even the basket at the center of the table that we put our mobiles into. This is impossible to enforce in virtual meetings. Then there are the endless other distractions we never can see in these meetings.
  6. There is the well intended “over communication” that we have implemented in our remote working. I’m certainly a fan of this, because it is so easy to feel disconnected in today’s environment, but that adds to the number of meetings we have and to the “Zoom weariness” we are experiencing.
  7. There are still the “technology” problems. The delays that cause interruptions, silent moments, challenges with sharing documents and focusing the discussion. We are slowly getting used to managing these, but they are still distractions, impacting our effectiveness in these meetings.

There is no doubt, remote working, virtual meetings will continue and will become more a part of our standard work in the future. We use our time better, for example, reducing travel—even if that travel is to another floor in a different part of the building. We are more easily able to get broader participation, because people who couldn’t make meetings can more easily be pulled in.

But we still have challenges in maximizing our effectiveness in these meetings.

Which brings me to our customers and their buying journeys. For some years, we have known the challenges customers face in making buying decisions. Their journey has been characterized by the now famous Gartner “spaghetti chart.” We know the majority of buying journeys end in no decision made, not because customers can’t select a solution, but because they can’t align themselves around what they want to accomplish, how do to it, and how to buy.

Virtual meetings add another set of challenges, and potentially, delays to the customer and their ability to buy.

As sales people seeking to help our customers navigating their buying journey, we have to recognize the new challenges our customers face–and the challenges we have in engaging our customers in virtual meetings.

I suspect all of us have a lot to learn and many adjustments to make.

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