Replacing the Magic of In-Person Sales Meetings (When You’re Forced to be Remote)

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For many sales teams, especially those who already sell remotely, the restrictions on travel due to COVID-19 haven’t changed the nature of how they sell.  If you already sell primarily via the telephone, digital channels and video conferences, not a lot has changed.

That is not the case for our clients who are in manufacturing, health care, pharmaceuticals and other industries that still rely on a field sales team that is very much “in the field” on a regular basis calling on customers.  Whether it’s because their organization has restricted travel, because their clients have restricted visitors from their offices or are simply working from home for the foreseeable future, many selling organizations are very quickly facing the reality of reinventing how they get in front of prospects and customers.

And this is particularly a challenge for companies that sell durable goods that often require a bit of “show and tell” during the in-person sales meeting.

So how are organizations pivoting based on this new reality?  Here are some examples we’re seeing in the field already as well as some new best practices.

  • Make the value they’ll receive from your time together abundantly clear: This should be true for any prospect meeting request, and especially true for an online meeting that’s far easier to blow off vs when you physically show up in their office.  Make clear what you will be sharing with the prospect – best practices, new innovations to improve their (Efficiency? Output? Results?), something that’s enough value that they won’t want to miss your time together.
  • Working from home means more screen time: This means even when they’re in another meeting, they will typically have their screens in front of them.  I expect email open rates will increase in the coming weeks, as especially will LinkedIn InMails and first connection messages that typically pop up on a prospect’s desktop (easy to ignore when you’re in back to back meetings in conference rooms, easier to see and respond to when you’re in front of your screen the majority of the day working from home).
  • Send the “Show and Tell” in advance: Coordinate getting a physical kit of samples delivered to the prospect in advance of the meeting, along with a return-to-sender box with prepaid postage. This may be a bit more onerous than just hauling the materials with you as usual, but holding something up on a video conference isn’t the same as the prospect feeling it in their hands.  This tactic can make a huge difference (and is still likely a fraction of the cost of getting your salesperson to the meeting physically in the first place).
  • Train and practice video call best practices: These include dress and presentation (i.e. how you look) as well as maintaining eye contact with the prospect as much as possible.  This can be particularly difficult and awkward for those who haven’t done it before.  In a video conference, when you look at the prospect’s video image they are seeing you look down or “away” from them.  The more often you can get comfortable talking directly into the webcam lens, the more you’ll be maintaining eye contact and connection with the prospect.  This is important in face-to-face meetings, and even more important when trying to replicate the intimacy from afar.
  • Practice NOT interrupting: It’s so much easier to have a natural conversation in person when you can observe and react to body language.  Whether on an audio-only call or video conference, practice taking a breath and waiting 1-2 second after someone finishes talking before you respond.  Take notes on what you want to say if you need to while they speak, but by giving just a tiny gap between their finish and your response, you’ll demonstrate respect for their ideas and ensure a more fluid, natural conversation.
  • Offer to meet them on neutral ground: This may not work in every situation, but instead of meeting at their office or home, invite them to meet at a local coffee shop, coworking space or restaurant.

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