How to Create Highly Effective Virtual Client Interactions

This is a Guest blog post by Chris Tully.

How to Create Highly Effective Virtual Client Interactions

In this seventh month of social distancing, client communications seem ever more remote – less accessible and a bit aloof as well as physically distant. How in the world can your sales force stay on top of their game and meet their goals? Now is the time to reassess your sales team’s online skills, and teach them how to create highly effective virtual client interactions.

Recent research about how sales have changed during COVID-19 tells us that sales teams need to adopt new skills in addition to adapting the old ones. It’s similar to losing one of our five senses – when we can’t see clients’ body language during a virtual meeting, for example, our other sales-senses have to learn to pick up on different cues.

When you are making a virtual presentation to clients in a group setting, remember:
• People have shorter attention spans
• Key decision makers often go missing
• Attendees are more reluctant to say what they’re really thinking, so you could get blindsided in follow up.

You definitely don’t want to wing it! Here are some guidelines to follow, based on Gartner’s Framework to Enable Effective Virtual Selling. These will make your client interactions more engaging and highly effective.

Pre-Meeting Planning

Iron out your rough spots. Most people’s presentations have one section that generates a lot of questions or sparks debate, maybe because it isn’t crystal clear. Role-play with sales team members acting out the client’s part until you’re satisfied you can address all concerns.

Make sure the stakeholders will be there.
 When you’re giving a pitch your all, you want the decision makers to be there! Check ahead of time to ensure all the stakeholders will be present during the webcast. If not, find out the designated proxy so you know whom to focus on.

Share your agenda of expectations.
 Give a meeting agenda to your contact ahead of time of three or four items indicating what you want to accomplish and what questions you anticipate from them. This laser-focuses your audience.

If you’re in a situation where the client also is meeting with your competitors, these focus points will make you stand out as a company that won’t waste their time.

You’ll be prepared for a very productive virtual meeting!

Client Presentations

Before the Meeting

Limit your meeting to 45 minutes, including the time for open discussion. Clients often schedule meetings back to back, on the hour, and often schedule you on the same day as your competitors. One thing I’ve learned over my career is how appreciative they are when you give them some down time!

Commit to starting the meeting 15 minutes after the hour, or ending 15 minutes early. Sharpen your presentation to 20-30 minutes and end the discussion a little early. Remember, less is more.

Insist on key players in attendance.
 You’ve already checked on the key decision-maker’s presence or proxy in your pre-planning. What if you log onto the meeting and they’re not there? You can ask if they want to reschedule – if the absence is last minute, they just might want to.

If it’s professional and polite to continue, then make sure to follow up directly with the person who missed your presentation to share your materials and your ideas.

Have your material up and ready to share.
 Make your presentation interactive by engaging your audience with questions. Encourage collaboration by using electronic white boards if you think that will help people better understand the concepts (particularly if it isn’t the audience’s main area of expertise).

Don’t be afraid to bring in “experts” via live link or a recorded testimonial – the more tools of engagement you use the better, as long as the content is relevant and not for theatrics.

During the Meeting

Test for understanding as you go. Using live polling if you can to get quick feedback or see what your audience is thinking – it works really well if you’re presenting to a large group logging in from multiple devices.

Zoom, GoToMeeting, and other platforms have a polling feature. This is a great engagement tool that lets you find out if people are tracking what you’re saying.

Call on audience members. 
When you get objections (expected from your pre-call rehearsal), pull out potential support by calling on specific individuals to share their perspective.

For example, “Tom, you had some thoughts when we talked last week – can you share your perspective?” This can backfire, but you should be smart enough to know who to call on and how to address any negativity.

Get consensus on next steps.
 Have specific next steps in your presentation and get agreement on these before you end the meeting or revise them to suit the situation. Email those next steps along with a proposed timeline to all in attendance following the meeting.

Immediately After the Meeting

Debrief with the decision maker. Ask the most senior client rep to stay for a debrief at the end of your presentation (“Could you hang out with me for a couple of minutes to clarify a few of things?”). Since you’ve kept your meeting short, you have a good chance that person will have time for you.

Email your “leave-behind” of the presentation after the meeting. Many clients will ask for a handout ahead of time, but don’t do it. You want them to listen to your emphasis and elaboration, not follow along on the handout and perhaps miss the point. Emailing the material after the meeting also gives you a chance for an extra touch point with clients.

Follow Up

Within 24 hours after your presentation, do these three things:

Thank the client for the meeting in an email.
 Include a recap of your key points and the agreed upon next steps.

Confirm the next meeting date.
 Also confirm who will be attending and the objectives for the meeting.

Include a specific call to action to continue their engagement with you.
 An example might be to, “Please complete a 1-3 question survey about our discussion.”

100 percent of your sales team’s time is trying to influence others or engaging with someone trying to influence them.
Your job as a leader is helping them get good at handling both of these roles with a focused, genuine manner. Then they will be able to create and participate in virtual client interactions that are highly effective, as well as productive for your company.

Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

5 Steps to Marketing Success Post COVID-19

This is a Guest blog post from Sandy Barger, Partner and CMO of Chief Outsiders.

5 Steps to Marketing Success Post COVID-19

 

You guessed it, digital marketing will reign supreme once retail business resumes.

A February Market Trends 2020 survey of chief marketing officers (CMOs) with experience across both Fortune 500 and emerging brands shows the strong continuing trend toward digital advertising, with 80% of CMOs expecting to increase digital spending this year. A few weeks later, COVID-19 hit and digital became even more of an influence. Social distancing and working from home forced people to accelerate their movement to digital across all walks of life—from personal to work to social. Zoom alone grew to 300 million daily participants versus only 10 million back in December. As marketers continue to increase their focus on digital marketing, the top priorities will be on tactics that provide additional information, including organic searches, email marketing, paid search, and content marketing.

Most businesses know digital marketing and providing customers with information is important. In fact, these are usually the first marketing actions companies take. However, “lack of information” is not a problem. Studies show customers are bombarded with information, receiving up to 10,000 brand messages a day, according to the American Marketing Association. Rich content doesn’t just deliver information but provides the right information. The Digital Age has made for a more sophisticated and informed type of customer. While slogans and taglines may still catch attention, customers are looking for details and, in this competitive landscape, brands must get their stories right.

To break through the clutter, creating the “right” story must include what people are looking for. At the core of failed marketing tactics is a lack of WIIFM, an acronym that looms large in the storytelling paradigm and stands for “What’s in it for me?” It’s an essential question the answer to which can make or break the connective tissue that bonds your marketing story to the customers. Luckily, there are steps you can take to create a compelling brand story with a successful WIIFM.

5 STEPS TO COMPELLING DIGITAL BRAND STORIES

1. Understand Your Target Audience

We see it all around us today, the many different and often polarized points of views. We see it in our political system, our news, and our tastes—onions or no onions. To create the right story, it is important to consider the unique needs and interests of your target audience. For that, sound research—both qualitative and quantitative—is needed. While data from an expert research company yields the best insights, it is not the only option. Lower investment options such as customer interviews or surveys through online tools such as Survey Monkey provide valuable insights.

2. Understand Pain Points or Motivations

While companies are currently providing lots of information, it is usually about the company and focuses primarily on the product or service features. In doing so, companies often require customers to make the leap to the “WIIFM” themselves. To effectively communicate “WIIFM” it is critical to understand your customers’ pain points or motivations. Addressing pain points such as likes, wants, needs, and fears makes for the most compelling content. That’s referred to as the Persuasion Code.

Here’s a case in point: A technology company recently developed a new innovative service solution. The launch of the service generated a significant amount of awareness, but it did not convert into sales. The reason is the messaging failed to identify current, compelling pain points. It ultimately was able to drive sales by retooling the messaging to focus on its attention-catching innovations and how they could address target customers’ existing pain points.

3. Develop Authentic Claims 

Customers are very vocal about their satisfaction with products, which is helpful for brands. In fact, word of mouth referrals and reviews are the most compelling source of information for customers. With the Digital Age, customers, both satisfied and dissatisfied, can amplify their points of view. A study in 1983 found that 85% of customers dissatisfied with a clothing item told an average of five people. (Richins 1983). Now a dissatisfied customer can tell thousands—instantly.

Over two-thirds of business customers rely on reviews and 67% of survey respondents said that the reviews they saw online made an impact on whether or not they purchased a product. Companies and businesses can lose as much as 22% of their customers with just a single bad review or article. (Moz.com study).

Reviews are not always fair. In fact, 39% of reviews are false (Best SEO Companies), but someone reading that review does not know that. So to get positive reviews and avoid negative ones, your marketing message needs to make use of authentic, clear, and truthful claims.  You then need to deliver on the expectations the messaging is setting.

4. Provide Competitive Points of Differences 

Now that the brand has developed the messaging that will create an action, the customers must understand that action should be with your brand. New technology and factors such as globalization have resulted in fewer barriers to entry and more competition across all industries. A compelling story needs to include the brand’s unique value proposition and/or how the product or service is different from the competition. Otherwise, the brand has created the demand for someone else to capture.

5. Provide Proof

Customers are skeptical of brand claims. In fact, 63% of customers say they trust what influencers say about brands much more than what brands say about themselves in their advertising (Edelman 2019). Given this lack of trust, it is important to provide proof. There are several ways of doing so from statistical data, case studies, demonstrations, and of course, social media influencers.

Today’s customers are digitally savvy and have endless access to information. To get them to move from awareness to action requires more than just information. It requires a consistent, compelling story…and that requires a step-by-step development of “WIIFM” messaging.

 

 chief-outsiders-sandy-barger-portrait

Sandy Barger is Partner and CMO with Chief Outsiders, an American fractional CMO group. She works with B2B and B2C companies on product development, go-to-market strategies, and lead generation. Find more info at http://www.chiefoutsiders.com

 

How Technology Has Transformed Conversation From Dancing Into Boxing

This is a Guest blog post from Mark Haas.

We use various forms of communication to inform, entertain or influence. Depending on intent and circumstance, we may use various technologies to send and receive. Voice, gestures, hand signs, smoke signals, radio, email. The availability of technology offers new ways to communicate that are offered as improvements in speed, cost and convenience. However, while the purpose of communication remains, new transmission mechanisms often alter effectiveness and outcomes.

Specifically, the advent of email, text and video formats have disrupted communication from bi- or multilateral to a one-way broadcast. Expectation of a reply is no longer assumed, expected or, in many cases, even desired. I want to say what I have to say to not just a specific person, but to anyone who will listen — or at least receive my message.

Communication Protocols

Just as standards make processes and products more efficient, communication protocols make communication more effective. Protocols exist in almost every industry and profession. They evolve over time to improve transactions.

But protocols don’t just involve technical, mechanical matters. They have to be used by everyone in the system. This means people have to appreciate their usefulness and use them. Just as Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (http) exists to facilitate standardized and efficient Internet communication, so too do social protocols facilitate interpersonal communication. If someone tried to set up a new Internet protocol, it would take time and effort to get people to adopt it, if they ever did. Similarly, using varying social and communication protocols would hinder, in some cases cripple, communication.

Argumentation is defined as the search for the truth (although the term has been somewhat corrupted lately to mean being disagreeable). Effective argumentation includes what is known as the burden of evidence (support what you say with presumably unassailable facts) and the burden of rejoinder (elevate the discussion when presented with facts by another).

This is what is being violated regularly, unwittingly at first and now possibly intentionally. It seems that social media only warrants a statement, unsupported by evidence when challenged, of one’s opinion. When challenged, the response is to attack, deflect or ignore. While not all discussions follow this pattern, one could draw the conclusion that social media is not a place to explore the truth. Argumentation has just become argument.

This is not miscommunication, where people do partially or wholly miss the meaning or intent of the message. This is more fundamental. It is the lack of desire by the sender for the recipient to respond. It is the lack of intent to participate as much as it is to send. How many people have asked to see a picture of what you had for breakfast? Are you expecting to engage in a dialog about it or are you just “letting people know?”

Dancing

For purposes of this conversation, dancing refers to ballroom dancing. Two people are a team. Their activity requires cooperation and mutual intent.

They send messages through their eyes, voice and gentle pressure on hand, shoulder and back. Two well practiced partners (and they are called “partners” for a reason) move as one, each seeking to anticipate and respond to the other, in the interest of mutual understanding and enjoyment. Even a mishap can be accommodated easily by an attendant partner. The combination of two (or many) can be entertaining and inspiring.

Boxing

Boxing is a contest between two adversaries, opponents, a challenger and a champ. The expectation of all who participate in, and observe, the contest is that one will win and the other will lose. Each has developed a plan to overwhelm the other. They trade punches with the desire that each punch will end the fight. Once the “knockout” has been delivered, the contest is over.

With such ease do we send a text, post a video or send a Tweet. We don’t even have to know who will receive our message, when they will get it or even if they will respond. And we are OK with this.

Can We Teach Boxers to Dance?

It has become easy to send a message without expecting a reply because we expect to be removed from an immediate social response. Without facial cues or body language, or immediate verbal/written response, there is no feedback that could effectively elevate the conversation.

We issue opinion, compliments or vitriol, sometimes not even knowing how our words will be received. Because of this disconnect, we often forget that we may have started a conversation. A conversation that might as easily be received as an invitation to argumentation as a sucker punch.

There is a difference between talking to an individual and to a crowd. Part of our challenge is to know the difference requirements in how we talk to each.

Another part is recognizing that our responsibility in a conversation is to assure our message is received as we intended, and that the conversation is beneficial to all parties.

I’d much rather interact with Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers on the dance floor (if they’d have me) than Muhammad Ali in the boxing ring. I’d also rather have a deeper and insightful conversation than lobbing, or receiving, insults.

Let’s all learn to dance better.

Mark Haas helps boards and executives create powerful strategies to help them make decisions with greater confidence, impact and pride. He helps companies and nonprofits develop strategies, create and validate business models, and execute with discipline. Mark is also an international trainer, facilitator and speaker in ethics, strategy and performance management.
Mark Haas
CEO, Association for Enterprise Growth
(301) 442-5889