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.”

Magic Johnson – WINNING on the Court and in the Boardroom

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Seeing Magic Johnson speak was one of the highlights of my week in Nashville at the SiriusDecisions 2015 Summit a few weeks ago.

He was funny, engaging, and inspiring, and also had some sound business wisdom for the crowd of 3000 or so sales and marketing executives in attendance. Everyone knows Magic Johnson as one of the all-time NBA greats, but his business resume would seem to qualify him also as one of America’s top entrepreneurs.

He’s a true Unicorn, a rare individual who has reached the pinnacle in sport as well as in business. He spoke about how he made the transition, and how he started winning in business.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises, which reportedly has a net worth of $700 million

Part owner of the LA Dodgers, Major League Baseball team

Former minority owner of the LA Lakers, National Basketball Association team

Owner of Magic Theaters

Partner in the $500 million Yucaipa/Magic private equity fund

First franchisee of Starbucks ever, built a chain of 125 stores in urban locations, sold the chain back to Starbucks corporate

Co-owner of the Dayton Dragons (minor league baseball) and the LA Sparks (WNBA)

Founder, Magic Johnson Foundation

MAGIC’S KEYS TO WINNING

  1. Play to win, and work with Winners
  1. Know your customer – an example he cited was his knowledge of the “Urban customer”, and how he replacing scones w sweet potato pie at Starbucks, and adding more flavored drinks to the menu in order to cater to his customers
  1. Over-deliver – “the key to business success and the key to retention”
  1. Work with great partners
  1. Sell at the right time – Johnson sold his stake in Starbucks and the L.A. Lakers NBA team as valuations started to rise.

OTHER INTERESTING FACTS AND THOUGHTS

He does an annual SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis of all of his companies AND himself.

Magic’s All Time starting 5 lineup – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan and himself.

His number one, top rival on the court: Larry Bird

Mentors – Magic has a network of 20+ CEOs who mentor him. He built this network after retirement from basketball by obtaining a list of the Lakers’ VIP season ticket holders and cold calling them one by one.

His biggest failure – Magic 32 sporting goods stores, which failed after only one year.

Magic, on the handful of traits which makes him a success in business (he said he brought these skills he learned as an athlete to his business ventures) – desire to WIN, perfectionism, preparation, focus, discipline, professionalism, and his ability to motivate his team and those around him to reach their full potential.

I’ve never met Magic Johnson, nor have I seen him speak at this length, but here are my main impressions of him, garnered from his 50 minute talk:

Burning desire to WIN. He hates to lose – “underperforming is not winning the Championship

Supremely confident – he KNOWS he’s going to win

His “game plan” is simple. He sticks to the basics (customer focus, over-delivering, good teams, good partners, etc.)

Coachable (he spoke extensively about soliciting and absorbing good advice from his network of 20 CEO “coaches”)

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It was quite inspiring and refreshing to hear from an entertaining, motivational speaker who backs up his thoughts with relevant stories and sound business advice. Always a fan of him as a basketball player, I am now a fan of Magic Johnson as an entrepreneur.

Steve Jobs, Customer Experience Obsessor (CEO)

A few days before Steve Jobs announced that he was stepping down as CEO of Apple, my family and I paid a visit to Apple’s corporate headquarters at One Infinite Loop in Cupertino, CA.  My daughter Caroline, a huge fan of all products Apple, was the driving force behind our pilgrimage to this tech “mecca.”

We were able to walk around the lobby, which had a display case of the company’s 3 Emmy Awards.  Interestingly, these were the ONLY awards showcased in the lobby.  We talked to a few Apple employees and asked them questions about Steve Jobs.  His office is on the 4th floor (top floor) and he is known to walk around a lot and talk to employees.

Like most students of business, I have been mesmerized by Steve’s approach to business, as well as his personal and corporate success.  In many ways, he is the most accomplished business leader in the last century, having almost singlehandedly invented the PC industry and revolutionized 5 other industries:  cell phones, consumer electronics, film, music, and retail, while influencing virtually every other industry.  His roles at Apple: co-founder, marketer, entrepreneur, inventor, CEO, creative genius, designer, architect, etc.

The most important role Steve plays, however, is also the least discussed, and that is his role as Apple’s Customer Experience Obsessor, a different kind of “CEO.”  (OK, I know that the word “obsessor” does not exist according to Merriam-Webster, but you know what I mean!)   Steve’s obsessive focus on customer experience is the prime reason for Apple’s immense success.

Here are 6 Customer Experience Obsessions that are core to Apple (please pardon the pun).

1.  Customers must fall in love at first sight – For Steve, the customer experience begins with the physical beauty and elegance of Apple’s products. Striking, amazing, revolutionary, simple, and most importantly, COOL!  Apple stuff looks great, they sound great, and they FEEL great.  They touch all the senses, and this is how customers get hooked on them.

2.  A child must be able to use it! – With Apple products, more than any other, product and user become one.  User interfaces, when introduced, have all been VASTLY superior to the competition’s far clunkier interfaces. For example, the original Macintosh desktop computer was truly revolutionary.  It had a unique “windows” GUI interface, and users interacted with the computer via a brand new device called a “mouse.”  And how about the original iPod, with its click wheel, the iPhone with its dynamic touch screen, and the iPad – they were so easy that young children could use them.

3. NO user manuals –  Who doesn’t hate user manuals?  All Apple devices come out of the box ready to use and in working condition, with NO setup or configuration required. This has become a hallmark of the Apple brand.  Peripherals are all “plug and play.” There is no need for user manuals because Steve knows that customers don’t want to deal with complexity.  They want their new toys to work right away with no brain damage, so he made sure his industrial designers delivered on this brand promise.

4. Make the buying experience easy, and customers will buy more –  Whether it’s downloading videos and music from iTunes, or buying a laptop from an Apple Store, the experience is easy, friendly, and even fun!  We all know how super easy it is to preview and buy media on iTunes.  And what happens when you go to an Apple store?  They are clean, well organized, and have lots of demos you can try.  Their salespeople are friendly, incredibly knowledgeable, and PASSIONATE.  And when you’re ready to buy, you don’t go to a counter.  Your salesperson uses an iPod touch POS device with credit card scanner, and the process is about the easiest retail experience you’ll ever have.

5. The products MUST BE RELIABLE – People often criticize Apple for having closed or proprietary technologies, and for overly controlling application development partners (iPhone and iPad apps).  While Apple surely makes more money and keeps competitors at bay this way, Steve’s real reason for this is QUALITY CONTROL.  Apple products work BETTER and are less buggy and less susceptible to viruses because of the seamless integration of hardware and software, their tight control over partnerships, and their use of higher quality components and awesome design.  And with reliable products come customer satisfaction and evangelism, which brings us to Steve’s 6th customer experience concept:

6. The Best Customer Service is NO Customer Service – Steve clearly understands this customer service adage.  The theory is that if you do a great job acquiring and delivering for your customer, you won’t have the need for customer service.  Of course, every company has customer service issues, but those that have the fewest issues are the companies who do a great job making their customers happy, and therefore have the highest customer satisfaction.  And Apple’s customer service is very good, especially for a consumer products company.

At the end of the day, satisfied customers are repeat customers, and they evangelize on Apple’s behalf.  Steve knows this and that’s why he focused on the entire customer experience:  the fun and low-friction buying experience, each product’s “WOW” factor, the user interface, product reliability, and good customer service.

Thanks for reading and let me know what you think!  Please also sign up for my Blog on my Home Page!

Winning Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs – Part 1

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I have had the good fortune of being invited frequently to speak to groups of students (Undergrads and MBAs), and at various trade and industry forums throughout the USA, and even throughout China and in Dubai.  I always end my talks with a slide entitled Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs.

It’s my small way of evangelizing entrepreneurship and giving a nudge to those who are trying to muster the courage to start their own businesses.  The slide contains 9 bullets of advice.  Here are the first 5:

Integrity – What do you have if you don’t have integrity?  Say what you do and do what you say.  Do the right thing.  Integrity is the basis of trust which is the basis of all relationships, business and otherwise.  It can’t be faked. And, at the end of the day, you want to be able to sleep soundly at night.  Everyone wants to work with high integrity people, so always operate with the highest degree of integrity.

Do It Now – So many aspiring entrepreneurs are waiting for the exact “right moment” to start their business.  Well, I’ve got news for you.  The “right moment” is NOW.  Why wait? When you think about it, the worst thing that can happen is you fail, and you go back and get a job.  But the learnings you will have amassed are priceless.  With the economy and markets flat these days, a resourceful entrepreneur with a great idea and execution capability can be very successful.  Competitors and established players are in disarray and “playing defense.”  They are cutting costs, and trying to figure out their next pivot while you can start with a blank slate and make a market.  Go for it!

Great People – You can’t win without having a great team around you.  That goes for business, as well as sports, war, etc.  Surround yourself with the very best talent you can recruit for your crusade.  Great people are worth multiples of what you pay them, so take your time and find excellent associates who know how to deliver and who share your passion and values.

Focus on Your Customer – Too many entrepreneurs get enamored with their product or invention, or processes and trivia which have little impact on their startup.  Not to pick on them, but I see this with a lot of engineers and techie entrepreneurs. You may have the best product, the coolest logo, and the most high powered investors and advisors, BUT without a customer, you do not have a business.  The most important thing entrepreneurs need to focus on is their customers, who they are, what they want or need, and how you can help them.  Thrill them and you will be successful.  This needs to be your #1 focus at the beginning, and throughout the life of your company.

Be Flexible – Business plans are awesome.  I have seen many dozens of good ones.  I am a big proponent of planning, because the very act of planning helps you and your team think through challenges and scenarios, etc. and you learn tons through the process. But one thing is certain:  nothing ever turns out as planned.  Because of this, an entrepreneur needs to be flexible.  This could mean changing your solution, modifying your product, selling into a different market segment, etc.  The alternative, being inflexible, could be deadly to a startup.

Thanks very much for reading.  What do you think?  I’d love your feedback and thoughts, so please Comment below…and please sign up for my Blog too!  (See the Signup box on the sidebar of my Home Page)

Featured image courtesy of dierken licensed via creative commons.