In sales, especially for field sales teams, face-to-face meetings are crucial for establishing and maintaining strong client relationships.
Field sales teams used to travel all over to see clients and sales leads. In most cases, that means driving around, within a few hundred miles of home, or further afield, including flying to cities across the country, and even to other countries to sell products and services.
However, in the era of Coronavirus (Covid-19), that’s all changed. Sales meetings went online. Almost universally, sales went from face-to-face, to virtual. Video calls and Instant Online Demos replaced meetings in client/prospect offices, or coffee shops and restaurants. In many countries around the world, coffee shops and restaurants were or are still closed, and buyers alongside sales teams are now working from home (WFH).
When everything is open, will face-to-face resume?
Maybe, possibly, and it depends are the most accurate answers many sales leaders can provide right now.
It depends on local circumstances. Are cases spiking, or are they reducing?
It also depends on the individuals in question. Yes, in many cases, face-to-face is preferable, and when it comes to landing large contracts it’s pretty important. But at the same time, no one wants to put themselves or loved ones at risk.
And the challenge is: if governments (particularly the U.S. and UK) are opening up society and the economy, while infection rates are still high, aren’t we likely to see a second spike in cases?
Maybe not everywhere, as again it depends on local approaches to the pandemic, and how serious or not individuals are taking mask wearing and social distancing, but this is also something businesses need to think about.
Businesses can’t set government policy. But they have a duty of care when it comes to staff.
Being mindful of a company’s duty of care is now crucial in the Covid-19 era, which might mean going against societal trends depending on published science and what various science-backed non-governmental bodies recommend. Organizations to pay attention include the CDC in the U.S., the Independent SAGE group in the UK, or World Health Organization (WHO), alongside various national leaders taking sensible approaches, such as Germany, Scotland and New Zealand.
In the Covid-19 era, politics is being used to weaponise, ignore or confuse scientific advice, for the sake of economic gain. Putting millions at risk. Don’t put your own teams at risk to maintain face-to-face meetings, not when local cases are still too high and there are alternatives.
So when it comes to face-to-face meetings starting again; possibly is the only answer many of us can give right now. Everyone should have the right to work in a way that keeps them and their loved ones safe. If face-to-face, especially in workplaces or coffee shops is potentially too risky, then virtual meetings are the way forward for now.
How to build and maintain strong virtual sales relationships?
#1: Listen to your customers and prospects
Listening is crucial when it comes to establishing sales relationships. Salespeople that practice active listening are more successful.
Now that it’s not possible to pick up on those non-verbal cues in the same way (you can, to an extent, on video calls and Instant Online Demos, but some body language signals are going to be missed), listening is even more important.
Ask questions. Repeat answers back to demonstrate you’ve really heard them, and tailor solutions around the needs of your customers. Listening is the crucial foundational building block of any new sales/client relationship. Without that, you’ve got nothing else.
#2: Listen to your team
As a sales leader, it’s equally crucial that you listen to your sales team.
Your team, and individual team members aren’t going to perform at their best if they’re worried about something at home. Now that work and home is the same place, worries at home carry over even more into people’s working lives.
At the same time, there’s more to worry about. Health and keeping safe, and the daily realities of social distancing and lockdowns, are aspects of the new reality we are all living in. Alongside those challenges, families are struggling where one partner suddenly finds themselves out of work; plus the fact that schools in many countries have been closed for months.
You need to make sure team members feel supported. If there’s ways you can make their life or work easier, then put support and help in-place. Play a proactive role in making it easier for your team, instead of waiting until someone speaks up and says they have a problem.
#3: Build rapport, learn together
And finally, building rapport and learning together is another key skill when establishing and maintaining sales relationships. Doing this when the relationship is only possibly virtually is even more important.
Depending on what you’re selling, the first call/meeting might need to be an exploratory one. This could be a chance to explain your message, while asking questions that help determine pain points. When a rapport is built quickly, it makes it easier to establish trust. If second and third meetings are required, then the trust is already established and a sale can come about more effectively.
Sales is more challenging in the Covid-19 era. Not only are some sectors slashing budget, companies are generally going to be more cautious when it comes to spending money. It may take more time to grow and nurture new commercial relationships, which is why you need to invest time creating and establishing trust with every new client.