Blog March 19, 2020

How to conduct successful virtual commercial meetings

4 easy steps + 2 good reasons to make it work! - Door Pascal Struijk, Training Consultant

#stayathomechallenge

These days, most of us are working from home. We still manage teams and/or customers, we still need to hunt for new business. Not having the possibility to visit colleagues and customers once again raises the question: ‘can we build trust virtually?’

For those who say NO straight away, please don’t read the article :) For those who are open for another point of view, there’s an enormous window of opportunity….

Many sales managers and sales directors use ‘# of face2face meetings’ as one of the leading indicators for success. “We need people to be outside interacting with customers!” Yess, and, well, here’s two reasons to reconsider:

A) Governments struggle to keep up with urbanization. The time spent in traffic increases each year, both in Western Europe and the US. It makes people less productive; the number of meetings is under pressure. Insanity is close – we ask people to be more productive, in return we make them less productive. 

B) When we take a good look at sales, we are actually also doing change management. We are helping customers to build confidence in changing their way of working. That change needs to be top of mind, other priorities easily become more urgent. This means we need to schedule follow up meetings rapidly. At Krauthammer we did a test and compared the interval between face2face vs virtual meetings. What do you think? We were shocked! On average customers were available for a face2face meeting after 6 weeks. A window for a virtual meeting was always found within 10 days! If we want to facilitate change, let’s keep momentum…

We believe there is however always a good reason not to embrace beautiful alternatives. The software to run virtual meetings is great, yet many salespeople are reluctant. Our guess is that face2face meetings are just more comfortable, what do you think?

These 4 success factors will help you change the odds:

1.Know how to convince your counterpart

“If I propose having a virtual meeting, they might draw the conclusion I am not willing to invest time!” True, they might! So, how do we present this way of working as an advantage for both? Well, we propose the following: “I would propose scheduling a skype meeting first and two weeks after a face2face meeting. After the 30 minute skype-meeting I suggest we look each other in the eyes to see if there is enough potential to continue. This way we use both your and my time efficiently. When shall we schedule the skype call?”

It easily saves us 3 hours; customers are happy to take a slow start. Win-win, I’d say!

Let me also share my hypothesis: the customer will propose running the next meeting also virtually. Conditioning behavior is so easy…

2.  Respect 30 minutes max

Researchers Sohlberg and Mateer provided insight on how digital working affects our attention span. [2001 - Improving attention and managing attentional problems] They state that 3 out of 5 levels of attention are under pressure when working virtually: selective attention (performing tasks when there is distraction), alternating attention (shifting focus multiple times during a short period of time), divided attention (responding simultaneously to multiple tasks). When we realized this, we started experimenting with 30’ virtual calls. We invite customers, stating that the call will take 30’ max, we see they are willing to put their work aside. We respect the following rule of thumb: 5 minutes small talk, 5 minutes content sharing, 15 minutes co-construction, 5 minutes closing.

One additional advice: we are always the one to respect the time. Positive frustration is just fine!

3. Bring first, then co-construct

Customers, especially when working virtually, might be a hesitant to open up. They sometimes take ‘the consumers position’ sitting back, waiting for what is coming their way. To deal with this, we propose the following routine. Every time we share our hypothesis (marking our credibility), allowing us to ask questions to validate and co-construct. This requires extensive customer- and industry knowledge, it requires preparation. The shortcut in doing this would be:

  • Share what you see are the main relevant themes at CXO level
  • Share what the tension / struggle is related to that theme
  • Share how your approach brings a benefit for the customer in dealing with the struggle
  • Share the key questions you have in order to understand the customer situation

As a routine, in each meeting you dig deeper into the actual situation, but you also reveal more detail about your solution. They evolve at the same speed, slowly constructing both.

4. Closing means an action for both parties

If you find the customer in ‘the consumer position’ then it is rather easy to step into the eager-to-convince pitfall. You feed them, bring more argumentation, state you other case studies. Customers will ask for more, you bring them more, yet they need a little more. Recognize that?

We believe the essence of sales is to share the work, to share the responsibility in moving closer to a deal. Our KISS (keeping it short & simple) idea is to act as if closing always requires mutual action. Example: “I will analyze the data-set you shared with me. Could you give me access to the 2018 and 2017 data-set also?”

Obviously, it allows you to test the water, but it also allows you to run just as fast as the customer. It keeps a good balance between giving and taking. Our advice would be to prepare not only what you would like to do as a next step, but also alternatives on how the customer plays a role.

Our Dutch football hero Johan Cruyff once said that every problem brings along an advantage. The Corona virus affects many, it brings doubt, fear and sadness. Without ignoring reality, I also see a possibility, a possibility to develop ourselves in running virtual meetings.

I invite you to try it 5 times to overcome the first challenges. #stayathomechallenge

Pascal Struijk

Training Consultant

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