There is a small truism about connecting with people that anyone in sales can tell you, and they learned it early in their careers. When speaking to somebody on the phone, they can hear the difference when you smile. It’s true. And it demonstrates a tried and true concept that is more critical now than ever before:
It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.
In sales and negotiations, the uncertainty and fear spread by COVID-19 has created unanticipated obstacles and challenges. Potential customers are risk-averse and reevaluating their budgets and priorities while trying to decipher the winds of the market. Even more oddly, it is a crisis with no clear time horizon to help establish expectations.
These universal challenges are exacerbated by many smaller ones. Most teams are rapidly adapting to remote work environments and the adoption of technologies to facilitate more collaboration and face time. The need for connection is great and simple. Connection breeds trust. According to Zoom, 82% of users believe there is greater trust in video calls over phone calls (ironic since Zoom is losing trust due to privacy concerns, but I digress!). That’s because connections forge the bonds of trust.
Today, making or breaking the remote-sales game relies fully on our ability to make those connections. To balance reason with emotion. To navigate crisis delicately while leading our customers with confidence.
Begin with an Understanding of the New Reality
It is easy to jump straight into sales tactics or methods with step-by-step instructions. There is a place for that, but we recommend starting with a stark look at your business. What is the typical dynamic of your sales? Is the information you need to share incredibly complex or relatively simple?
These simple questions become crucial when we apply them to communications models like the media richness theory. There is a sweet spot of extremely effective communication methods that shifts depending on the complexity of information being shared. Everything outside of this zone either oversimplifies the data or makes the medium unnecessarily complex.
For example, if you need to walk through calculations and data projections that require significant context, you would be unlikely to dump everything into an email or text message. Likewise, if you just need to provide a straightforward update on logistics, you may not need to have a conversation.
While face-to-face dialogue is the pinnacle of building connections with our customers, it is not always the preferred method of communication. Nor should it be the default. But the surge of video conferencing technology, and the scramble to adjust to new business norms, may mislead your teams into thinking they must find that face time via video.
By keeping purpose paramount, you can be judicious about when to schedule face time versus when to default to less-rich communications methods. Client preference can guide you here, too.
Apply Hard Rules Within the New Framework
If you have taken the time to evaluate the complexity of your information and the ideal communications channels, you can begin to formulate strategy. Even though in-person sales calls are no longer possible, you can still identify the necessary “areas of engagement” that will lead you to success. These areas will include facts and details as well as softer-skill relationship and personal touches.
We recommend a balance that leads with empathy but maintains brevity. Be direct and respectful of their time. Here are a few of the standards of our new age that will set you up for success:
Be a human first. It doesn’t need a long, meandering discussion about world politics, science, or global markets. But it is impacting everyone. There is uncertainty, fear, and anxiety. So, start by acknowledging it; ask how they are doing. You can be caring without being contrived. Given this can often be your first impression, make sure it’s genuine. And, remember, unless there is a deadline looming, taking the time to do this usually pays significant dividends later – better to slow down and build a relationship than rush through and miss creating a connection.
Provide a focused agenda. In our experience training and coaching thousands of sales professionals all over the world – this is an obvious skill that is often overlooked. The agenda provides a clear plan for the conversation to ensure you respect their time and achieve both parties’ goals. If the agenda includes virtual log-in, dial-in, or other logistics, send it in advance of the meeting as a reminder. Why is it so critical? It demonstrates you are prepared and allows you to re-direct the conversation if it goes in the wrong direction.
Position yourself for success. This is both a hard and soft skill. Logistically, test your audio, microphone, and software in advance of the meeting. Know where your Wi-Fi connection is most stable. This allows your focus and attention to remain on the meeting and your customer. You can dictate the terms, own the agenda, and lead the action steps. Think of it this way – how do you perceive the person who dominates the medium, has an organized office in the background, comes prepared, and manages the meeting versus someone who stumbles to log on, has clutter and chaos in the background, has their audio drop in and out?
Listen and Synthesize. Be engaged during the meeting as you would in-person. Paraphrase what you’re hearing and jot down follow-ups and action items. Clarify any updates they have on the impact of the virus on their business forecasts to ensure you have a clear understanding of their needs and priorities. Before wrapping the meeting, provide a list of next steps (even consider shared screen writing them together for maximum co-commitment).
Finally, follow-up. Your digital presence is 100% of your identity during this time, so you won’t have the satisfaction of a handshake to instill confidence in the deal. Instead, your actions must speak for you. So, send your thank-you note or recap in a timely manner and do the things you promised you’d do.
We can’t know the duration of this crisis or how long its impact will be felt once we start to recover from it. All we can do is reflect on our business efforts, own our positioning, and work with smart confidence to lead our customers. After all, it’s not just about what we say – it’s how we say it, too.
Andres Lares is managing partner at Shapiro Negotiations Institute. He will be presenting a free webinar with colleague Jeff Cochran at 2 p.m. Tuesday, April 28 on the topic – “Is Your Sales Team Leaving Money on the Table?” You can register here.