How to sell when you can't meet with your clients

by Steve Yastrow: Author, speaker, consultant and founder of Yastrow & Company, a Chicago-based consulting firm.

So, have you been in many in-person meetings with customers lately?

Since March of this year, when our world instantly turned upside down, one of the most common questions I’ve heard from sales leaders is that they are concerned about how their sales people will fare when they have to do 100% of their selling remotely.

This isn’t a brand new trend. For years, sales people have been spending less and less time meeting with customers in person, and more and more time communicating with their customers remotely. This trend has, of course, accelerated in 2020, with many sales people having 100% of their customer communications remotely.

No matter what kind of recovery we have from this pandemic, it’s clear that the days of frequent cross-country trips just to see one customer are over. Companies have learned that they don’t need to bear this expense and, moreover, many companies have been pleasantly surprised to see that remote selling can be a very effective and productive use of sales resources.

But remote selling isn’t easy, and brings its own set of challenges. Here are the most common remote sales challenges I hear from salespeople and sales leaders:

  • “My customers hide behind emails, and I can’t get them to answer me.”
  • “It’s hard to keep my customers’ attention when we’re on the phone or Zoom.”
  • “It’s difficult to showcase our products and differentiate ourselves from the competition when we aren’t in the room with our customers.”

These challenges are real, but they aren’t new. Customers can always hide from us, it’s always hard to keep their attention, and it’s never easy to differentiate. The real issue is how to deal with these challenges with the extra handicap of being remote.

Close the distance gap with relationship-building conversations

Relationship-building conversations are the key ingredients of successful sales. They help you differentiate yourself in your customer’s mind, and earn your customer’s commitment. Yes, that’s harder on Zoom, Teams, or the phone, but it can be done.

During the Great Depression and World War II, President Roosevelt spoke to the American public in a series of radio addresses called “Fireside Chats.” To avoid sounding impersonal as he broadcast to tens of millions of people, the president would imagine he was speaking with individual Americans (waiters, teachers, factory workers, etc.,) sitting with him around his fireplace. The White House would then receive letters from citizens saying “I felt like the president was speaking to me.”

We can all channel FDR and imagine we are with our customers, in person, imagining the technology as transparent. Your goal in every remote customer conversation is to build your relationship with your customer. Sure, the meeting can have other goals – discussing their needs, discussing your products and services, reviewing proposals, etc. But, no matter what else needs to be done in this meeting, have relationship-building as a key goal for the interaction.

In every remote customer meeting, focus on the three elements of a relationship-building encounter, which I describe in Chapter 2 of my book We: The Ideal Customer Relationship:

  1. Devote 100% of your attention to this conversation with your customer. (No multi-tasking!)
  2. Focus on dialogue, not monologue. (Ditch the Pitch!)
  3. Personalise. (Make it about them!)

Make the technology transparent. Focus on the conversation. Focus on the relationship.

Useful resources:
Yastrow & Company
Steve Yastrow has acquired a singular reputation among business decision makers as an outside partner who challenges organizations to take a fresh look at themselves from the inside out. He offers clear action steps to improve business performance through Brand Harmony and ideal customer relationships.
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