In Australia and New Zealand, restrictions have eased over the ability to meet with customers and partners in person. And as the vaccines are rolled out, it’s only a matter of time before we return to some semblance of the way meetings used to be. But just because we can meet in person, does that mean we should?
Resistance to change
Most people would prefer to remain in their comfort zone rather than venture into unknown territory. It is basic human nature to try and keep your environment and customs constant. We saw this 12 months ago, where so many people found it challenging to uproot their normal office lives and work from home. A common sentiment was “I can’t wait for all this to be over, so I can get back to normal”.
But what a difference a year makes. So many people have become used to working from home that going back to the office will be a change. Companies that faced resistance from employees for not being able to go into the office, are now experiencing resistance for asking their employees to go back to the office! In fact, a Fortune Magazine survey of over 9,000 knowledge workers around the world in December found that nearly a third of workers don’t want to ever return to the office.
And we’re seeing the same thing from partners and customers in response to requests for face-to-face meetings. Quite often a request to meet is being countered with a “let’s just set up a Zoom or Teams call”. We need to acknowledge that a certain proportion of our partners and customers will opt for a virtual meeting format, permanently. And that means we need to get better at engaging and enabling remotely if we expect to survive.
Effectiveness of digital interactions
Late last year, we posted a blog highlighting a McKinsey report that explored how COVID-19 has changed B2B sales forever. One of the most interesting charts in that article was the effectiveness of the virtual sales model in reaching and serving customers. Whereas in April 2020, 54% of businesses thought the new model was equal or more effective, by August the same year that number had jumped to 75%.
Certainly for our business, I know I much prefer to present a sales proposal over a web conferencing platform than sending it as an email or meeting in person. The ability to edit it on the fly, present supporting documents or reference sites, bring in other subject matter experts in our organisation, and control the flow of what is presented makes this a superior approach. If you don’t believe me, feel free to ping me on email@example.com and I’ll demonstrate the process.
Virtual skills as a point of differentiation
When companies like Microsoft and Twitter give employees the option to work from home and not ever go back to the office (unless they want to), you know others will follow suit. And I have to imagine the Finance people are going to be analysing the impact on profitability from no-one flying last year and questioning all future travel requests. The conclusion to all this is that a large proportion of businesses (I don’t have an accurate number yet) are going to be working from home well after the pandemic “is over”.
So if some of your customers (be they end-users or partners) either want to, or have to, work from home, then you need to get better at selling in a virtual environment. Can you imagine a sales person saying “I know my suit is old-fashioned and doesn’t fit any more, but it’s the suit I have so I’ll just keep wearing it”! Of course not. And yet I’ve heard sales reps say the exact same thing about their notebook with an old camera or poor audio. Your image is based on how you present on screen, just like it used to be how you looked when you showed up to a meeting. If your technology is out of date, time to get something better.
And finally, it’s worth noting that it is much harder to be interesting on a web platform that it is in real life. Think about how much time you spend doing email while you’re on a conference call, and I guarantee your partners and customers are the same. So you need to recognise that you have to work harder and be better than before if you want to get and keep their attention. If you’re looking for tips on how to do that, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll point you to some useful resources.