“I know these unprecedented times are crazy, but we should hop on a call!”
The global pandemic wiped out the pre-Covid world of a typical seller. Coffee dates, office drop-bys, after-work drinks, national conferences – every typical face to face interaction with prospective clients vanished, leaving many sellers wondering how to do their jobs.
On the surface, Zoom meetings and e-gift cards seem to do the trick, but establishing and maintaining connections exclusively via online channels has proven very difficult. So what is the best way to reach out to a new contact or follow up to an email?
Here are five tips on how to make stronger connections in an online world.
Make yourself useful
The number one question you need to ask yourself before you hit send on an email is, “Am I providing value?” Your contacts receive hundreds of outreach emails a day, and trust me, they’ve heard every version of “We should hop on a call to discuss more.” You need to provide value with your communication, whether it’s new data on the habits of their key consumers, or an article about something they mentioned in your last meeting. Before Covid-19, the first meeting was your shot at sparking a relationship. Now, your initial outreach emails have to do the heavy lifting to show who you are and what you can offer.
Show your imperfections
One side effect of the pandemic is that everyone is on the same page. Everyone can commiserate with being cooped up inside all day, wearing the same sweatpants, and doomscrolling while scanning for vaccine updates. “There’s power in being genuine,” says Ravenna Wilkins, associate director of sales at Jun Group. “It’s so much easier for clients to join a call without their video on. I break down that wall by showing them I’m on the same page as them – my hair’s not curled, I’m not all dolled up, and I’m willing to show my face! Most of the time, they’ll end up turning their video on.” If a client stays off-screen, don’t worry. Maintain eye contact – even if you can’t see them.
Instead of treating a client to after-work drinks, send them a gift card for their favorite cocktail. What about the client who you used to work out with on Wednesdays? Invite them to a pre-work Zoom boxing class. Your monthly newsletter that accumulates industry news? Tack on a quarantine recs section to share what shows you’re watching and recommend while stuck at home. Remember to always gauge what’s appropriate; you never want to spam your clients with gifts. A little bit of pandemic-safe goodwill can go a long way.
Increase your outreach
Work from home life does come with a few silver linings. For example, make use of the extra time you save by not commuting to work and spend 30 min each morning doing new client outreach. Says Sima Cordner, associate director of sales at Jun Group, “We have so much more time! I used to have to build in a 40-minute buffer on my meetings to factor in taking the subway downtown and trains running late. Now I can do three meetings back-to-back all before noon.” Take advantage of the extra time, but remember – for every person who responds to your email, there are 20 who don’t. Reply rates have gone down because email is now the only way to connect with people. Take the rejection in stride, and move on to the next.
Turn horror stories into success stories
If you do happen to fall face first, don’t try and cover it up. Instead, put your ego aside and be honest. Associate director of sales Chase McArthur says, “One client of mine responded to one of my follow-ups with, ‘Stop bugging me!’ I responded, ‘I sincerely didn’t mean to bug you. I’m just working hard to gain as much perspective as I can about your company. For what it’s worth, I dread these types of responses – they’re a stressor for me every day.’ The client immediately responded, ‘I understand and I’m sorry to hear that. These are definitely difficult times. I’m happy to jump on a call to learn more about your company.’” Be as upfront and honest as you can, and your clients will reward you for it.
In summary, building deep and long-lasting relationships in a COVID world is harder than ever, but it’s an achievable goal with the right approach. Add heart, humility, and humanity to your outreach and meetings, add value by providing thought leadership and relevant content, and flex your creative muscles to stand out. Your clients will thank you for it.