At Kettering, we pride ourselves on our ability to be the ‘boots on the ground’ for our clients here in the US and providing great in-market representatives for our clients. However, with the shift from in-person meetings to online, the value add of being able to provide ‘high touch’ service with in-market stakeholders on behalf of our clients has evolved.
So how do you remain personable when you can’t meet in person? The answer will vary depending on the breadth and depth of a client’s relationship in the market and where they are at in their ‘go to market’ strategy. The following are a few tips and tricks we’ve developed to manage the new norm in client relationships, without losing our personal touch:
Without the usual body language cues we have in face-to-face scenarios, it can be difficult to ascertain whether a client is feeling positive, negative or showing ‘buying signals’ in a conversation. On a video call, you are still able to maintain your attention to these cues, though they may look different.
This can be especially difficult to track when you are giving an online presentation. In these scenarios, we’ll post an additional person in the meeting beyond the presenter. This person’s role is to look out for facial expressions (e.g. looks of confusion, interest, etc) and body language (e.g. leaning into their computer screens) that the presenter is not going to be able to pick up on while they’re in the throes of presenting. This allows us to come back to those signs expressed by the attendees and make sure there is clarity, to ensure there is a well rounded discussion.
One positive of the shift out of the office and into the home, is that speaking more openly about our personal lives and struggles has become normalized, as we all face different challenges as a result of the ongoing climate. Genuinely asking how your counterpart is doing can make a big difference in building or strengthening a relationship. If their business or personal life is suffering, don’t go in for a quick win, rather, think about how you can help them now. Showing a little humanity is going to have a more positive outcome than business as usual – even if you don’t reap the benefits right away.
Think about what’s in it for them
A common mistake in business engagements is a focus on your own needs, instead of what your counterpart may seek to gain. Make sure you center conversations on your stakeholder and their needs. Some questions to consider: Who are they? What are they interested in? What challenges are they facing at the moment and how can you help? What can you leave them with – regardless of the outcome – at the conclusion of this engagement that will leave them feeling good after? This can be something as simple as some food for thought (an idea), something more tangible like an introduction to somebody they would click with, or an actual physical gift!
While we’re all working from our home offices, which offers an interesting insight into client’s lives that you’ve probably never had before. Maybe there’s a book on the shelf that you’ve read, or a pet taking a snooze on their lap? Use these background cues to start a connection with them on something outside of the workplace. Make sure you keep a record of their pet’s name or a point of connection, so you can follow up with them at a later date about it.
This can also be a really good way to keep up a non-work check in too. Were they reading something you’ve also read? Maybe you share a podcast episode featuring that author, or someone talking about the counter perspective to start a conversation.
Use snail mail
A lot of us are stuck working from home right now, and getting deliveries can be a real highlight! Depending on the breadth and depth of the relationship with your stakeholder this may or may not make sense, but if you can, send a personal note, some flowers or a bottle of wine to show your appreciation for the relationship, recognize a birthday, or say thank you
Above All – Know Your Stakeholder!
Make sure you are still using knowledge, either in the public sphere or through established personal connections, to ensure you’re remaining personable with your counterpart in these digital times. Know what their engagement preference might be and curate your meeting to that effect (e.g. some people love breakfast meetings, others hate them). If you know the person likes to have a drink after work – suggest a happy hour drink via Zoom! If you normally meet this person for dinner – ask them what they would like and have it sent to their home and join them for dinner online – this is an important way we connect.
By focussing on how we’re connected, it’s still possible to build and maintain relationships from afar. In fact, with the relaxation of “professionalism” that’s been forced upon us, there are new opportunities to connect that we didn’t have before. By seeing this shared experience as an opportunity, you may find that you finish 2020 with stronger relationships than ever before.