Virtual meetings work, but they have limits. Salespeople still need in-person meetings.
Some day, face-to-face meetings will be all the rage again. In fact, they need to be: One Harvard Business School study found face-to-face meetings are 34 times more successful than email efforts!
But until we’re back to meetings as we knew them, sales pros want to make in-person get-togethers safe and successful.
“Remote work may be the new normal, but there are also times when getting everyone together in the same room is extremely valuable,” says Howard Tiersky, CEO of FROM and owner of New York City’s Innovation Loft, which has made extensive updates for the coronavirus era. “Periodic in-person meetings—where you are thinking, strategizing, and innovating in physical proximity—make daily remote work far more effective.”
Particularly, in-person meetings lead to more effective selling.
They allow salespeople to make personal connections, build rapport and deepen relationships. Personal meetings also give salespeople better opportunities to clarify complex information, understand customers’ situations and challenges, and negotiate in good faith with winning results.
Plus, when you have in-person meetings, you have a captive audience. Prospects and customers more likely listen to and engage with your presentation than if they were behind a screen where they can easily multi-task or zone out.
When in-person meetings are most critical
Lean toward virtual meetings as much as prospects and customers prefer them. Never push in-person meetings if customers and prospects aren’t comfortable in that setting. Instead, adjust your content to be ideal for virtual meetings and the platform you use.
“Yes, it’s more challenging to host an in-person meeting now, but it is possible to do so and still follow social distancing guidelines,” says Tiersky. “Online meetings are great, but there’s nothing like getting together in the same physical space. Business is still a human activity, and there are times we need that human connection without a computer screen between us.”
For customers and prospects who are interested in meeting in-person focus on the essential stages throughout the sales cycle. For instance, when you:
- Need to build strong relationships. Yes, you can do virtual networking events, but they can’t replicate the organic relationship-building that happens when people share space. In these early relationship-building situations, you might be able to arrange meetings in outdoor locations where you aren’t confined but still able to engage freely.
- Must tackle a complex problem. When prospecting, you might be able to handle discovery through probing questions virtually. But once you’ve identified the serious challenges, you’ll likely need to meet to make sense of those and clarify potential solutions. Or, if you’re helping a customer, salespeople might need to be onsite to identify and problem-solve in existing conditions.
- Need a long meeting. It’s taxing on everyone to sit in on a Zoom meeting that’s longer than 60 minutes – regardless of it being for fun or for something more serious such as introducing a value proposition.
- It’s urgent. When customers’ needs are urgent, it’s best to meet personally so there are no misunderstandings, and you can deal with issues in real time. Note: Creating urgency to close a sale doesn’t fall in this category. Only plan to meet when customers stress an urgency.
Keep everyone safe for in-person meetings
When salespeople and prospects or customers agree an in-person meeting is ideal, you’ll want to keep everyone comfortable in the surrounds and feeling safe about the situation.
Try following these guidelines:
- Create as much space as you can. Move meetings to the largest open space as possible. That might be a big conference room, a distribution center or operations floor. Space seats six feet apart if you’re working with multiple decision-makers or a team within a current buyer’s organization. You might even create what Tiersky calls a “racetrack” – a walking path on the outside perimeter of your large space that’s been staged six feet back from the seats. Attendees can walk in one direction as they come and go.
- Move outside as much as possible. Bo Peabody, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Seated, recommends looking for and booking open space, such as restaurant patios and sidewalks designated for outdoor gatherings.
- Open up. When you must meet inside, Peabody also suggests opening windows or outside doorways to give participants a more open-air, safe feeling.
- Avoid elevators. When possible, meet in areas where no one has to get on an elevator. When not possible, invite guests to ride one or two at a time.
- Use technology to avoid issues. As participants get engaged, they may accidentally get closer to each other than social distancing guidelines. You want to be sensitive to everyone’s level of comfort with this, so you might offer participants social distancing apps, which buzz when someone gets too close to another person.
- Reconsider the meal. Many sales meetings include food – often buffets, which are being eliminated in the coronavirus age. You might try individually bagged, delivered meals or snacks. Or invite attendees to plan an order with an attendant from a menu you’ve arranged ahead of time. Then the attendant can deliver the food to a sanitized area of your meeting space for participants to grab.
Maintain a safe meeting space
If you meet with customers and prospects in their facilities, you have limited control on the cleanliness of your meeting space.
But if you can control the environment – at your facility or a neutral meeting place – take steps to ensure it’s safe. Let customers and prospects know what you’ve done to keep them safe, too. Try to:
- Disinfect. Wipe down – or have someone wipe down – surfaces before you meet and between meetings with disinfectant. Arrange for deeper cleans overnight.
- Put out hand sanitizer, wipes and masks for participants who want them.
- Avoid handshakes. In sales, people are inclined to shake hands. And salespeople are probably reluctant to turn down an extended hand from a prospect or customer. Get ahead of it by putting up signs dissuading handshakes in your meeting place. Or mention it in messages before you meet: “We look forward to the meeting, and regrettably, in following social distancing guidelines, we’ll forgo our regular pleasantries such as handshakes.”
- Ask participants what they’re most comfortable with. Err to the side of caution, following CDC social distancing guidelines. But give prospects and customers the freedom to choose how they want to participate.
- Keep it as simple as possible. Focus more on the relevant information you need to gather and share and less on the ancillaries. “The days of lavish meetings are over (for now). Over-the-top meals, entertainment, décor and table settings will be a thing of the past,” predicts Jordan D. Clark, CEO and managing partner of FACE2FACE Meetings & Incentives. “The value of being together has gone up, and that in most cases is privilege enough in the new world we are in.”
- Meet virtually big, in-person small. David Adler, CEO of BizBash, suggests salespeople plan two meetings when they need to work with multiple decisions-makers or present to a large group. Plan a virtual event for the whole group where you give an overview and take fewer questions. Then schedule smaller, in-person meetings to answer follow-up questions, build bonds with the main decision-makers and uncover the right fit.
Socially distanced, safety-conscious meetings present new challenges: disconnected communication and misunderstandings.
Salespeople want to avoid those troubles under any selling situations. So it’s important to plan ahead for maintaining clear communication throughout in-person meetings.
Try these strategies:
- Offer see-through masks or face shields for participants. Everyone can relay and receive messages better when they see full facial expressions as people speak.
- Give participants a bigger voice. As people space out and speak from behind masks, it becomes harder to hear each other. Use a microphone and provide one at each seat where customers or prospects will sit.
- Amp up the whiteboards. Put a whiteboard and markers behind each seat so you and participants can collaborate and conceptualize together without using the same resources.