The coronavirus pandemic has been a challenge for all of us. One of the biggest business challenges for insurance professionals is how to manage prospect and client relationships.
No one knows when the economy will reopen or when we will achieve anything approaching normalcy. But in my humble opinion, things will never be the same after this pandemic.
In terms of business communications, we seem to have already made major adjustments. Booking travel and lodging to meet with prospects and customers is time-consuming and expensive, and virtual connectivity is rapidly growing in acceptance. I suggest you embrace this reality and make it a permanent component of your business development and relationship-management activities. Not only will you improve your current online meetings, but you’ll also be a step ahead of competitors less eager to embrace this technology.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a strong believer in in-person “face time” with prospects and customers. It’s a critically important vehicle for developing a mutual comfort level, an emotional connection and trust with a fellow human being. But even when we can meet in person, that experience might be different.
Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, has been a regular and reassuring voice for all of us. Fauci has suggested that it would be prudent from a health standpoint if we permanently discontinued hand-shaking in the future1.
I’m hoping that virtual meetings will be a supplement to, not a replacement for, in-person meetings. But whether they are supplemental or return as the primary form of connectivity, I offer the following tips. (Please note that these tips apply to one-on-one meetings with a prospect or client. I’ll address online group meetings in a future column.)
Master online meeting technology
People are connecting through a variety of platforms, including but not limited to Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, Skype, FaceTime, Zoom and others. It’s important to know how to use these technologies. That requires some commitment. These platforms all have easily accessible online tutorials. An abundance of YouTube videos can also show you how to use these platforms easily and effectively. Furthermore, it’s important to be conversant with a variety of different platforms because your prospects and clients may be using different ones.
The good news is that, although there are important differences in what each platform can do, the methodology to use each platform involves some fairly common approaches. Once you’ve mastered one or two, it’s usually easy to adapt to and master new platforms.
Ask for a video-based meeting
Multiple researchers and studies consistently point out that nonverbal cues are a critical part of how we communicate. Looking into someone’s eyes, seeing their body language and how they respond to questions you ask or things you say are a tool salespeople need to be successful. Video calls can effectively give you this information. So ask for one. Put your request in the subject line of your invitation.
You can easily justify it by explaining how important it is for you in terms of providing high-quality customer service to see someone, at least onscreen. Of course, you can’t force someone to have a video meeting if they don’t want one; they may have legitimate reasons for refusing (they’re not in their work clothes, they have kids or pets running around, etc.). But if you don’t offer the suggestion, you’re likely to lose an opportunity that can provide you with critical information about your prospect or client.
Bring a high level of professionalism to your virtual meetings
Just as you need to master the technology, you also need to optimize your online meeting. Again, countless articles and videos are available with advice that includes, for example, how to position your device so you’re at eye level to the camera and situate the lighting so you are clearly in view and not hidden in shadows. And don’t forget to follow the same principles of professionalism I’ve discussed in earlier columns -- being punctual, listening and responding to your client, paying attention to grooming and wardrobe, etc. – that are just as important when you communicate virtually.
Conduct a professional, agenda-driven meeting
People hate meetings, and for good reason: Most are unnecessary or a waste of time. (I’ve written extensively about this in past columns.) So make sure your meetings are perceived to be of high value to your target. That means the subject should be about an issue, product, service or some other matter that addresses the needs of your prospect or client or otherwise gets them interested, excited and highly motivated to meet with you.
Your meeting should be driven by a purposeful agenda that identifies three to five matters that will be addressed. The last item should be a regular fixture on your agenda: next steps. To me, next steps will clearly identify who is going to do what, why it needs to be done, and an agreed-upon time frame.
Consider informal video chats
I’m a big fan of connecting with prospects or clients over a cup of coffee or after-work drink. Consider asking for a quick video chat in that context as an additional way to maintain connections.
The bottom line? Virtual connectivity is here to stay. Gain a competitive edge by embracing it fully in your business development and relationship management efforts.
1 “Dr. Anthony Fauci on How Life Returns to Normal.” Wall Street Journal podcast. 7 April 2020.
As always, I would love to hear from you. Email me your comments and suggestions.
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