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  • Writer's pictureWillem Lambrechts

The Loudest Voice

Governments are cautiously starting to relax the lockdown. Economic life, or what is left of it, starts picking up. Everybody is encouraged to “go digital” and work from home. That is probably fair enough for a lot of people conducting tasks that do not involve interactions with clients, suppliers, partners.

But how about sales, or looking from the other side, procurement? Haven’t we always been told by trainers, coaches and managers that the human relationship is the foundation of the business relationship? Yes, we have and rightly so.

Reading newspapers, magazines, blogs and online posts, there seems to be a consensus that for the next foreseeable period, mobility will be heavily reduced. Airlines will cut less profitable routes, travel costs will increase, companies will be more reluctant to approve travel requests…

No doubt that the virus will have a significant impact on relationships in general and international business relationships in particular. Networking, prospection and the whole sales process will be different and more difficult. Going digital sounds nice, but how to build solid relationships remotely? Or, even more basic, how to draw the attention from your target decision makers in the torrent of data and information that is poured on their screen and in their hard disk every single day?

Which voices are heard, and hopefully captured and which ones aren’t?

The answer is likely to be twofold: First you have the loudest voice, often amplified with vast budgets for online promotion on all kinds of (social) media. Whether these voices shout the most relevant and inspiring messages or not is of less or no importance. They are being heard and captured. Secondly and more importantly, there is the trusted voice of long-standing relationships. Those people that don’t appeal for your attention unless they have something to say which is likely to be relevant, informative and interesting.

Having the message heard and noted is one thing. Lifting it up to a dialogue is another one. Which of the two described voices is most likely to lead to a conversation and a real sales opportunity? Yes, correct, easy answer, isn’t it?

Let’s assume that the first successful contact leads to an introductory meeting. Excellent! Well done! Where and how should we have that first contact? I’d be surprised if anybody would respond that ideally the first meeting would happen online. Of course, you want to be with your prospect in his or her preferred environment and certainly in the same space. Why? Because before talking business you like to establish the perfect atmosphere for an open and honest conversation, you want to have “rapport” with your discussion partner. Only when both parties are “on the same wavelength” an exchange of relevant and valuable information can take place. Can rapport be made remotely? Yes, it can, but only if the relationship already existed prior to the call. As a first contact? Not at all.

Rapport is being established (or not) starting from the very first eye contact, typically at the reception or before entering the meeting room. This is a very social moment which lasts during the walk to the meeting room, sitting down, serving coffee and exchanging business cards. In the meantime, both parties gauge each other and discover common subjects of interest. Maybe some framing of the “meeting-to-come”, some background is exchanged as well. The minds get tuned.

During the meeting, no doubt about that, every message exchanged triggers immediate feedback, not at least by the body language of each of the participants. Instead of just seeing the speaker, at every moment in time, we can see the entire audience. What a treasure of information!

And then, the meeting is finished, participants leave the room and le moment suprème est arrivé : first hand feedback, hot from the press! Not a treasure but a fortune of information, the basis for the next step in the sales/procurement cycle!

So we miss valuable information by “meeting” on-line, ok, but same counts for our competition, doesn’t it? Maybe, maybe not. In the first case it would be a solid differentiator for you, in the latter a significant push-back.

I hear you saying : “all good, but circumstances are what they are, we all will have to live with corona’s consequences and we cannot financially justify a local presence in every single geography that we deal with. We need to accept the compromise of remote relationships”.

Before the times of unlimited travel and mobility, only a few decades ago, local sales agents, wholesalers and brokers were as common as insurance brokers are today. Their added value was and is proportional to the complexity and the mission criticality of the products, services and solutions at stake.

A local broker will have the trusted relationship you need and he or she can act locally on your behalf and physically attend customer and prospect meetings whilst you participate remotely yourself. Pre meeting rapport gets established, intra and post meeting feedback gets captured and routed to you in combination with the more generic local client, business and market context.

Today’s quite extreme market conditions, following the black swan called Covid-19 and the draconic measures that it triggered, force all businesses to question their models and strategies and focus on their core competencies.

The core competence of a broker is building trusted relationships. The core competence of a financial technology broker is building trusted relationships in the financial eco-system that has been and still is going through a technological revolution.

I’d like to conclude with a quote from best selling author and sales guru Jim Keenan:

“Selling through social channels is the closest thing to being a fly on the wall in your customers, prospects and competitors’ world.”

No further comment needed or as we say in Dutch “moet er nog zand zijn?”

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