This past year we have learned how to shoot and edit videos showing great new products, make personal introductions to prospects by video and do training of all types. We have organized and participated in dozens of online meetings. We have discovered that the background your camera sees can reveal a bit more than you may have wished. And we have learned that it is quite a bit harder to sell (counsel, advise, suggest, demonstrate, etc.) in the electronic world.
The physical world of in-person meetings will eventually return. At least the option to conduct in-person meetings. But there is a significant number of people who have gotten so comfortable using their new skills, they claim that they will not be going back to the “old” way of in-person selling. My recent casual (think non scientific) survey of sales people in the promotional products media industry tells me that more will return to the old in-person selling than will not. They will continue to use some of the new skills to support their efforts - but not as a substitution for them.
It seems that a good number of customers have expressed a desire to go back to actually having a physical meeting. The trust factor goes way up on surveys when that question is asked. Not having physical meetings has been a necessity with customers, but many are looking forward to the “old” ways!
So what are we to take away from this? First I think that the claim that everything is going online isn’t completely accurate. Consider that using electronic communication has been a great tool during the past year, but essentially you were taking care of existing accounts that already know you. If you continue only operating on this playing field, you will be setting yourself up to be competing with every online site and all your competitors who also want to be online only!
The most important thing that is lost is you! You are what sets your work with clients apart from everyone else. Your clients started doing business with you because they wanted to, because they trusted you, because you were real. When (if) you become just another name on a signature line or a small photo in the corner of the e-flyer, you will have reduced the potential transaction down to price alone. Unless you are willing to cut your profit to the bone to compete with online sites, they will be difficult to beat.
The most compelling reasons for getting back to face to face (mask to mask) meetings are that clients want them and if you don’t show up, someone else will! Sure, there will be accounts that are just fine with only remote communications, but being ready for those that want to see you is critical.
When we can get back to seeing clients is still unknown. As vaccines get wider distribution and many people recover, the risk and transmission is expected to decline. Even when seeing clients is again an option, wearing masks will be part of our everyday business attire. Arriving at a meeting with a mask with your logo and having new, fresh individually bagged masks for your clients is a great way to start a meeting and provide samples that just might lead to a nice order.
From a marketing standpoint, using masks or travel size sanitizer as your own logoed leave-behind is an excellent way to let your clients know you care about them, not just their business.
Don’t wait! Now is the time to talk to clients about getting back to business. Many businesses are slowly getting staff back in the office. Having the necessary protective materials is essential and so is their advertising and marketing. Let them know that as soon as it is OK to make a visit you will and until then you will make sure they have what they need. Start the conversation and orders will follow. Sit and wait for an email or online order and you may not be around when things really start to pick up.
Just to be clear, I love the internet and electronic communication. As a resource for information it is greater than anything that we had before it. The encyclopedia set and annual update my parents invested in for their kids education are nothing more than decorative curiosities for the book shelf. As a substitute for in-person meetings the internet falls short. Businesses try to mitigate this by having “chat” features or other attempts at interactivity, like showing staff members and sharing their length of service or other “human” characteristics, trying to make things seem more personal.
For now and for your clients, just remember that the handheld device you can email and text with is also a telephone. Call your clients. Inquire about their health and the health of their business. Let them know you are ready to help with their marketing and to be sure they have the PPE to keep the office safe. A text message will not have the same impact.
Gregg Emmer is chief marketing officer and vice president at Kaeser & Blair, Inc. He has more than 40 years experience in marketing and the promotional products industry. His outside consultancy provides marketing, public relations and business planning consulting to a wide range of other businesses and has been a useful knowledge base for K&B Dealers. Contact Gregg at email@example.com.