As salespeople we’re used to working remotely with customers, over the phone and via e-mail, even if we’d instinctively prefer to meet up face-to-face wherever possible. But the current environment means that we need to master videoconferencing / video calling as an essential tool both for working with individual customers and holding remote meetings.
Doing the occasional internal VC for a team meeting is not necessarily adequate preparation for this big shift. At SBR we’ve realised we need to raise our game, both as sales practitioners and as users of VC technology to deliver programmes. Here are a few of the lessons we’ve learned.
First you need to get the hardware environment right.
– Hardwire your computer into the internet connection via an ethernet cable if you can. It won’t magically provide more bandwidth but it may improve connection stability. Turn off other wi-fi connected devices, phones, TVs, iPads etc to reduce bandwidth competition.
– Get the lighting right. Don’t sit with the window behind you, you’ll end up as a dark blob against a white background. Use a couple of desk lamps (one each side), ideally one with some warmth. If you can’t do anything else, put a lamp behind your laptop shining into your face so you are well lit.
– Make sure you are the right distance from the camera so you are properly framed: not too far way, not so close that they can see up your nose. The camera should be at or slightly above your eye level. Often your laptop is sitting on a table which is too low – stick a couple of books underneath if necessary. Look at the camera not at the screen (as far as possible): this gives the customer the feeling of real eye contact and is much more engaging.
– Check what is in the video shot. Of course no-one expects you to be in an office environment, but tidy up so that whatever is behind you is not a distraction. Some applications allow you to blur out your background or add in a false one – that’s OK for personal calls, less good for professional ones. If you let people see that you are working professionally but from home it will help to establish rapport since that’s just what they are trying to do themselves. Ultimately, a neutral wall is better than a sink full of washing up.
– Wear headphones, don’t rely on the inbuilt microphone/speakers in your laptop. This reduces the likelihood of feedback and echo (which can be very disruptive). Mute when you’re not speaking.
– Keep your camera on even if they choose to have their camera off. And use relevant visual aids (simple slides!) to keep the flow going.
Next you need to sort out the software:
– Use the software that the customer (or prospect) is most comfortable with rather than getting them to adapt to your system. This isn’t just about respecting their preferences – although that’s not such a terrible idea – it also means you’re much less likely to waste time as they struggle to find the link, download the app, unmute their microphone, etc. And some customers may have restrictions imposed by their companies’ IT security policies.
– This means installing, practicing, and being proficient with at least Zoom, Microsoft Teams, FaceTime, Google Hangouts and Skype For Business. Not just being able to send an invite and open a call but mastering document sharing, muting, chat sidebars etc. Practice using these with your colleagues until you feel confident and proficient.
– If you’re going to present/screen share, make sure that notifications are turned off (use Focus Assist for Windows, Do Not Disturb for MacOS). This avoids all kinds of potential embarrassments as e-mails/IMs appear on the screen you are sharing. Close down other applications on your computer unless they are something you’re planning to share.
These may seem like “table stakes” but unless you get them sorted out you risk wasting a lot of time and losing traction with customers.
It’s a lot harder projecting energy into the meeting when you are remote.
– Imagine the Beaufort scale, where Force 0 is Dead Calm and Force 12 is a Hurricane. In a normal face-to-face meeting you would aim to project at about Force 4 (Moderate Breeze) rising to Force 5 (Fresh Breeze) when you are making an important point.
– For remote meetings you need to raise this energy level. You should aim to be at Force 6 (Strong Breeze) most of the time, occasionally rising to Force 7 (High Wind).
If you have a routine to prepare for F2F meetings, think about a routine for your VC meetings.
– Wear the clothes/make-up/cologne that give you energy and confidence. There is a reason that actors wear their characters’ clothes when they rehearse; what you wear doesn’t just influence the way that others’ see you, it changes the way you think.
– Research shows that wearing more formal clothes actually helps you to grasp abstract concepts better. Athleisure wear may be comfortable, but it won’t help you have a successful discussion.
You need to get your body in the right position to do this: physiology matters.
– You may find it easier to maintain energy if you stand up to do your calls. If you do, make sure that you have the camera angle right and that you stay nicely in shot.
– If you are seated, make sure that you have both feet on the floor, legs uncrossed (and definitely not sitting with your feet tucked underneath you).
Body language also sends messages to your customers.
– Try not to scratch your nose, rub your eyebrows, chew your lips, tug your ear lobes. This gets interpreted as being nervous/dishonest.
– When you’re listening, keep your mouth closed, lean forward slightly. Leaning back in your chair and away from the camera sends the message that you are bored and unengaged.
– Minimize “resting bitch face”, don’t grin inanely but smile slightly and keep your eyebrows up. Nod occasionally to signal that you are listening.
– Use your hands to reinforce your enthusiastic engagement in the discussion, it’s another way of projecting energy.
– When you’re listening, don’t cross your arms, keep your hands in front of you, separate, relaxed, in view of the camera, resting. Don’t fiddle with a pen, paperclip, piece of paper.
Whatever happens, don’t lose energy by pulling your shoulders in and dropping your head. Move your body, stretch, roll your shoulders before the call to get energized. Make sure the energy comes through in your voice – posture nice and straight, plenty of oxygen in the lungs, shoulders back.
The key insight is to make the meetings shorter.
The default should be 45 minutes not 60, otherwise you will run out of energy and they will run out of attention span. Run the meeting at a brisk pace and be conscious of working through the different phases of the conversation.
– Open the VC call five minutes before the start of the meeting. This gives you a bit of time to restart if you have some technical issues and sends the message that you are keen to welcome everyone to the call.
– Use the fact that these are unprecedented times as a way to build rapport at the start of the meeting; it’s a natural point of commonality for us all. Make people comfortable that you can pause for interruptions if necessary, that you won’t take it amiss.
– Be rigorous about the way you facilitate, make sure that everyone is actively invited to contribute (“What are your thoughts at this point Ms X?”), summarize, clarify. Frame things assertively: imagine that you are the captain of the ship, you need to be clear, confident and unambiguous. Keep checking for understanding.
– Use peoples’ names more, especially if their cameras are off and you can’t get any visual feedback.
– If you use slides, keep the visuals very simple – otherwise you will talk, they will read and your impact will be lost. Make them simpler than you would if you were meeting face-to-face. Be happy to stop sharing so that you can see everyone if you are expanding on points.
– Wrap up positively. Do a “round the table” to be sure you’ve got any last inputs, summarize, conclude. Make sure that you keep the energy level up at the very end of the session.
And finally … apply the same kind of discipline that you would to any other important sales meeting. Prepare properly, contact key stakeholders in advance to understand context. Ask great questions. Listen carefully. Take notes. Make follow-up phone calls to make sure you didn’t miss something important. Send out the meeting notes promptly. Follow-up on your action points.
Necessity is proverbially the mother of invention, and current circumstances are clearly forcing us to adapt. But mastering the art of the VC will have great benefits in the long term, so we should grasp this opportunity to raise our game.
Bill Bauer, Director of Product Development
Contact Bill on email@example.com if you’d like to know more about running effective video conferences. All call us on +44 (0) 207 653 3740
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