For those looking to engage in sales and business development outreach efforts from afar, there are many creative and resourceful ways to build and maintain meaningful relationships remotely. However, with many modern executives under the gun, pressed for time and suffering from videoconferencing fatigue, it’s not always easy to grab and hold prospects’ attention. With a few simple shifts in strategy and thinking, you can still find ways to convince prospects to carve out time on their calendar and seal the deal — all without ever having to leave the comfort of your own home.
How to Virtually Build Relationships
At BIZDEV: The International Association for Business Development and Strategic Partnerships, we encourage audiences to start by remembering the importance of being generous and thoughtful. After all, even in a virtual world, the best way to build and grow relationships remains finding ways to surprise, delight and maintain a shared sense of human connection. To let clients know that you’re thinking about them, and to make outreach efforts more memorable and attractive to prospective customers, keep the following in mind:
1. Send Care Packages by Mail Up Front
Real-world business networking often starts with grabbing a cup of coffee or sharing a glass of wine with a potential client. You can still do so in the age of COVID-19 by having bottles, glasses, cheese samplers and similar novelties shipped straight to prospects’ doorsteps in advance of an online chat. Packages that include clever keepsakes (i.e. mugs, bottle openers, growler jugs and more stamped with catchy refrains) also offer the opportunity to leave a fun forget-me-not behind that helps you stay top of mind.
To maximize impact here, make it clear in your initial outreach query to potential clients that you’d like to send a special surprise their way up front, and consider tying these souvenirs in with a fun or witty social distancing theme. For example, we’ve worked with partners to send clients COVID-19 lockdown kits complete with snacks, streaming music playlists, digital movie download credits and copies of our recent books.
2. Make Meals an Experience
Bonding over a shared breakfast, lunch or dinner remains one of the most powerful ways to build and nurture bonds. While we can’t currently meet up and break bread in person, these types of experiences can still easily be facilitated using on-demand home delivery services and videoconferencing solutions. Whichever solution you choose, note that all dining options suggested should be unique and keyed to an instantly memorable theme in order to quickly pique prospects’ attention.
A major part of business development is simply showing appreciation for your clients and creating shared opportunities to spend time with each other that can help you get to know one another better on a personal level.
Alternately, you can use the element of surprise — “A secret package will show up at your doorstep 30-60 minutes before our meeting” — to positive effect here as well. Furthermore, whether you ultimately settle on exotic cuisines, food from a four-star chef, or a local or seasonal favorite, all parties should receive meals from the same restaurant if they’re local to one another or a similarly-styled venue if remotely situated. If you’re having trouble deciding where to dine, keep in mind that many meal kit vendors can deliver world-class dining options straight to everyone’s doorstep. And don’t forget to dress for the occasion either: To subconsciously reinforce a sense of familiarity, and put clients at ease, be sure to comport yourself as if you were dining out as well.
3. Provide Some At-Home Entertainment
While one-on-one meetings can be productive, it can also pay to invest in creating shared, group and VIP-style digital experiences for potential clients online as well. For example, you might organize exclusive virtual dinners for executives, host invitation-only online meet-and-greets with industry thought leaders or celebrities, or even hold a live-streamed wine tasting or cooking class with a prominent sommelier or chef.
Likewise, many companies are putting on virtual gatherings and events or holding webinars and Q&A sessions with well-known personalities as a means to grab audiences’ attention. Whether you share panel discussions by prominent executives or hold online conferences (complete with online breakout rooms where individuals can privately chat and network), options here are infinite. A host of free and paid technology and online streaming tools offer the solutions to help you create compelling online meetings and events — and add polls, surprise guest cameos and other ways to boost audience interactivity throughout.
4. Invite the Family Along
Countless households across America have been cooped up in their homes and are looking for unique and creative ways to relax, unwind and entertain. You can help break the ice and score major bonus points with clients by creating engaging experiences (think trivia nights, exclusive live-streamed concerts, painting classes and more) for the whole family to participate in. Keep in mind: A major part of business development is simply showing appreciation for your clients and creating shared opportunities to spend time with each other that can help you get to know one another better on a personal level.
The more you can build online opportunities to put a face to a name, the more you’ll stand out from the crowd. So the next time you’re looking for ways to conduct online outreach, don’t be afraid to come up with a unique way to pass the time, and more excuses to invite the whole gang along. While an online poker tournament or board game night may not seem all that productive on the surface, you may be surprised at how far it can go towards reinforcing a sense of empathy, familiarity and fun. After all, it’s important to remember that people tend to favor doing business with other people that they like — not just those with the best products, services or deal terms.
Clearly, new ways of doing business demand more creative approaches to business development. But when it comes to networking with clients and cultivating new opportunities for an organization, there’s little need to worry. As you can see, enterprising sales and marketing professionals will always find a way, virtually or otherwise, to get the deal done.
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