. 7 min read

COVID-19 Forces Efficient Customer Meetings

One of the oldest viruses in the world infected insects more than 300 million years ago.   I guess it’s safe to say that we’ve been living in a “viral” world since the beginning of mankind. So what’s different with Coronavirus?  Why is this particular virus causing enterprise purchasing decisions to halt, (and grocery stores to run out of toilet paper?)

One major change is in how we are responding to new viral mutations when they break out in the general population. Seemingly overnight, the COVID-19 outbreak has moved local governments to encourage physical distancing between people. These recommendations have altered the way we think about communicating with each other. The handshake is now being replaced with a polite nod, a humble bow, or even the gracious tip of a hat. Companies are responding by sending their employees home to work.  The work-from-home movement (WFH), is suddenly affecting every demographic; men, women, children, and of course sales teams. In fact, the mandate to practice social distancing in the workplace has caused the once hallowed face-to-face customer meeting to become something of the past, at least for now. The sales efficiency expert in me is completely on board with temporarily eliminating in-person meetings in sales cycles, as long as we don’t also eliminate the quality of these meetings. Fortunately, the vast majority of sales teams are already seasoned in the use of online meeting technology. Here are 6 ways you can keep your customer meetings productive and successful in the post COVID-19 online meeting world.

Check your tech

If you are a salesperson with a pulse, you have a web meeting technology to use. ( If you’re a salesperson without a pulse, you need to be buried.)  The difference between connectivity at work and home can be dramatic. Especially if all your neighbors are re-watching Breaking Bad at the same time that you have your important closing call scheduled.  Whether it’s Zoom, Webex, or Google Meets, the tech is available, stable, and ready to host your customer meetings. What might not be ready is your ability to pull off an online meeting at home. That is why should do the following before your meeting:

  • Test all technology (including camera/video, Wi-Fi, and screen sharing) Login and make sure you have the proper rights
  • Check video quality.  Use green screen backdrops for improved video performance.  If you are using Zoom, virtual backgrounds are a great option. Especially if your condo or apartment isn’t like the Four Seasons or you aren’t in the habit of making your bed.  Amazon has an inexpensive kit that goes for as little as $80
  • Record the meeting for future reference.  Notes are great, but being able to actually pull up the recording for reference or clarification is always more clarifying

Request video

Prior to starting your online meeting, request that everyone turn on their video.  It goes without saying that the sales rep needs to be ready for video as well. ( Pajamas and backward hats don’t count.)  I learned this the hard way as a new sales manager. As a lifelong exerciser, I’ve always planned my workouts first thing in the morning, followed by breakfast and preparing mentally for the day’s work.  I didn’t realize some reps don’t intuitively know that every sales meeting requires pre-game prep. I specifically remember a telecom sales rep I managed from Miami that would roll out of bed, light a Marlboro, and start throwing back Cuban coffee before morning customer sales meetings.

Regardless of your morning routine, you need to shower and get ready for the day even if you are working from home. Over the course of my career, I have managed many territories from a home office and I always dressed appropriately for whatever was scheduled for that day. If I was meeting with a bank, I would plan on wearing a suit and tie.  If I was meeting on the golf course, I would wear a polo shirt, sneakers, and new baseball hat that didn’t have visible dirt and sweat. The rule of thumb is dress appropriately for the activity and one level nicer than your customer's standard dress code.

Make an agenda

The best remote meetings have an agenda created beforehand so that customers and sales support come in knowing what it is they will be talking about. This is particularly important if you think you're having a negotiation and the customer thinks you are still scoping the solution.  If an online meeting doesn’t have an agenda, the first 20 minutes are wasted figuring out what it is you are meeting about. Here are some things to think about when creating an agenda:

  • Develop a purpose for the meeting.  Think about one or two things that need to be true for the meeting to be a success.  What outcome are you hoping for? Do you need to know who is the signer? If you have earned the right to ask then stick to your guns and make sure by the end of the meeting you know who will be signing your contract
  • Create the meeting structure (for example, when and for how long you plan to discuss each talking point)
  • Outline the key talking points
  • Team members/teams that will be in attendance
  • Assign what each team member/team is responsible for bringing to the meeting
  • Include time for a summary of the previous meeting and assumptions about where you are in your deal cycle
  • Include any relevant documents, pricing, research, or contracts
  • Schedule time to review the meeting outcome and next steps

Moderate your meeting

In order to create a seamless experience, make sure you set clear guidelines and protocols for online meetings.  You may want to spend the first two minutes outlining how your meetings are conducted. Then make sure you introduce everyone attending the meeting, and review their roles. Finally, give everyone a chance to contribute.  Here are some general tips to ensure the meeting flows without the “umms” and “ahhs.”

  • Pay attention to whoever is speaking.  Don’t stare at your phone while people are presenting, speaking, or asking questions
  • Communicate that you will be providing times for input.  Never interrupt a customer when they’re speaking (or attempt to speak over them).  I see this all the time and believe me there is nothing more important you can add than hearing from the customer directly
  • Don’t work on other tasks (like checking email) during the virtual meeting
  • Turn off all notifications and make sure your cell phone is on silent
  • Make sure all team members are in a quiet area free from unnecessary distractions

Engage ALL participants

Come to the meeting with thoughtful questions for any individuals whom you know will be in attendance.  The questions should be directed by name to the quiet person on the customer team or the more vocal distractor. The goal by the end of the call is to have asked every person in the meeting something meaningful.  Asking good questions as the meeting progresses is a sure way to solicit engagement and to understand the mindset of everyone on the customer team. Good questions will advance your deal better than any other practice.  It’s your opportunity to talk with stakeholders, establish rapport with other members of the buying process, and keep your deal on the rails.

It may go without saying, but only invite those who are needed to attend the meeting.  Allow the customer to invite anyone whom she feels needs to be in attendance, but as it relates to inviting internal people, smaller is better. Just because you can show up with the bus full of your company's resources doesn’t mean you should. Fewer people means fewer interruptions and fewer questions from non-customer folks asking for clarification.  Customer meetings are not the time to clear up curiosities. You need to find out what is keeping someone in the meeting from making a purchase decision, solution and provide information around those issues.

Meeting follow-ups and assignments

Wrapping up the meeting is as important as having a great kick-off.  The end of the call is the time to summarize, review important comments, and establish the next steps.  It’s also a great time to validate concerns and establish timelines. Most sales organizations have some kind of close plan or sequence of events template that they use for this purpose.  Whether it’s the first call or the seventh, it’s critical to walk a customer through your internal & external milestones (contract signature being just one step in many). Although the reps or sales managers focus will be on obtaining the signature, it is prudent to use a customer-centric approach.  Here is one example of a sequence of events.

No alt text provided for this image

Note that the tasks are both vendor and customer-related and they have owners and completion dates called out.

In summary, the WFH mandate has created a distance from our customers but also a great opportunity.  If the sales team prepares properly for every customer online meeting, the chances of quota attainment will go up dramatically.  Remember to do the following steps:

  1. Check your tech
  2. Request video
  3. Make an agenda
  4. Moderate your meeting
  5. Engage ALL participants
  6. Meeting follow-ups and assignments

Take advantage of social distancing protocols brought on by COVID-19 as an opportunity to practice conducting better meetings in general.  It’s been well documented that the savings in cost and time with online meetings are more than justified. Working remotely might be here to stay if you can do it successfully.  By adding high close rates to the convenience of working from home, customers, employees, and employers will end up winning.

Leave your comments and thoughts below.

Justin Edwards is Vice President of the Sales Practice at Mercato Partners, which is a Growth Stage Investor based out of Salt Lake City, UT.  Justin has 20+ years in Sales and Operations working for some of the world's most optimized sales environments. His passion is scaling operations, identifying inefficient processes, and designing highly optimized startup & growth stage companies.

Inquiries or comments: