Face-to-face communication has always held a crucial place in the business development process. But in the current environment, where building relationships in-person is extremely difficult, almost everything is being done digitally. This presents new challenges for firms looking to share their message.
Businesses are having to adapt quickly in order to survive and stay relevant in the long term; nurturing existing connections and establishing new ones are both central to sustainability. Companies must consider how they built relationships in a pre-Covid world, and how these strategies can be adjusted to work remotely.
At the heart of all business development – virtual or otherwise – is the question of what is important to your audience. To capture the attention of prospective clients, you have to speak their language, recognising the megatrends they are working with and offering unique insight. In this period of upheaval, the underlying needs and aspirations of businesses are in flux, and business leaders are looking for guidance – crucially, everyone wants to know what a post-Covid future will look like. Now more than ever, your thinking and your ideas are what will cut through and get you noticed.
Tapping into the minds of your prospects virtually is challenging; whereas you’d usually bump into people at events and conferences, now the networking process isn’t quite so natural. However, businesses should take this as an opportunity to touch base with past connections. And, with remote working somewhat flattening hierarchical structures, there is the chance of gaining access to people that wouldn’t have been readily contactable before.
In a remote working environment, integrated marketing and communications has had to evolve. Virtual materials, such as starter emails, weblinks and blogs, are now the key tools to help cement your company’s messaging and build your visual identity.
Relationship building in the current climate is a learning process for everyone, but here are some of my top tips.
Luckily, there are still plenty of events going ahead virtually and, once you get past the slight awkwardness of introducing yourself from behind a computer screen, they’re a great opportunity. The removal of logistics concerns has made it easier for CEOs to find time in their busy schedules to join webinars, and new business prospects will potentially find it easier to get to know you through virtual events due to the reduced cost and time commitment on both sides.
And you don’t have to stop at just being an attendee. You can now create really compelling events because you can field your very best experts in any region or time zone – though, as a result, expectations on speaker quality have shot up! We may well see these high expectations stick as in-person events open up again.
Communication styles may have changed, but the fundamentals of relationship building have not. Although small talk can feel more challenging over email or video conference, these exchanges are still just as important for building rapport. In this time of upheaval, clients will appreciate you taking an interest in their lives.
As valuable as small talk is, every conversation must have a clear purpose. Know your value proposition, make sure you make your USPs really obvious and get to the point quicker than you might face to face. Establishing a clear and honest narrative, built on a shared sense of purpose will build trust.
The process of business development is all about timing. Make sure to keep in touch before, during and after a meeting, and even if the opportunity to work together is not there at that time, the effort you’ve put into developing that relationship is never wasted. If you can stay on their radar, there may be the possibility of collaboration in the future.
When holding meetings virtually, interpersonal factors, such as smiling and using people’s names, become even more important to build a connection. When pitching, try to work in opportunities for clients to interact with you, rather than just listening to you speak. And, most importantly, make it bespoke; everything you cover should ultimately come back to how you can add value to their business.
It’s important to remember that although the majority of business interactions are currently virtual, opportunities for face-to-face conversations are gradually opening up again – make the most of these where you can.
In many ways, the blurring of professional and personal boundaries means that we are building more authentic relationships with clients. As important as it is to consider your backdrop and how you present yourself in a professional manner, if a family member accidentally appears on a call don’t let it interrupt your stride – we are all in the same boat.
Now is not the time to put networking on the back burner. We all have to adapt in order to stay connected and keep moving forward.