customer service hello

Way back when—sometime in the last century—business technology started changing the way we communicate. And with the introduction of new tools like answering machines, recorded messages, faxed memos, and, eventually, email, the same cry went up from the same folks:

“Depersonalization! I don’t want to talk to a machine, and neither do my customers!”

And true, some of those early attempts were almost comical in their inefficiency, as anyone who’s ever been trapped in an endlessly-circulating call forwarding system can attest.

Some of those memories and comments have come back to roost this year, as our business environments have been turned upside down. And I’m hearing the same type of response from some veteran sales professionals, who have built a fairly successful career out of drop-in visits and warm and friendly in-person chats.

“Zoom? FaceTime? I don’t want to talk to a computer, and neither do my customers!”

The only difference is that in today’s environment, we don’t always have another option. And if the choice comes down to “sell or don’t sell,” well, that’s really not a choice at all, is it?

As sales professionals, like it or not, we need to embrace the new language, master it, and use it to maximum advantage. The immediate future remains uncertain, and holding our breath until things “change back to normal” is not a productive strategy.

And maybe not everything SHOULD go back to normal. A lot of veteran producers were lagging well behind new technology that could greatly enhance their productivity. It’s important that we see these recent developments not as an impediment to doing business, but a cue to explore new techniques and do business better.

Let’s face it: for years, sales pros handled urgent situations or golden opportunities by hopping in their car or jumping on a plane to get critical “face time” with the customer. And right now, that’s just not feasible.

But the virtual sales process does NOT have to be impersonal. And billions of dollars worth of deals are transacted, and relationships built, every year with nary a flesh-and-blood handshake.

Effective, interpersonal communication can take place in every medium. But, like everything else—and say it with me—“it starts with a PLAN.”

Before you sit down for any type of virtual prospecting, you need to research your prospects, create your conversation goals and question list, and build a schedule that respects the amount of energy working in these new media requires from you.

Get at least an estimate in your head of how many calls or visits it may take to achieve your goal, and schedule your time accordingly.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking sitting in front of a laptop is physically easier than driving across town to an office complex. It depends on how you’re wired—play to your strengths!

Finding your “voice” and adopting a conversational, yet professional, tone in your writing and remote presentations is the next step. It might even require a little practice, or a few rehearsals with colleagues or family. If you’ve never hosted a Zoom or video meeting before, don’t schedule your first one with your most lucrative client or prospect.

And speaking of conversation, remember that a one-word reply in any media, while it might be the most efficient way to communicate, can also come across as brusque, uncaring, and even rude. It doesn’t take more than a few extra seconds to add the words you’d be using if you were answering the question in person.

You may have seen the virtual chat between “Odin” and “Thor,” a widely publicized customer-help session that took place on Amazon. If not, you can check it out here:

It’s exactly what I’m talking about.

If that shows us anything, it’s that virtual selling does NOT have to be “impersonal.” Open yourself up to the new tools that have been thrust upon us, master them, and bring your voice to the table—and enter the age of “virtual selling.” You’ll most likely be much better at it than you ever expected.

Because even in these challenging times, you need to….


P.S….I almost forgot!….we’ve moved! Orange Leaf Consulting has settled into new digs, located at 1 Sansome Street, Suite 3500, San Francisco CA 94104. Our new phone is 415.590.4878. Email remains the same—keep in touch!