I’ve spoken to quite a few people lately in traditionally less-digital industries like insurance and human resources, and I’ve noticed a trend of near-despair in these conversations. Many of them have well-established careers spanning decades, and their work is built on face-to-face interactions.
They’ve excelled in their fields by having a firm handshake, the keen ability to read body language, the know-how to effectively run large events and the power to speak compellingly to a room full of people. The skills they’ve worked so hard to develop can’t be used in the environment we’re living in.
As much as we’d all like to believe things will go “back to normal” sometime soon, the reality is that we’re likely to operate in a socially distant ecosystem longer than many might prefer. This means that many of the digital interactions we’re having now will persist. People may get accustomed to them and come to accept that it’s easier and more convenient to do things this way.
If you’re a service provider or salesperson, not being able to connect in person is a massive hurdle. Consider this a guide. There are three distinct areas that you’ll need to translate to digital applications. This is how I recommend tackling them.
1. Communicating Effectively
It’s not uncommon to hear the refrain “Let’s just meet in person — it’s easier.” For many people, there is a trust factor involved in seeing someone eye to eye. Having an open, free-flowing discussion is simply easier in person.
When people can’t meet in person, the impulse is to default to phone communication. But we’re going to have to build relationships digitally and visually on an ongoing basis, and doing so only on the phone will become ineffective. It’s easy to become disconnected and distracted if the phone is the only mode of interaction over an extended period of time.
What you need to focus on is being “multichannel.” To steal an idea from e-commerce, you as a salesperson or service provider should be anywhere your customers are. Whether that’s WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom, GoToMeeting, FaceTime or Facebook Messenger, it doesn’t matter. If you want to be a service provider in a digital age, you have to go where people are.
As this new reality rolls on, people will become more fluent, and common ecosystems will develop. But the onus is on you as the service provider to be available and ready on all channels. It’s not up to your customer to figure out how to use your preferred corporate systems.
I find WhatsApp to be the lowest common denominator. If you can convince someone to install it on their phone, you can easily connect over video. It’s quite easy to adopt, no matter what kind of phones you and your customers have.
2. Selling Your Ideas
I love working in a conference room full of people. But replicating the organic way ideas are built in person in a digital world can be difficult.
This is why you must develop the ability to make good digital pitches. This means investing in good-quality internet, Wi-Fi, audio, headphones and a microphone. To excel at explaining your ideas digitally, you’ll also need to go all-in on videoconferencing and have a solid pitch ready to deploy.
Regardless of how it’s delivered, don’t forget that a pitch is about telling a story. It isn’t one size fits all. Make sure you’re curating your pitch and content specifically for the people you’re serving.
Additionally, you need to invest the time into making it a quality pitch. Practice selling it — to your colleagues, your boss, your spouse. Do whatever it takes to become good at delivering the pitch. Know the material inside and out. Anticipate the objections and conversations that will happen, and know how you’ll respond to them.
For this to work, you must have good internet and Wi-Fi. When this pandemic first took hold, we were all struggling to get our stuff together. You should already have upgraded your setup if this kind of work is part of your gig.
Ensure that your upload speed is at least 3-5 Mbps. Upgrade your router. Don’t rely on laptop microphones — the sound quality is abysmal. Lastly, always record the session and offer that recording to the customer so they can share it easily within their company.
3. Building Trust
Typically, trust is built by tackling obstacles together. It happens over late-night work sessions or time spent organizing events. Reading body language is also important but is obviously harder to do right now. You can hear tone and inflection on voice calls, but it’s not the same.
I recommend trying to focus on connecting consistently. This means scheduled connections (whether weekly or daily) as well as informal communication like forwarding them an email of something you thought would be valuable or sending a text to check on how a launch went.
The customer should know that they’ll be able to get a hold of you no matter what. They should feel like they can “drop by the office” anytime — in a digital way. And you have to be the one to open the door so people know they can communicate with you in this way.
Always push to use video. Regardless of whether they have their video on, set up the meeting on video so they can see you. Show them that you’re there. That this time is important to you and you’re giving them your full attention. If you show up like this, time and time again, you’ll begin to build their trust.
Lastly, remember that everything is harder for everybody right now. Put yourself in the client’s shoes. What was enough six months ago isn’t going to be enough now. The way we react to situations and how we look at the world has changed. Go into things understanding that you’re going to have to do a bit more to gain and build trust.
This article first appeared on forbes.com on August 21, 2020