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  • Ian Forbes, Managing Partner, Europe

The End of Face-to-Face Selling?



Societal norms are being forcibly torn away, customs such as the simple handshake which has been the staple of closing a deal for thousands of years, are now being written off in the face of mitigating the spread of Covid-19. However, despite these cultural changes, this does not impact the ability for clients and businesses to conduct business. What does, however, is the sudden zeitgeist of 'social distancing'.


The '2 metre rule' in force around much of the world has rendered face-to-face selling unacceptable, dangerous even while we are in this situation. Maybe when social distancing restrictions are relaxed then the old ways will resume, but I think we are seeing shifts that will outlast the easing of restrictions. 


The custom of face to face meetings, the foundation of trade and bartering in our civilisation, and far older than the handshake, has now spontaneously become less relevant. You could say that ever since the advent of high-speed internet and video calling this has been always coming, but this global crisis has certainly accelerated it, breaking cultural barriers in the name of necessity, propelling Zoom and other video calling services into household names. 


Are we seeing the end of face-to-face selling in this current environment of lockdown and social distancing? 


Maybe not the end, but certainly a shift. Ask yourself: 'Why do we arrange meetings with clients? What purpose traditionally does a face to face meeting serve?' 


We all know the answer: to make the client feel comfortable and at ease with you and your business, build trust and rapport, gauge emotion through eye contact and body movements, and the list goes on and on.


However, ask yourself now: 'Do you think your client would feel comfortable, or have time to build rapport and trust with you, when they are too busy wondering about what diseases you could be spreading, or how soon they could take their mask off?' Even when restrictions are officially dropped, will people want to go back to the old ways? 


For those who are thinking video calls will soon be rendered obsolete once lockdown has ended, it is looking increasingly likely that B2B as well as clients will adapt and embrace this shift towards technology over more traditional face to face methods as this will be the way to generate better levels of rapport. Until a vaccine is found and distributed amongst billions of people (and perhaps even after that), a client will never feel completely comfortable in meeting others face to face, and so it is up to you and your business to maximise their confidence and trust in your services and your reputation however you do end up communicating.


So what to do – the answer is obvious, simply be better than most when doing video calls. We still need the opportunity to gauge people’s energy levels, examine subtleties from their body language which is vital to communication but now it is online. When it comes to business video calls with clients, a professional and technically sound setup is crucial in this new norm of B2B. No longer are expenses for travel and commutes a priority. Instead spend a tiny percentage of what you would have spent on airlines and car expenses on  your video set-up such as the resolution of your camera, your microphone and even the background view of your own home to optimise the professionalism you portray to your clients and prospects.


Personal Presentation


How you present yourself on a video call is more important than you think. Although it might seem tempting to turn up to a video call wearing 'around the house' clothes, it is vital to view these video calls as an extension of yourself and your business. How you present yourself, and the effort you make in your own personal presentation will influence your perception by the client. They might assume that if you don't care enough to spend some time making yourself appear business-like you may not care enough to deal with their business professionally.


In addition, maintaining the discipline of eye contact is crucial in this new digital medium. If your eyes are darting across the screen, although it might seem normal behaviour for using a monitor, to the client at the other end it will simply look like you are nervous or distracted, either of which will send the completely wrong message and does not instill confidence. Make sure to move your camera and the position of your video call on your monitor so that it always appears that you are looking directly into the camera, even if sometimes you might not be.


Equipment


Spending time to search and invest in the equipment necessary to reinforce client confidence in you during this period is vital. The investment that would yield the most immediate and noticeable difference in your video calls is of course your camera. Despite some high-end laptop cameras being able to record in 720p, your best bet still remains a full HD separate webcam as the ability to adjust and position your camera relative to your monitor is invaluable. Also, it might not sound like much, but the difference between 720p and 1080p when on a live video call will ensure that you client is not distracted or annoyed by a pixely screen instead of focusing on what you are saying.


My personal recommendation would be a Logitech C920S HD Pro Webcam which should sell for about £85. This has an inbuilt microphone as well as recording in 1080p and so should be perfect for any video conference call you might need to do.


The second most important part of your equipment is a microphone and speaker set up. If you already have a functional webcam, you may not need one, however try recording yourself and listening to it back, you may be surprised just how bad some of those microphones are on laptops, and even on specialised HD webcams. The less said about 'out of the drawer' Apple Airpods or other phone type earphones the better. 


Another option is business headphones with inbuilt mic, which if high quality like a Jabra headset, can sound great. However, if you are worried this might make you look like a junior person working in a call centre rather than a senior executive you will need a separate microphone and speakers.


Most desk microphones are quite large, and also work best when only 10 cm or so away from your mouth so probably the best option would be a clip on lapel or lavalier USB condenser mini microphone. These are low cost around £15 and are small and discreet, looks professional, and most sound very good for voice. There are wireless versions but forgetting to charge it and running out of battery mid meeting, will send a very unprofessional message. For the corded version, make sure you have a cord or an extension long enough to move around easily if you need to stand-up on the call.


Background


Once you have invested in the equipment necessary for instilling confidence and trust in your client during your video calls, it is important to consider a professional background, and what message that will convey to those viewing it.


You have two options, the first being your current home background, however it is important to make sure that it is clean, tidy and professional. A little bit of personality is sometimes even welcome, but ensure that it does not distract from you or your message. 


The second option being a green screen set up, the support for which is already built into Zoom with no additional programs needed. However, a space is needed for this to cover the view of your webcam, and at present green screen set ups, like all at-home business equipment is in high demand. The danger of a green screen set up, is if you lack a professional background for it, then it can easily undo the trust and confidence built by the rest of your professional set up. For example, having a space background, or a city that you don't live in, may look eye-catching, but will unfortunately distract and in some cases send the wrong message.


Lastly give some thought to lighting. Like every visual recording, conference calls work best with a high level of lighting on you and on the background (if you wish to show it). So consider investing in a £50 or so desk light that has a adjustable light for both colour and intensity and an adjustable stand so that you can direct the light onto your face, and have other simple lighting for the background.


So that sums up what you need – less than £200 and some thinking will allow you to create an environment for effective face-to-virtual-face selling for as long as it is needed. 


In the end, however, this digital medium presents you and your business with the opportunity to embrace the new and capitalise on change. Once this virus has been eradicated, you will be surprised how investing in video conferencing will become the new norm. Investing now will ensure you remain ahead of the curve for when face-to-face selling goes the way of the door-to-door salesman.


Stay safe and keep selling.



- Ian Forbes, Managing Partner, Europe