Winning business at a social distance and the new normal

Adrian Howard
July 1, 2020

Talking to clients by video isn't ideal, but it's still possible to adapt - and use this time to build relationships and reputation for the long term.

When it became clear that we were heading towards a global pandemic, the thoughts of most business owners turned towards survival. This first stage was all about managing cash or liquidity and then cutting costs and accessing government schemes to keep the business going.

For those businesses that survived stage one, the second challenge was: how do you go out and win work when you have to stay in?

“This is a marathon, not a sprint”, said Matt Hancock, UK Health Secretary, when speaking to the Commons about the Covid-19 pandemic. It might be overused, but the same analogy is applicable to winning new business in the current economy.

Regardless of any pre-pandemic plans, it’s going to be much tougher than expected to win new business. It’s a difficult market for everyone, and potential clients are particularly unlikely to respond to anyone who looks as though they’re trying to profit off the back of the crisis. Instead, businesses should use this time to build relationships that will create opportunities for the future.

“We’re not out there meeting new people, so people are returning to valued relationships that they have already built up," says Richard Murray, Chief Commercial Officer at business growth advisor Elephants Child. "Go around everyone and ask, ‘How are you?’ Just share some comfort and support. It may be a longer burn, but any good will you can engender will pay off in the long run, because people will remember you have reached out. So, get out there and talk to the people you know. Ultimately, that will be the best route to market at the moment.”

Open for business
While now probably isn’t the right time for a sales pitch, it’s important to let your network know that you are up and running.

“The second part of the conversation can be about making sure they know you’re still open for business and that you want to win more, because not everyone will assume that you want to scale up at this time,” says Richard.

Be sure to include the fact that being open for business means having adopted new processes that tie in with government guidelines and guarantee the health and safety of your employees. Your network needs to know that you’re responsible.

For the foreseeable future, the days of networking drinks, shaking hands and exchanging business cards are behind us, which means winning a cold client is unlikely. Instead, focus on client referrals through your existing network.

“Mentally, signing up to a new provider is a bigger step than it was six months ago,” explains Richard. “If people are doing business and want to take on new suppliers, they will want some sort of personal recommendation and testimonial.”

He advises reaching out through existing clients, offering them a value exchange on services if they refer a friend who successfully signs up.

Richard also suggests leveraging your existing network by using them as testimonials.

“If you have someone who’s thinking of using your service, introduce them to one of your clients," he says, "Let them talk about their experience of dealing with you, because that’s going to start to give people that reassurance.”

The new normal
Now is also a good opportunity to build brand visibility by offering complimentary webinars. Make sure they’re authentic and interesting, and encourage clients to bring people along.

“It may not mean business tomorrow, but the value that you would get off the back of that is tremendous in terms of building those longer-term relationships that will turn into clients,” says Richard.

By now most people are getting used to this digital business environment. For many of us, speaking to clients and potential clients over video conferencing is the safest – and only – option, which means more and more business deals and negotiations are taking place online.

Video technology has enabled the creation of a virtual meeting space that’s not too far from a face-to-face scenario. However, it does make us work harder. Research shows that it’s trickier to read body language, it’s harder to engage, as most of us don’t look directly at the camera when we’re talking, and we struggle more with silences on video than we do face-to-face. But something as simple as moving further away from your camera, so hand gestures can be seen, can make a big difference.

In fact, using video instead of in-person interaction could actually be a positive. Video conferencing does have the benefit of being a considerably cheaper means to conduct negotiations than face-to-face meetings. And amid today’s economic uncertainty, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing after all.

Business is looking different for everyone at the moment but you can thrive. Safety allowing, most of us would rather be out there, tangibly winning business in a way that we know works. But by strengthening your existing network, having the right conversations and utilising technology to have those conversations in the best possible way, you can build not just relationships, but pipelines and return to revenues.