Global Leadership Dialogue – Connecting with Customers

A discussion on how to gain traction with customers in a virtual world. This article explores topics raised from the executive dialogue held on 12.11.20.

It’s a completely different world

As with previous Global Leadership Dialogue sessions in this series, the findings were complementary - There is a real risk you will become a laggard if you don’t try new ideas and routes to market. You must stay in the game by changing your game. You may not think some technological idea or using a different social channel will work, but you must quickly switch.

In shifting focus, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain - you may even find something that completely reinvents the way you do business. Now is the best time for experimentation, small, fast, and scalable based upon customers’ needs, and their changing requirements. In some cases, this may mean that you must be ruthless with your product lines. Ditch something that you love personally; but being selective now could end up being your survival tactic.

It is worth remembering that no-one should hold the right to knowledge. Young mindsets and different perspectives could reinvent your business.

It’s a completely different world now but building trust at all levels will be a key factor during and post COVID 19.

“It's all about trust, you have to find ways to trust your team and motivate them to be successful. What we are doing now isn’t going to go away fast and some of it could be around forever, even if it's only 20%.”

Historically we are very reliant in using the traditional methods to build relationships and these relations are built up over time. Typically, we build and demonstrate trust through a mixture of both formal business development meetings, and it can take many informal meetings to build a friendship.

The handshake icebreaker is not available in our virtual toolkit

The challenge posed by the pandemic is that we have moved straight into formal business meetings on a video call and often striving to build up relations and friendship using other forms of comms such as WhatsApp. But it does not feel as comfortable – it feels slightly forced to get to know each other- because it is,  

However, building relationships using technology is now becoming the norm with some companies continuing to win business without the traditional face to face meetings. People are adapting and finding ways to achieve new business.

Clearly, we have had to adjust our style and even our looks (the suit and the shoes have not had an airing since March) in this new world. Sometimes the home environment removes some of the formality and breaks the ice quite quickly. Dogs and children breaking into some of the most high-level conversations can help individuals break bread and form a bond. Virtual communication methods are still evolving, and people are open to trying different ideas and platforms.

Virtual makes it faster to get meetings in schedules, in many cases you no longer have to get past a gatekeeper and getting a meeting at a senior level can happen much quicker than the traditional “find a slot in the CEO’s calendar”. They have more time from home, but building trust still feels harder.

“There is a specific mental-leap to take the next step to have a commercial relationship formed in an organic way – gained through familiarity. It is an exchange and not a sales process.”

Industry differences

It does depend on the industry sector, for instance for a food manufacturer and developer hosting food tasting sessions and food interactions are much more complicated online. Some companies are therefore being forced to be more creative; especially with how they promote products in the online environment. Video usage has exploded, and YouTube is working as a route to market for product exploration and as a sales tool, especially within certain cultures, for example in Asia. Video blogs and clips sent to customers to show them what you are producing can complement other discussions. Video can really help supplement other methods to visualise and can prove important to focus on details.

“Regarding trust, the technology facilitates the conversation - but the trust is built through dinner and bar chat. This is where you build the personal trust. It feels very different online.”

From bricks to clicks

Some grocery chains have moved to online ordering and home delivery are now employing armies of people to pick and pack groceries for home delivery. This must have a negative effect on the bottom line with labour and properties suddenly being used for different purposes. These changes are part of an ongoing effort to retain the customer.

In the background, the communication channels have also changed with customers using social media and digital channels much more and wanting products, services, and delivery instantly. Employing digital native’s is now essential and it’s amazing what fresh talent can bring in terms of new thinking and ideas to reimagine what you do.  

For social sake

However, is motivating your staff getting harder? Leaders need a mindset shift to let go and show more curiosity in the thoughts and opinions of others in these times. They must discard their old ways of leading people and the presence of being in the office - seeing people at their desk, commanding, and controlling their work. They need to pivot to become team coaches, sharing customer insights, ideas, internal processes, personal circumstances; to build awareness, camaraderie, and trust.

“Now working virtually for 8 months it is become harder to share. People’s energy levels are dropping”

Unsurprisingly companies such as Google are giving their people a break, setting up different sessions on totally unrelated business topics and sending out home kits to be used in interactive, team learning – such as making models from kits and group painting sessions.

Finding creative ideas to show your staff you care can give the shared experience and provide the opportunity to give out recognition.

“Your own business requires people's social interaction and it's just as important as interacting with clients.”

This article is based upon the X-PM executive dialogue series on 12/11/2020 between senior leaders from across the globe.

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