Ask the Pros: A Q&A on Maintaining Business Relationships Virtually

For many of us, co-workers and clients represent our main source of interaction between Monday and Friday, and sometimes beyond. Advancements in technology have allowed for the seamless transition to work-from-home arrangements for those who need to care for children, are far from the office, or some other agreed-upon reason. Recent U.S. census data shows that nearly 8 million Americans are working from home, with that number steadily rising. Some positions might even require one employee to cover several regions, meaning they may not always be able to visit clients in-person. In both cases, virtual connections play a critical role in maintaining relationships. 

To learn more about maintaining relationships with clients when you can’t see them in person, we have put together a Q&A backed by the experience of some of our team members. 

Q: How has new technology bridged the gap between in-person and virtual meetings?

With so many options available, deciding what platform to host your next virtual meeting on isn’t difficult.  

Katie Anderson is Choice Hotels Canada’s Senior Manager, Sales Operations. When it comes to virtual business relationships, she does note that some things are different, but easily replaced by similar meaningful actions. For example, you can’t physically show up with a coffee, but you can send a voucher by email instead. The lack of human connection through a handshake can be replaced by seeing each other on video chat. Technology has bridged the gap between in-person and virtual meetings by becoming the preferred option amongst sales teams and clients alike. 

Q: What specific tools are useful in maintaining long-distance relationships with your clients?

Microsoft Teams and Zoom emerge as clear favorites for instant-messaging, videoconferencing, and screen-sharing services. Meetings on both applications can also be recorded for future reference. For organizations with smaller workforces and limited budget, free versions of both are also available with trimmed down features. 

Smartphones have become an “office away from the office”, though, despite their expanded capabilities, it is a simple phone call that remains a valuable tool. Michael Durante, Franchise Performance Consultant at Choice Hotels Canada reminds us that it’s important to make phone calls. “A simple phone call once in a while just to say hi, and to check in with your client also helps to build a personal rapport that shows that you care.” 
 

Q: How can sales teams provide personal service to clients who are not local?

Who doesn’t love personal service? This trait can make every client feel important, and although you’d like to make all your accounts feel that way, it’s much easier said than done. Many companies simply can’t afford to put permanent account managers on the ground in every city or town that they service. Despite this, Peter Sellick, Choice Hotels Canada’s Manager, Market Sales, has three important tips for developing a better sense of personal care between client and account manager. 
 

  • It’s all about building and maintaining relationships - Engage in weekly or monthly calls/video chats (regular check-ins) and send gift baskets during holidays, etc. 
     
  • Getting to know your clients personally, not just on a business level - Ask them about their family, hobbies, favorite sports team, etc.  
     
  • Building Trust - Remember, it’s not just about the sale, you are in a partnership with your client

Q: What are some company-driven initiatives that can help your virtual relationships become more engaged?

Maintaining relationships virtually can’t be done alone. Your company will need to set you up with tools and approved initiatives to help you get the job done. To get started, Peter also has a few key initiatives worth recommending to your company. 
 

  • Webinars/Lunch & Learn sessions - make it fun & interactive, use tools like Kahoot and/or Icebreaker games 

  • Regular communication and updates to clients from the company - newsletters, email updates on marketing initiatives, social media posts, etc.
     
  • Introduce an interactive portal that includes the latest company news and other essential services information - allows for 2-way interaction and creates and reinforces a sense of ‘partnership’ and ‘trust’

Building new relationships and maintaining existing ones are both keys to the continued success of your business. As work from home trends continue to grow in popularityit is important that the lines between in-person and virtual operations are blurred to be equally effective. We hope that the tips provided in this post will contribute to a more effective virtual operation for your business and employees.