How to Strengthen Sales Relationships With Prospects in an Online World

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  • As we enter year two of the COVID-19 pandemic, sales pros need to shift their skill sets to virtual mode. But video calls are just the beginning of building sales relationships.
  • Reachdesk founder and direct-mail evangelist Alex Olley says you can build a relationship with a buyer even if you never shake their hand. 
  • Alex discusses how to break through the digital noise with innovative, personalized, high-touch approaches.

Can you develop a meaningful relationship with somebody you’ve never met in person?

It’s 2021. Just watch one episode of “Catfish” and you’ll know you don’t even need FaceTime to go from Insta-crush to engagement-ring emoji in record time. 

That’s why it’s “one hundred percent” possible to meet (and cultivate relationships with) buyers online, says Alex Olley, co-founder of Reachdesk, a platform that integrates with your sales engagement software to execute account-based direct mail and gifting. 

“If you’re of the mindset that you need to actually shake hands and be in the same room with someone, you’ve potentially got the wrong idea about how to create relationships,” Alex explains.

Early in his career, Alex thought he could “just fling the product at a prospect and not really think about what they really want to solve.” “I’d just sell, sell, sell –– right in their face,” he says. “I used to be rubbish at this.”

It might work for some, he adds. But it didn’t for him. What does work, however, is focusing on relationship building first and making deals later.

And here’s another one for you: Offline is the new online. Don’t worry –– it will all make sense soon.

On an episode of INSIDE Inside Sales, Alex (who you may remember as the UK team MVP on VanillaSoft’s Transatlantic Sales Smackdown) discusses the importance of strong relationships with buyers, how to nurture them with (safe, direct-mail) “touches” in our increasingly virtual world, and why personalization and empathy matter more than ever.

Don’t make the prospect do your job for you

As sales professionals, we tend to hyper-focus on business value and business issues, like revenue. We become super familiar with our product and why it’s the best solution everrr.

That’s where rookie reps make mistakes, especially when using digital channels. Maybe they rely on marketing messages alone. Or perhaps they deploy the “spray and pray” approach, touting a product’s myriad features but lacking personalization. 

building relationships

That forces prospects to attempt to map your feature sets for themselves –– and to wonder whether they resonate with the problems they may have. 

Alex puts it this way: “You’re actually asking me to help you sell to me.” 

Most buyers –– any consumers, for that matter –– don’t have time for that. 

But if you focus on the person you’re selling to, and what matters most to them as an individual, you can build a real relationship. You might say: I know that, in your position, you probably have a challenge with A, B, and C, because when I talked to your colleague at companies X, Y, and Z, they said the same thing. 

If that’s the case, I may be able to help you at least with item B because we have this capability. Would you like to explore how we can do that?

Connect the dots. Speak to their pain. Engage them on a human-to-human level. That’s how you forge a connection that’s meaningful –– and one that lasts.

“It’s a way of gaining true empathy, rather than the generic empathy we’re all talking about,” Alex says. “It’s something that actually helps you understand their position.”

Provide Face(Time) value 

At this point in our socially distanced new normal, we know how to use Zoom, WebEx, Teams, and everything in between –– plus we look good doing it. (Cheers to the unsung heroes who created those gauzy filters and super-chic, of course I live like this backgrounds.) 

But what if you’re “meeting” someone for the first time? What if you’re connecting on a video call without the benefit of a warm intro? 

“Video is obviously becoming quite a powerful thing,” says Alex. “But there are a ton of things you can do right now. It’s more about how you do it.”

We know what you’re thinking: a Zoom call just isn’t the same as a physical meetup. (You know, the kind with handshakes and conference tables.) 

It’s a challenge, to be sure. It can be awkward and a stretch to emotionally connect when you can’t see/respond to someone’s body language. Plus, not everyone is immediately comfortable with turning on their camera.

“Some people can make it very boring and quite bland,” Alex says. “But if you do it in a slightly different way, then of course you can meet people virtually.”

And this core basic principle of salesmanship still applies: Link your product with something the buyer personally values. 

“When I’m talking to prospects remotely by video, I ask them about their situation,” he explains. “What’s going to make a difference in their week? If they have this product, will it save their time? Or, when we get back to ‘normal,’ will it allow them to go home earlier because you’re optimizing how they do things?”

Snail mail that swag

Even before the pandemic, digital noise was at a fever pitch. But now it’s almost deafening. So it can seem daunting to use digital means to establish relationships. 

sales cycle

How can you build a reputation, become a thought leader, or bolster your personal brand in our virtually all-virtual era? How can you ensure your voice is heard?

Alex has an answer that may surprise you (unless you’re familiar with what Reachdesk does). He recommends leveraging physical channels like direct mail and small gifts (sent through the good ol’ mail) to supplement your digital approaches.

“If you think about that moment in your sales cycle when you’ve exhausted everything, when you’ve sent all those emails, made videos, whatever it is –– that can often stall deals,” he explains. “How can you use something that ties in the relationship side of things a bit more?”

Even before he started Reachdesk (which touts its SaaS as “the offline revolution”), Alex used IRL touchpoints throughout his sales process, like sending physical items that complimented what he did digitally. 

“If I knew they’re a big golf fan, I might send them personalized golf balls with a handwritten note,” he says.

Afterward, he’d follow up via email –– which, of course, is still very much essential for the everyday business of sales, like scheduling demos, sending estimates, and signing contracts. 

“When you combine the two together, you can get some really powerful communications,” Alex adds. “That’s one way I build relationships to close deals faster: using physical and digital together.”

Sales relationships don’t require handshakes

Remember to shake off those old ways of thinking when it comes to building connections with your customers and prospects. After all, a handshake is just a handshake if you don’t build a real relationship. If romantic relationships can develop online, then you can certainly develop sales relationships online as well (without having to come up with tacky one-liners). 

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