One of the many casualties of the global pandemic has been business travel. With airlines grounded and corporate campuses closed, many road warriors spent the last year on zoom meetings rather than across the desk from their peers and customers.
Perhaps this has hit the sales function hardest, as sellers struggle to replace the kind of relationship-building that happens more naturally face-to-face with something more virtual. The good news is that I’ve found attitudes about in-person meetings have really changed over the last six months. Where there was hesitation due to perceived risk before, now people are eager to push through risk and feel like things are getting back to normal. Here are a few approaches that have been successful for us over the last several months:
Make sure you understand your own team’s eagerness to travel
While seeing clients face-to-face will sound great to many of your team members, you should plan on speaking to each person individually about how they feel about it. Many people don’t feel comfortable being the lone voice saying they aren’t comfortable.
If their office isn’t open, offer to meet for lunch
Many of our clients still have closed corporate campuses. So, when we ask to meet with them, they aren’t able have us over. However, many of these same clients are fully willing to meet offsite for lunch or coffee. They may even be eager to do so, but they’re never going to suggest that you take them out. If they have reservations about COVID-19, be candid about your vaccination status and offer to meet on a patio and social distance.
Be strategic and thoughtful
This is probably always true, but perhaps even more so now. Going out to lunch is a bigger time commitment and a bigger degree of trust and partnership than ever before. We need to show up with something to say that will be important and impactful to them. Your clients should leave the meeting feeling that they got something out of the meeting other than spending enjoyable time with you.
Don’t bring the whole team
You may think this is a great opportunity to bring each and every one of the people that interact with the customer, but lunch with 10 people can be intimidating. Keep the number of people you invite on your side down to a few people. Don’t think of this as your only chance to connect with them. If this lunch goes well and they leave feeling it was valuable, you won’t have trouble scheduling the next one.
Schedule virtual follow-ups
Don’t be afraid to build upon the in-person meeting with virtual follow-ups. This is a great way to continue to build your client relationship while introducing new members of the team, new concepts to explore, and specifically to follow up on anything you learned during your in-person meeting.
Dress like it’s 2019
Even though lounge pants and pajamas were the uniform of 2021, don’t assume that the rest of the world has gone uber-casual. Dust off those business casual outfits from the back of your closet and maybe leave your favorite hoodie in the car. While some of the world doesn’t care how anybody dresses, some people still do. Plan on dressing a bit nicer than you normally would. Nobody cares if they think you’re slightly overdressed, but they can see it as a sign of disrespect or lack of seriousness if they perceive you to be under-dressed.
Everybody may think branded merchandise is hokey, but everybody still takes it. And, with conferences and salesperson travel being greatly reduced for the last few years, there’s an open field on what you can provide. I think these have a very high perceived value right now because many of the usual sources for this stuff have run dry.
Get out there
Don’t be afraid to get back out there. I have had some great meetings in the last few months and found many clients receptive to spending time together. So, dust off your suitcase, make sure your loyalty programs still remember who you are, and get back out there. The impact of a face-to-face meeting to accelerate a relationship can be meaningful.
Business travel and aytm
So how has aytm been fairing with business travel? Like most companies, travel at aytm has been restricted due to the pandemic. But after months of watching CDC recommendations daily, we felt comfortable making travel optional for our team members. We finally reached out to clients to see if they were comfortable with seeing us—sharing that our travel policy required being fully vaccinated and that we were happy to meet on an outdoor patio for lunch. While some clients were very eager to see us, some needed more time. But, none of them resented us for making these opportunities available in ways that were.