Recap Sales Professionals Roundtable – Connecting With Your Customers In A Virtual World

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On Tuesday, Sept. 15, BEMA kicked off our new Virtual series with the Sales Professionals Roundtable for sales associates, account executives, business development, inside sales and managers/directors of sales.

Moderated by Bruce Cox of Kwik Lok Corp. and Sergio Caballero of Benchmark, the roundtable was an opportunity for sales attendees to share what’s working, what’s not working and to share tips and tools for negotiating sales in a pandemic-restricted environment. During the call, attendees from the U.S., Canada and Europe heard the perspectives of baker Jeff Dearduff, president and CEO of Gold Standard Baking, and learned how the bakery is handling business and keeping employees safe in-house.

Those on the call are finding smaller, family-run bakeries more open to receiving visitors as compared to larger corporate-run bakeries who have more regulations and a focus on core essential business. The ability to travel and meet with customers in person remains largely dependent on the location of the customer, the bakery’s openness to outside visitors, in-country travel restrictions and company regulations on travel.

Attendees shared they’re making greater use of phone calls and video chats, looking to add a personal touch to the sales process with one of the biggest challenges being finding ways to meet with new customers. One positive being that salespeople are finding calls going better because more people are at home and willing to take a call, something that wasn’t as prevalent before. Many wonder if virtual calls will continue to be a part of the norm moving forward. Companies are also increasingly taking advantage of video and live-streaming, offering customers a step-by-step virtual experience in real-time.

One technology gaining increasing acceptance is the Microsoft HoloLens. Used for troubleshooting, service calls and adding or expanding new equipment, the HoloLens interacts with MS Teams to provide an immersive experience through mixed reality smart glasses and an augmented reality headset that contains a holographic computer. Using multiple cameras, the user can see, hear and interact with holograms without the need for connection to a PC. But don’t expect it to replace in-person. One attendee shared a remote install using the virtual reality lens took 3-4 times longer than a typical in-person install.

Yet no matter how good the technology is, nothing will replace face-to-face time with customers. For those who have been able to make customer visits, there are often new rules in place depending on the country and size of the bakery. Dearduff recommended salespeople plan to adhere to all of the plant’s safety measures from initial safety checks to keeping distance on the plant floor, in meeting rooms and when walking the floor.

When looking to get the attention of a baker, Dearduff suggested keeping communication short – a couple lines of text in an email or bullet points and possibly a link to a short video. For those looking to make an impact in a new way, some are using video emailing, allowing a user to connect into Outlook and record an email for a more personalized approach, which has been well-received with current customers. Where in-person visits are allowed, many are choosing to connect through lunch and dinner meetings, rather than visiting the plant. While stakes are still very high and variables remain, many shared expectations the floodgates will open in 2021.

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