It seems like years — rather than just a few months — since I wrote about “The Right Conversations in 2020” back in January. As it has in so many other areas of business, the pandemic has radically changed the timing, nature and format of customer conversations.
As one business executive asked, “What in the world are we supposed to say now?”
This is an Opinion
Everyone (including yours truly) is anxious. There is pressure to recover quickly in our businesses — but we can’t be tone-deaf or pushy. Leaders want to forge ahead with optimism, setting the tone for their teams even when they aren’t sure what is around the next corner. Those leaders are also trying to prepare for a surge in demand, although the timing and degree of a surge are anyone’s guess.
Based upon some work I am doing with clients, and good practices I have been seeing across the state and country, I offer two pieces of guidance that might be helpful today.
First, your team needs a high level of comfort and confidence in leading conversations, including the virtual type. Yes, while Zoom is for some becoming another four-letter word, it is serving a vital purpose. At the moment we don’t have access to the meetings, conferences, retreats, business reviews, store visits or even community events that organically lead to valuable business conversations. Therefore, business teams need to be proactive in using what’s available.
The second point extends beyond the format of your customer conversations to also include their tone and content. Today’s environment requires a new emphasis on empathy. As I wrote in that January column, “Trustworthiness is not solely a function of your expertise. It is at least equally important to show your empathy, your understanding of the other person’s situation.”
In a Zoom-heavy world, our simple humanity is more visible. (I’m thinking of the many unexpected pet or child appearances during virtual meetings.) This is often refreshing. But whether or not video is part of a particular conversation, the humanity and empathy should still shine. The leaders I speak with agree this is the time for less “pitching” and jumping to the demo or proposal. It’s the time for more open questions, active listening and focusing on exactly how your offerings help buyers in this time of need.
Will this new conversational world extend beyond 2020? Will we be Zooming to this degree forever?
My crystal ball is admittedly cloudy. Yet based upon past crises and disruptions, I suspect we are looking at a mixed bag. Things will not go back to the way they were, but the foundations (including our need to gather in community, in person) will remain.
I was thinking waaaay back to my undergraduate days, taking a particular (what I thought would be easy) elective in music appreciation. One of the few things I remember is the concept of “song form,” in which a given piece of music commonly has a first section (call it A), followed by a related but contrasting section (B), and then back to the A section. However, my instructor called that third section “A-prime” to illustrate that it’s a little different from the original A section (such as with more ornamentation, as the instructor called it).
Professional life beyond this outbreak will change in many ways. For example, we will reconsider how organizations and associations meet (perhaps with more small and regional events for a while, like workshops and retreats, and fewer big national gatherings). If your business has used sponsorships at trade shows as a primary means to generate demand, then how should you adjust?
At the same time, resilient businesses are getting back to basics even as they adjust their product mix or modes of delivery. They might well emerge stronger than ever. Our business world could use more genuinely helpful conversations, whatever our “A-prime” looks like.