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March 11, 2021

4 Tips to Build Sales Relationships and Engagement in a Virtual World

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“So, how do you make a decision when you’ve got not just two good options, you’ve really got 10—or a hundred—good options?”

Ami Tully Lotka, co-founder of Maximum Impact Partners and expert in sales strategy and mobilization, has a simple answer to her own question: “The relationship is what breaks the deal.”

Lotka has worked across a wide variety of roles in financial services and other industries over the last 39 years, but right now, her work is focused on one significant goal.

“We help salespeople make deeper and better connections with their clients,” she says.

Lotka joined us on Allego’s podcast, The Adapter’s Advantage, to share her expertise and experience in this area, specifically touching on:

  • the importance of positive client sales relationships
  • ways to promote engagement and meaningful learning, even in digital spaces
  • the value of structured, objective skill assessments in identifying future learning opportunities

#1 Differentiating With Sales Relationships

“So, now, we’ve really come into the place where we don’t have a product differentiator … In many commodities, the differentiator is a salesperson that represents them, and it’s the ultimate relationship sale. And salespeople really have to deepen and understand that because they’re professional tiebreakers.”

This was true pre-pandemic and it’s still true now, albeit in a slightly different way. “The business challenge ultimately,” Lotka says, “is that so much of what we do is a face-to-face connection, and converting a face-to-face connection to be equally valid and have an equal amount of power, but not be in the same room as each other.”

Sales relationships, therefore, are the biggest differentiators between a successful sale and another pass. To illustrate the questions one should contemplate, Lotka asks, rhetorically:

  • “How can we help our clients through this?”
  • “Who really feels understood?”
  • “Which of my clients really feels that I’ll take care of them?”
  • “Who feels best about the context of our company, our product, and my own personal knowledge of you?”

If your clients aren’t being well served by you and your sales teams, they’re likely to find a company with an almost identical product and a sales force that does meet these needs.

#2 Adjusting for Virtual Settings

“I learned that that’s where the greatest learning happened. It was when the right questions were asked, and they could learn from each other.”

Lotka talks specifically of a teaching experience in Japan when her Maximum Impact selling program was fully translated for the audience. She had to “turn things over to them” in order for the learners to bridge the language barrier and engage in meaningful understanding.

There’s not necessarily a language barrier on Zoom, but there is a different kind of divide.

When it came to building sales relationships, Lotka found herself reverting to the lesson she had learned in Japan. “You have to pull the efficiency of that down into much smaller bites where you’ve got an idea that you present in a discussion for the group so that it’s very interactive,” she suggests. “Without that interaction, there is exhaustion. We just can’t pay attention for that long.”

Despite this new difficulty, Lotka believes that learning is absolutely possible over digital platforms. Not just doable, but better—that is, if you’re able to adapt to the demands of the circumstance.

#3 Maintaining Engagement & Alertness

“As a facilitator, I tell people when we start, ‘I’m going to call on you specifically because that is going to give some energy to the discussion, and you can say that you have nothing to add, and I’ll move on to someone else, but I’m going to ask individual people to respond to questions.’”

Lotka points to yet another shortcoming of virtual learning: “engaging and keeping people alert.” However, she doesn’t view this as a barrier to meaningful education, but rather as a necessary pivot point. Calling on people individually is not meant to put them on the spot, Lotka says, but it does promote meaningful contribution in two key ways:

  • Maintaining a constant level of alertness – When participation is voluntary, there’s no palpable incentive to remain engaged. However, Lotka points out, “If you’re having a discussion and you think that the facilitator, at any moment in time, is going to say, ‘Mark, what do you think about that?’… It changes things.”
  • Forcing students to share the space – Lotka points to the opposite problem, as well—the person who is all too eager to show you just how engaged they are, who doesn’t leave room for others to speak up. In a virtual setting, Lotka calls on and then unmutes just one speaker at a time.

“Wouldn’t it be great to have that in the live class?” Magnacca jokes. “You’re on mute right now.”

“The other technique is to keep the audience small on a Zoom call,” Lotka continues. Unless she’s giving a strict presentation with little to no expectation of participation, she much prefers and encourages 10- to 15-person seminars. There’s much more opportunity for engaged learning, such as:

  • Breaking out into small group discussions between longer presentations
  • Asked pointed questions directed at individuals
  • Putting up polls that the group will participate in

#4 Identifying Individual Training Needs

“So, if you don’t look at the drill, if you don’t look at presentation skills and score everybody across exactly the same drill, you’re going to waste a lot of money on presentation skills for people that don’t need that and need something else.”

We don’t usually hear the term “drill,” a decidedly sports term, in the context of sales and presentations. But Lotka recognized the value of an event that exists within the sports context and applied it to her sales training: the NFL Combine, where the players gather to perform drill after drill in front of a huge group of coaches.

In our world, the “coaches” are sales managers and the “players” are their sales teams. Lotka’s Combine allows managers to:

  • Identify important skills – To provide adequate, effective training, managers have to recognize the necessary skills for successful salespeople.
  • Quantify a good performance – “You can’t know what good looks like unless you see that skill expressed across many different people, not just your own.”
  • Compare across an even playing field – By evaluating performance skills in a vacuum, you can more easily pinpoint weak spots that may not be noticeable when looking at the whole picture.
  • Determine who needs practice in what areas – Far too often, Lotka says, managers assume that every team member needs to improve in the same area, using the same solution, “when really, only 20% of the team needs it.” Once you identify the actual weak points of each individual, you can tailor training modules to them.

Adapting to the Current Needs: Becoming a Hybrid

“I’ve been saying for a long time that in our industry, we’ve been calling people hybrids, and I’ve told sales managers for a long time, it’s been my soapbox: it’s not hybrid, it is the way it should be done.”

The pandemic may have given rise to the need for hybrid sellers, learners, employees, and people, but according to Lotka, it’s always been the way forward.

Learn More

To learn more about Ami Tully Lotka and her work with Maximum Impact Partners, you can contact her directly at ami@gotimpact.com and on LinkedIn, or visit the company website GotImpact.com.

To learn more about building sales relationships, check out episode 5 of The Adapter’s Advantage.

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