Building rapport & influence remotely

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Collaborating (internally) virtually


Akamai Technologies doesn’t have a salesforce — or so says Sean Lyons, VP of sales at the content delivery network.

“My salesforce is 80% account management and relationship selling,” he explains. “How they’ve got customers to build loyalty has been saying, ‘Let me take you out for a steak dinner. I’m going to take you out to the ball game or the opera.’ Those are personal interactions to drive trust.”

For Akamai account managers, their whole purpose is to gain access to power and build relationships with the right people.

To a certain extent, that’s true of all field sales teams.

Especially in commoditized markets, buyers can get a similar product from multiple different vendors. What makes the difference in someone’s buying decision is often the person, not the product.

With existing customers, having an established relationship makes it much easier to switch to virtual sales. But for new customers, building rapport is much more difficult. Field sellers are now trying to kickstart relationships without all their usual in-person strategies.

Instead of sitting around a table, eating steak, and drinking wine, they’re limited to a 2x2 square on a video call. There’s no body language to read. There’s no informal post-meeting chit chat in the lobby. There’s no shared experience.

Learning how to make contact, build rapport, and establish credibility virtually is a critical challenge. But with a few tweaks to their approach, it’s a challenge field sellers are ready to tackle.

Empathy, understanding, and shared experience

The first order of business for remote sellers is to break down the traditional enterprise formality. After all, enterprise buyers are humans who have friends and family and face challenges every day. Since we’re all going through this life-changing crisis together, to overlook it would be missing an opportunity.

“When a pandemic hits, we’re all in it together,” says Drift sales leader, Miles Kane, reflecting on his recent sales conversations. “Sure, we want to sell you our solution, but we need to make sure you're healthy and happy. How are you actually doing? How is your family? How are the kids? How’s the whole homeschool thing?”

At first, it’ll feel awkward. By broaching personal topics, field sellers are breaking decades of tradition. They’re discarding the blazer and briefcase that used to form the enterprise sales uniform. But if sellers push through the discomfort and engage with people as people, they can build strong relationships without all the stereotypical pomp of enterprise selling.

“The deals are a little bit more complex, the sales cycles are a little bit longer, and the contracts are larger, but enterprise is just selling to larger businesses,” says Kane. “One of the positives of this year is that we’ve removed that facade of having to be so enterprisey. It’s weirdly calming.”

Look people in the eye

One of the reasons why in-person meetings are so effective for rapport building is because you can see the buyer. When you see someone’s face, you can read their facial expressions and gauge their reactions.

When all you have is a disembodied voice — or worse, just text — you lose much of the nuance you pick up in a face-to-face conversation. Once you get people on a video call and convince them to switch on their camera, it’s a different ball game.

If their eyes keep flicking away to another window, you know they’re probably distracted. If they visibly flinch when you float your pricing, you know that’s an upcoming objection. If their attention spikes when you demo a specific feature, that’s a button to keep pressing.

According to our research, reps who used webcams enjoyed a 41% uptick in successfully closed deals. So never underestimate the impact of allowing buyers to see your face.

There’s more you can do than just switching on your camera.

Seth Catalli, Area Vice President of Strategic Engagements at UiPath, draws a parallel between your webcam game now and your personal presentation in the past. Before the pandemic, field sellers could communicate a lot by what they wore. A sports jacket and a high-end watch said something: “I have attention to detail” or “I care about how I present to you.”

We can still convey that message in a virtual meeting, but how you communicate it is different.

“Nobody's going to see my fancy watch or my fancy shoes,” says Catalli. “They're going to see this headshot. So now, your brand and your professionalism come across in the quality of your audio, the quality of your lighting, and the quality of your background.”

Differentiate your meetings

Before the pandemic, video calls were common, but they certainly weren’t the norm. Today, our days are littered with them — morning syncs, afternoon one-to-ones, and evening happy hours. And that’s not even including external communication with vendors, contractors, and peers.

With all collaboration and communication moving online, field sellers need to work harder than ever to stand out. That means taking your budget previously allocated for wining and dining and redirecting it to design innovative, engaging experiences.

Kane says one of his most effective tactics has been virtual wine tastings. He invited a dozen or so CMOs to an online roundtable and offered to send them a couple bottles of really nice wine.

“It’s actually a small thing that doesn't really cost that much,” Kane says. “We’re sending a couple of really nice bottles of wine from Napa or Sonoma to their house.”

During the event, a sommelier led the tasting and encouraged people to share their thoughts on each wine. When everyone was suitably relaxed, Kane gently led the conversation back to the roundtable topic — and their experience with Drift.

“If you think about what it typically takes to acquire a customer, it makes sense,” he says. “It goes a long way in building our brand and developing trust.”

But points of differentiation don’t have to be highly orchestrated. Small but innovative ideas can help sellers stand out. Seth Catalli says he’s constantly impressed by the ingenuity of UiPath’s reps. One of his favorites leverages video call backgrounds.

Before a sales call, the rep will look up their buyer on LinkedIn and find out where they went to college. Then they grab a picture of an iconic part of the campus and set it as their Zoom background. When the buyer logs on, the rep waves hello from in front of a strikingly familiar football stadium or library. 

“These little videos get people laughing,” Catalli says. “They’re something totally unique to this medium.”

When you’re a buyer’s ninth Zoom call that morning, a small chuckle can mean the difference between being memorable and being forgotten.

Your Field Sales Playbook For 2021+