Roundtable: Everything You Need to Know about Virtual Networking
- 3 Min Read
An oxymoron is a group of words that join two opposite ideas, like alone together and fun diet. And for many business networkers and B2B organizations, networking and social distancing can sound like just that – an oxymoron. But with the right strategy, it doesn’t have to be.
So how do networkers stay connected through the distance? We asked our most seasoned people persons to weigh in.
What is the biggest challenge for organizations that rely on making relationships and sales with in-person networking during COVID-19?
Tracy Saathoff, VP of Insights, Strategy & Media: Connecting with clients – not logistically but emotionally and personally. Yes, you can see them over video, but it’s hard to relay empathy and be ‘in it’ with someone when you’re divided by a screen.
John Pohlman, Executive VP/Executive Creative Director: The best opportunities happen when like-minded people congregate. Without the ability to come together, networking can become deliberate and targeted and inherently less natural and human.
What tactics do you rely on for virtual networking? Any best practices?
Jamie Hegge, Director of Client Service: Zoom has been a lifesaver for virtual business. Nonverbal cues play a major role in connecting and storytelling, and you’re able to get some of that on a video call that you can’t get by just using email or phone.
Ryan Budmayr, Director of Political & Public Affairs: Be punctual to work through any early tech problems. Don’t wait until two minutes past the meeting time to log in only to realize your speakers aren’t working or you have the wrong call-in number.
How do you make it feel personable without in-person meetings?
Tracy: I’ve started doing more texting, calling and card writing. Beyond that, most in-person best practices still apply virtually. Ask questions to get to know someone. Listen, and be interested in them. And do your homework before you come to the meeting so you can provide value.
Jamie: Always turn your video on for Zoom calls. People do business with people they like, and it’s a lot easier to establish a connection with someone when you can see them.
Is there a right or a wrong way to reach out and establish new connections while being quarantined?
Jamie: The right way is to give people information about the crisis or the industry and let them know you’re there should a need arise. Being available as a resource or a sounding board will go farther right now than being a salesman.
Ryan: Unless there’s value that you can add to a new connection, I’d be careful. Any opportunities to have someone make introductions on your behalf (via email or text) is great.
Tracy: Reach out to people you are genuinely interested in. Don’t waste time if you’re not. I’ve found an awkward in-person meeting is five times more awkward on Zoom.
How can companies shift their focus from events or trade shows right now? Where should they invest their efforts?
John: Find an interesting way to provide them with the information they would have learned and opportunities to connect with people they might have been able to meet. This is great time to take stock in your online presence, and, if necessary, bolster your website. With that web presence, you can feature your people and their expertise through online content, social channels and digital events.
Tracy: Virtual events are gaining a ton of steam right now. One way to spark networking (and some much-needed socialization) is by organizing small groups into panels and having participants submit questions in the chat.
How important is it to keep in touch digitally with leads during the pandemic?
Ryan: It’s important to checkin, but it’s also important not to push. People will remember how companies and people handled this pandemic, and it’s vital to leave a positive impression.
Tracy: Try to look for other reasons to connect with them beyond COVID – if you saw a funny show, a video made you think of their business, etc. COVID is on overload, and we’re all more than quarantined people. Think of other things to send them – they’ll appreciate the break and so will you.
When the pandemic is over, how important is it that B2B companies maintain some virtual networking practices?
John: Very important. Companies are realizing that not everything has to be done face-to-face to be effective. After COVID, I expect the business world will operate with a different set of rules about travel, meetings, conferences and socialization. Virtual networking will be what fills that gap in a very cost-effective, low-risk manner. While I desperately hope everything goes back to the way it was, I’m pretty certain it’ll never be the same again.
The Big Takeaway: Best Practices
- Bring value or a unique perspective.
- Be accommodating and get your tech in order.
- Make it personal! You are meeting with real people.
- Share information or encourage discussion in creative ways.
- Remember that extra effort (when done correctly and tastefully) goes a long way right now.