Building connections with potential and existing clients in a changed world

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Building connections with potential and existing clients in a changed world

By Blair Potter | Feb 8, 2023

It’s time to discover how to make clients feel like you’re in the room with them, even when you aren’t.

Ciara Feely helps sales teams find and convert more opportunities and grow through her work with companies as a sales enablement strategist, keynote speaker and sales trainer, and she’ll be presenting “Learning Journey: Getting the Mix of Digital Sales & People Skills Right” at MPI’s European Meetings & Events Conference (EMEC), 26-28 March in Brighton, U.K.

We recently spoke with Feely—the author of “Steps to WIN in the Meetings Market” who loves to turn transactional order takers into consultative, relationship-focused sales professionals—about changing buyer behaviours, building quality relationships through a screen and what attendees will take away from her EMEC session.

Can you tell us about a change in buyer behaviour that’s become prominent since the pandemic began? 

What is emerging very strongly in buyer behaviour is the need for creating a connection. Now I know a lot of people will immediately think, “What about digitalization and all the buzz about automation and digital sales?”

Building a connection with potential and existing clients comes first. That is a people-to-people skill. It is a skill that can be learned, as it isn’t inherent for a lot of people.

Conversations with clients need to be earned. That takes work and taking a different approach. Buyers are even more protective of their time in today’s marketplace. They use email and their research to filter out vendors they don’t feel will “get them” or trust with their brand.

In order to earn the conversation and get through this filter you must stand out and show how you really understand what is most important to the buyer.

Personalization is key at this step. In my Steps to WIN™ Sales Process, I outline the steps you need to take to open up more conversations.
steps to win

There are great technology advances to help with personalization in the marketing stage, but ultimately it takes knowing the client’s hot buttons. What is going to help them to buy? 

This intelligence comes from:

1.     Being able to carve out more client conversations (earning the conversation!).

2.     Being skilled enough to build enough trust and confidence with the client that they will tell you their hot buttons. 

Ready to brighten your world in the hippest city in the world? Learn more about the register for EMEC Brighton, 26-28 March.

So much has changed in the client’s world as a result of COVID. Even existing, long-term, loyal clients need to be re-qualified to gain new customer insights.

The second really big change in customer buying behaviour is that the individual no longer buys—it is a group decision.

Modern B2B buyers make decisions in groups to spread out the risk. This makes the sale more complex as you have to appeal to the different buying buttons of the different buyers. Each stakeholder will have different criteria for their decision! It also slows down the decision-making process.

Can you offer a tip for building a relationship through a screen when meeting face-to-face just isn’t possible? 

The biggest mistake I see salespeople make when in an online meeting is they do all the talking. Buyers are overwhelmed with PowerPoint slides and too much information being thrown at them. When in an online meeting, ensure to:

·      Slow down and make it more conversational.

·      Use eye contact as much as possible.

Look into the light of your camera instead of at the video box.  That is the only way to maintain eye contact. It takes practice as it doesn’t feel like you are looking straight at them.

·      When presenting, click “stop share” every five to 10 minutes and ask questions about what you just shared. Don’t leave the Q&A part to the end because they feel disengaged at that stage if you have been doing most of the talking.

·      Ask more emotive, open-ended questions to get them talking.

In the MPI Venue Sales Strategist Course, I go into detail on how to lead a high-converting client conversation—online or off.

“The biggest mistake I see salespeople make when in an online meeting is they do all the talking.”

What is a common mistake salespeople make when dealing with clients? 

They don’t listen to understand. Instead, they listen to be able to respond.

A lot of sales professionals admit to me that when a client is speaking, they are busy trying to think of what they are going to say next instead of deeply listening. I used to do that myself in my hotel sales days. Then I realized I was missing out on the gold clients were sharing that would help me to close the deal.

The next big mistake I see being made is that sales professionals are not trained on how to be strategic with clients. This is a skill that takes practice. It is a skill that can be learned. Preparing for each customer conversation and knowing in advance the questions to ask will help build confidence in leading more strategic client conversations.

As an industry I feel very strongly that we need to get away from what I call the “dates, rates and space” conversation. Instead, move towards leading strategic, value-driven conversations that the client is happy to turn up to.

Sales leaders must focus and train their teams on being positioned as strategic partners and trusted advisors instead of “salespeople.”

“As an industry I feel very strongly that we need to get away from what I call the ‘dates, rates and space’ conversation.”

Since events and hospitality will remain in flux, can you offer a tip for meeting professionals wishing to stay nimble/flexible?

Staying nimble and flexible requires the following:

·      Collaboration. Being able to lead a client meeting to work together on two things: A) solving the client’s problems and B) having a deep understanding of what results they want to achieve from investing in events. This is a key skill for leaders to train their team in. It again brings us back to the importance of speaking with clients instead of just emailing them. It is imperative to constantly stay ahead of what a client’s needs are and know what is coming down the line for their business that will impact your business.

·      Up-skilling on a regular basis, focusing on people skills. The events industry is an amazing industry to work in. It is filled with great people who have customer service ingrained in them. Not every industry automatically thinks that way and can learn a lot from our service culture.

What do you hope attendees will take away from your EMEC session? 

They will go away with a greater sense of what the future of sales is.

I will talk about what the right approach to sales is for now and how buyer behaviour patterns are changing.

In this workshop we will take a look at what the essential sales skills are to WIN profitable business while creating partnerships and building communities.

It is workshop style, so participants will have the opportunity to talk this out with peers in a safe place. 

I also hope that sales leaders will walk away with some of the thinking work done. I want them feeling confident to implement straight away at least one of the ideas shared.



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Blair Potter

Blair Potter is director of media operations for MPI. He likes toys and collects cats (or is it the other way around?).