Before COVID-19 hit, I used to commute between Australia and Europe on a monthly basis. That was one of my core activities visiting European clients and having face to face meetings with their sales teams on behalf of my Australian customers. When COVID-19 hit I had to stop travelling abroad or risk being stuck overseas far from Australia and my family.

With the embargo on international travel, many friends and business colleagues have asked me “How is business now that you cannot travel?”

My response to the question is business is fantastic. We have been able to keep selling and generating leads in Europe for our Australian clients even while my European team was in and out of lockdown and I was in Australia.

One of the reasons why we have been able to thrive is because we rapidly adapted our way of selling by effectively using web conferencing platforms. As a business we cannot afford to wait for a potential COVID end date. We had to change the sales process so our customers are able to continue developing their business and sales activities in Europe. Here is how we adapted

Previously we generated tons of leads through attending conferences and trade shows. In Europe, traditionally, this is the most efficient way to meet all the major stakeholders in one place. In 2020, we have not been able to leverage these events. Our customers have instead made the most of the fact that everyone was online and many decision makers are working from home. This has enabled our customers to generate leads successfully on social media and via their websites. We supported these campaigns by producing (shooting) short videos in different languages to present our customers product or solution and so trigger interest in our customers’ business. We also built simple email campaigns in different languages to support the lead generation campaign, which have worked amazingly well.

It was business as usual for our European Lead Generation team, who has always been operating via phone contact with clients. From this perspective we (applied) made no changes in our European organization.

The combination of all these activities have been very efficient at generating leads for our Australian customers in Europe.

Once the lead is secured and qualified, where we would usually offer a meeting, we offered, whenever possible, a web demonstration of the product. Mind you this type of approach has always existed in the software industry. We have just extended this approach to our manufacturers. To give an example, one of our customers is a manufacturer of a large piece of machinery, it is a robot with a smart user interface that can be accessed remotely. We have been able to conduct live web demonstrations of the machine successfully to a German client. My European sales manager was at home in lockdown in France. Our client was at home in Brisbane. The machine was in his factory near Brisbane. Using a webcam in the machine the German client was able to see the machine functioning as well as seeing the user interface used and shared on the Zoom conference call.

We also see that most European and global customers have transitioned to online meetings instead of face to face. We found it to be the case in a large range of industries even if they are usually quite traditional. In industries like healthcare, pharmaceutical or in large multinationals on site visits are no longer allowed in order to protect workers.

In other industries, where it’s hard to actually demonstrate the product, we focused on organising technical meetings to make sure that the product benefits and technical features were validated by the customer.

I realise that for so many of our customers, the entire sales process can be delivered without any customer face to face meetings. Moving away from face to face meetings presents some challenges. First of all, one of the prime roles of face to face meetings is to build trust. Removing face to face meetings mean that you have to use other ways to create that trust with overseas customers. This fact has caused (pushed) us to leverage customers’ referrals and testimonials, as well as case studies. In reality, there is nothing new here, we have always had to use customer references to build the credibility of our Australian clients in the eyes of prospective European customers.

We find that many traditional sales representatives may find it hard to transition to online. They may feel threatened or feel that without face to face meetings they cannot sign deals. The reality is they can sign deals without face to face meetings, they have no choice but to transition to the new norm. Employers of sales teams and customers realise the many benefits of not having to systematically do business face to face. They have realised that so many tasks can be done online and it creates a lot of benefits.

We have seen huge benefits in transitioning away from face to face meetings. Not only have we kept the business going, but it means that our customers are in a good position to continue building resilient businesses. They are confident they can continue to expand even during a pandemic, they are not reliant on face to face meetings to grow sales.

We have achieved more in a short period of time. We reached out to many more customers. You can involve more people in a meeting, meaning that you can have more opportunities of having the right technical skills on the call. It enables you to address a lot of customers technical questions that a salesperson may not have been able to do during an onsite visit.

You can talk to a larger number of customers in one go! At the peak of COVID I have found myself delivering web presentations to a hundred overseas prospective customers at one time. I would never have achieved that level of reach in a face to face meeting.

The other amazing consequence is that we have been able to cover many more regions and countries. Our traditional market is Europe, but some of our clients have asked us to cover additional countries. We realize that we can extend our reach dramatically. With online conversations, in one day, we can cover so many time zones ! This would have required so much travel and personnel to be able to achieve that reach before COVID.

Will face to face sales meetings completely disappear? I think realistically if a business has started to transition, why would they fully revert to a full face to face model? Now Global customers are finding a lot of advantages from online business interactions. Less disruption and enhanced productivity are great benefits. On site sales visits will probably be more targeted and have to add a real value. I see business moving away from the traditional meet and greet model to a more expert, and technical visit or when a visit of a facility is required. When targeting a completely new environment, or industry, I can see how it would be very hard to develop an understanding of this industry without visiting it. To give you an example, over the years , due to the nature of Exportia’s business I have visited so many healthcare facilities, construction sites, metalworking factories, cement production facilities, foundries. These site visits have enabled me to have a good general understanding of many different industries. And now that we are conducting most of my meetings online this preliminary knowledge and industry relationships is invaluable.

The other area where I would love to have the opportunity to meet people face to face is the recruitment of sales teams. We are currently recruiting extensively in Europe, for one of my clients, and I would have loved to meet these candidates face to face but it’s not possible to do so during the pandemic. But to be realistic, the candidates being in multiple countries, would I have had the time to travel and meet them all in their various countries? When we recruit for Exportia, or with our customers, without meeting the candidates face to face, we prepare and back ourselves with multiple interviews, role plays, we also invite different persons to participate in the interview. It works very well, we have been successful at recruiting this way.

Do you have any questions about selling overseas without travelling? Set-up a time with me and we can discuss further. www.exportia.com.au

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