Selling in a virtual environment caught in the Made in Britain Twitter net: 18 February 2021

EVERY Thursday at 1pm Made in Britain hosts #madeinbritainhour on Twitter. During that hour Made in Britain asks questions of its 19,500 followers and the results are fascinating. Previously this information was enjoyed by the audience at the time and then left to drift away in the Twittersphere, rarely read again. So, we have decided to capture some of the best comments and re-present them for a new audience and easy reference. Some of the responses have been edited.

This week we look at selling in a virtual environment.

Question one: How has lead generation changed in the last year and how are businesses/sales teams going about it?

Response: I think recognition of certain industries remaining shut has impacted lead generation i.e. those in work vs those in furlough which ultimately impacts who we can supply for various projects. More research and understanding of the environment we now operate in is required

Response: Previously we secured a lot do contacts and leads from overseas exhibitions. Those haven’t been happening so it has become a lot more difficult now. We rely on website and social media promotion as well as clever targeted marketing to reach the right customers.

Made in Britain: That picks up on what Excell Metal Spinning said as well, more research is needed to understand and find the customers. Have you needed additional resources to do that?

Response: We haven't need additional resource per se, instead we've had to redirect resources at specific targets markets we know are operational There was a 'false boom' last year as construction projects caught up, but with retail & hospitality shut, projects have been put on hold.

Made in Britain: Are there any sectors that are using this enforced down time to catch up and do refurbs etc? e.g. hotels?

Response: They were in the last few months of 2020, but this has drastically changed in January onwards. Can industries afford to remain shut? Which businesses / customers will even be in business after the lockdown? These are just two questions that need to be asked down the line.

Response: Yea we have taken on 2 internal staff for marketing / social media and also secured funding from our local government agency to help support some of that extra cost.

Response: That is a really interesting post. How easy is it to secure that sort of funding? I'm sure many others would be interested to know about this

Made in Britain: Was that funding specifically to support marketing initiatives?

Response: Yes it was for online support for business who needed help or support to change the way they did business.

Response: Absolutely! Halting exhibitions and networking events has had a big impact to a lot of businesses in every step of the supply chain.

Made in Britain: Do you think the halting of exhibitions/trade shows etc has shown many companies how valuable these actually are to their sales?

Response: Because a lot of the sectors are impacted, yes, there is a lot more work to be done in terms of looking for new markets to tap into, and then carry out lead generation in those markets. This situation will carry on for the immediate future for sure

Response: Yes although I think businesses have been forced into finding new ways of targeting their customers as a result which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Response: I heard a comment the other week that said "exhibitors will be more keen to get back to trade shows/exhibitions than the delegates/attendees". Time will tell?

Response: Quite possibly, however I believe there will always be a place for face-to-face negotiating because the human race likes interaction!

Response: Lead generation has definitely gone digital. The whole process from research to information gathering, to validation of leads...there are now numerous software programmes which can help to make this easier to manage. However, the human element is always important.

Made in Britain: What are the experiences of using software to do this? does it actually work and deliver a positive RoI?

Response: We work with customers & also use online software for our own use. There are tools which are easily accessible for small companies, while the larger organisations incorporate this in their marketing management. It helps us stay organised, keeping track of our conversations

Response: It’s an industry-specific question but, in general, it’s changed quite a bit. There’s been a noted turn toward social media advertising and using social media as a site of communication. But customer enquiries via phone are still dominant — for us at least anyway.

Made in Britain: That is interesting to hear the enquiries by phone. Has this changed over time? gradually reducing over the years?

Response: I think it’s to do with the business model more than anything. What sets us apart from competitors is the bespoke/custom made services we offer—and this can require a conversation to finalise things

Response: The majority of our work comes through emails anyway (which can be followed with a phone call if necessary). Because of COVID we have had a small decrease in walk-ins but generally it is a quicker process if we are supplied a digital file.

Response: Due to new technologies the consumer is more informed than before and are more sceptical so we've had to change our strategies to communicate effectively with potential leads

Made in Britain: Are they always correctly informed by their choice of links to click?

Response: Valid point...they have more access to information a growing choice of products/services, can share experiences and so are more demanding and business are (in some instances) struggling to keep up!

Response: Being more social savvy, keeping in contact with those who were/are furloughed has been fantastic as they have hit the ground running when they came back

Response: This is a great example of not just focusing on the here and now but continuing to look to the future even when things are challenging. Leads can be a long-term game at the best of times, and it's too easy to lose the L-T goals at a time like this

Response: It worked really well. We weren't trying to prospect or sell it was keeping in touch. Those on furlough or WFH home it was a welcomed contact with another human being.

Response: That sounds like an incredible thing to do. One of the 'good' things to come out of all this has been the appreciation of any kind of contact and people making much more effort. I have massively noticed that.

Response: Previously, lead generation was much more direct e.g. door-to-door selling and telemarketing. Today, strategies are more subtle and content/value-driven. Inbound marketing has taken off with blogs and videos such as those we share becoming a main pillar of lead generation.

Response: Investment in team training for the essential digital skills such as "Digital Networking for Business" and "Finding new customers online" are required. Companies are expecting their people to do this without training them.

Made in Britain: Companies seem to have done this all the way through the pandemic - expecting staff to do what they haven't been trained for. Has anyone else noticed this? 

Response: As with so many economic downturns, the marketing and training budgets get reduced. This is usually the time to boost them especially as it affects the income stream. With some hope of an end to lockdown companies should start to release funds for training

Response: We have talked before about learning how to be digital, it is a fast learning curve if you weren't doing it before. But there has also been a lot of online training available ....

Response: It seems some are trying to play catch-up with this training now. Too late?

Response: No it is not too late as this is going to be with us for the long term as part of the mix. The difficulty will be unlearning bad habits developed in the last year. Bespoke training for teams so they are in line with the company objectives is important

Response: Agreed... at the end of the day, it is still engagement and we must use opportunities to communicate in the best way possible at all times.

Response: Definitely still emails and phone. The SM enquiries tend to never be serious. Or at least not transferable to a sale!

Response: We've had a lot of enquiries and ultimately sales from LinkedIn posts. A handful from Twitter and nothing from Instagram (although I'm still learning)

Response: I get a lot of chatter from Linkedin, and people like to post "contact me at @" in the replied, and when you do, you get no response. Its almost like they are advertising themselves in your replies...

Response: We use SM to drive them to our website where we have a chat function or they simple call us referencing a SM post. One this morning regarding our M12 post yesterday.

Response: That's something others can learn from, being able to identify where contacts actually come from

Response: Many people say the investment in time on LinkedIn is better than the other platforms. It does depend on what you make and who your market is. 

Response: MarketAccents and Nigel T Packer talk a lot about personas and that is a really useful aid.

Response: The persona is the first step in understanding your customers

Response: Linkedin is very valuable, both for research and engagement for lead generation. However, please use wisely and do not spam. Nothing worse then being chased on Linkedin to answer poorly researched emails looking to sell.

Response: We've had a lot of enquiries and ultimately sales from LinkedIn posts. A handful from Twitter and nothing from Instagram (although I'm still learning)

Response: We don't feel it has changed that much for us! It has been difficult to do visits, but we've made the switch to videocalls together with our customers successfully. 

Response: We are the same! It hasn't changed much for us as we are still getting emails and phone enquires and where a meeting is needed our sales executives have adapted to virtual calls and videos!

Response: Likewise, much of our client communication is carried out digitally, even pre-pandemic because the majority of our clients are based nationally and overseas

Response: Glad to hear that. Some sectors have been fortunate, their clients have continued to operate and therefore their lead generation processes, many of them already 'remote' via phone and emails, still held.

Response: Has the demand remained constant throughout the last 12 months?

Response: For the most part, yes! The first lockdown in March was the one where we saw a slight decrease in demand as people were trying to get to grips with new processes and understand the rules, but since we have seen constant demand

Response: I provide freelance marketing for a number of British manufacturers and if anything positive has come from the pandemic it's that we have been forced to use virtual meetings which in moderation are a fantastic time saving time-saving tool. And LinkedIn, a great lead gen tool...

Response: We have invested a lot of time in improving our Website and Social Media outlets - employing professionals to help us out in this area has been a huge success and a platform to build on

Response: We’ve seen research, albeit aggregated, suggesting 73% of marketers expect growth in 2021 to come from existing customers. Perhaps it suggests they’re not doing lead generation? That would seem like opportunity for those who do, however difficult at present 

Response: Previously we attended regular trade shows. Sadly these are all postponed so we have had to look at virtual options. We just took part in  @voltimumuk Live online trade event, which went well.

Response: We are lucky to still get cold enquiries via the phone. We do also try to promote assorted products via our web store and on social media as well. Also relying on word of mouth and people seeing positive reviews of our products. Giveaways have proven successful too.

Made in Britain: What sort of giveaways have worked for you?

Response: Well we had a surplus stock of face visors so we donated them to local schools who were/are struggling to meet demand. We posted on social media that we were donating boxes of 50 visors to local schools so we could give back to our local community in a time of need

Response: We saw a shift to in person versus online lead generation, 70%/30%, as we opened a retail presence at a major garden centre in the middle of May. We had a captive audience as the social distancing queue passed within 2m of our shop front.

Response: And those same people presumably interested in how they could spend more time outdoors too?

Response: Absolutely! That was a regular feature in many conversations.

Made in Britain: Was that a long term plan to open it and you still went ahead even with the pandemic?

Response: It was actually a bit of a pivot. We had a small display inside and when garden centres first reopened, it just didn’t work. So we asked for a 20 m² conservatory by the entrance which was vacant. 10x space, 30% more rental. No-brainer.

Response: We have been training and updating our skills

Response: It's interesting actually (and slightly off topic), we know that businesses in Europe get subsided from their governments to purchase new machinery and expand, in the UK we don't... The only time we've received financial support was from an EU grant ironically

Made in Britain: Do you think things will change now Brexit is done. Will the UK government agencies start to realise that help is needed? 

Response: Do we need a stronger voice to lobby?

Response: Most definitely, changes being made are too little too late and there needs to be greater levels of government support for UK manufacturing, especially at SME levels

Response: I am all for this.

Question two: Has the sales process (initial contact to contract) become faster or slower as a result of more virtual interactions? Is it more efficient?

Response: Emails have definitely shortened the paperwork of sales. Not sure SM has. The folders of faxes and letters for historic projects are extremely thick compared to todays "E" world!

Response: Completely agree about email. We get a lot more emails now! Even calls have decreased in favour of email. 

Made in Britain: Emails work well out of office hours, which the office hours have changed over the last few months to accommodate everything else that’s going on.

Response: I find 9pm an interesting time... when we should be winding down... but Australia is just waking up and west coast NA is hitting full steam!

Response: I would say that social media can be a slow burn. It is good to get an initial engagement, but then easier to move to email. And if you are already connected in networks, you may even be fortunate to be on whatsapp groups or closed groups on linkedin, etc.

Response: Our process is much more complicated and longer now. The lack of surety and confidence in the global market, coupled with the failure or near failure of many businesses has meant the process is more difficult and profit more squeezed as companies fight to survive, often funded

Made in Britain: Are buyers/procurement teams starting to question more about the stability of businesses? making sure who they buy from are going to exist next year etc?

Response: We achieved most of our sales by face to face building long term relationships and addressing issues face on. That isn’t as simple now. There is a challenge to achieve a level of credibility that wasn’t there before especially in new markets.

Response: Yes I have seen this, even when being asked to put in a proposal or tender.

Response: This will be a case where strategic partnerships and #collaboration will help to evidence your stability and #sustainability

Response: Definitely more of a consideration and as Market Accents has stated strategic partnerships & collaboration will become ever more important/valuable

Response: We are already seeing examples of this across industries.

Response: Project work is still has the usual phases and time scales but supplying to renewables and EV sectors is requiring a faster more dynamic turnaround.

Response: For us, it has stayed the same in terms of pros and cons Customers working from home are reliant on emails rather than phone calls. Often times, it can be hard to get through to customers When we do get through to them, its efficient in terms of not needing to travel

Made in Britain: Do you find that meetings happen sooner now than they used to? you can arrange a zoom call as and when but it used to take longer to arrange when travel was involved.

Response: Definitely and also because many are working at home and juggling the pressures of home, the working day has become more flexible.

Response: The day has become more flexible and also longer for many, you can see that by the times that emails arrive in the inbox

Response: I agree and as a single parent, homeschooling two children, my working day varies from day to day depending on their needs.

Response: I find, particularly internal meetings, happen later/less frequently. Zoom calls are easier to delay and reschedule and as such both occur regularly! An in-person meeting is more of a set-in-stone commitment and are more likely to go ahead in my experience.

Response: The other side to that is less "filtering" of useful meetings - it has become a little too easy to zoom now.

Response: Yes agreed, although we often know from initial first contact whether or not we can provide a solution to a problem that needs solving

Response: There is also the overload from social media and zoom meetings, so emails are moving back up my list of 'loved' tools!

Response: The only problem with emails is that it is a slow process. If we or our customers have a question, it's no longer as simple as instantly picking up the phone and confirming within seconds / minutes

Response: Can that not be combined? Are they not answering phones? What about tools such as whatsapp and/or signal where they can answer discretely even if they are involved in other calls/meetings?

Response: It is a mixed bag! In some instances, our customers' physical limitations, due to restrictions, does make some sales take longer. However, we've invested in an online shop for a couple of years now and it has introduced great efficiencies.

Response: Self-service buying through an e-shop will always be faster for the customer. For bespoke and specialist services there will always be a need for engagement. This can take time. 

Response: Yes, there are always specialist products that take more time and investment, but a shop can still increase efficiencies for admin processes.

Response: Spending time out visiting client sites is important, however the zoom call has become the norm for meetings. Time efficiency may have improved here, so helping contribute speed up the sales process 

Made in Britain: Do you see the zoom call sticking around as the norm? or will there be a move back to face to face more? hence slowing things up again

Response: It will be a combination of both. Meeting face to face improves relationships and trust

Response: If it proves successful particularly for overseas calls then yes i think this will become the norm, as companies will want to economise too

Response: It is a lot faster with our web orders as the sales team get notified when an order comes through, they then action it on our internal system notifying our goods in/out department who then process the order and dispatch it same day (usually).

Response: The sales process is slower at present. Virtual communications may be more efficient but definitely not more effective. Face to face still matters

Response: Face to face is always the best, but we must acknowledge that face to face may not be possible all the time in the future.

Response: Completely agree, I am desperate to actually go and meet customers again, and actually assist them with our products. 12 months without actually seeing customers F2F is a long time!

Response: A big barrier is initial contact. In exhibitions, conferences and events it is possible to initiate conversation. With digital it is more difficult, you are invading others space. Text comms lack the non-verbal comms element essential in connection.

Response: I'd say in some areas it has streamlined the process! With international/overseas projects and the inability to travel, videocalls have made meetings more efficient, cutting out travel time

Made in Britain: Has this had the effect then of reducing the costs associated with a sale?

Response: Some industries it has been a slower process but in others it has been faster. Virtual interactions, being something our company had just started looking at in 2019 as part of our #savetheplanet and #buylocal plan 

Response: It depends on the customer & location. Being a Scottish company we have cut out a lot of travel, and it's definitely more difficult for our agents to get meetings, but in general, people are more open to digital conversations, and our end-users can easily order online now.

Question three: What makes for good video call etiquette and how do you make them more effective? What are the common mistakes when attending video calls?

Response: Try not to get distracted when they have the faux background trying to work out what is actually behind them...

Response: Good point on the background. I always think "Mirrors" - they're always things to look for on calls.

Response: Filters. I'm sure we all see the 'cat filter' video from the US, Another is having no camera thus avoiding face to face contact - just like "Alec's Ipad" from the Jackie Weaver incident

Response: Definitely make sure the tech is working before your join on to a call. It looks so unprofessional otherwise! 

Made in Britain: Make sure the tech is working and also that you have used the tech before. What is used most often - Zoom? Teams? Go To?

Response: Over the last year I have been on a range of video conference platforms. I have one using Oracle tomorrow which will be new. The platform varies with confidentiality and security

Response: I have used oracle as a platform. It should be fine.

Response: For us hands down it is Teams

Response: Historically it was Skype for us but we have been moving over the last 12 mths we have moved, with most of our clients, to Teams.

Response: I prefer zoom to teams, as teams sometimes is unstable when people are dialing on dodgy wifi's

Response: I still use skype occasionally but increasingly it is zoom and slack for our teams.

Response: We started on Zoom but found Teams great as it is just there in the Office365 environment already, and ties in so well with Outlook. 

Response: Same with us. We switched to Teams for all our internal meetings. Sill use zoom for the occasional external one. Handy to have both options if needed

Response: Treat the call like you would a face-to-face meeting, set an agenda, make sure the right people are there and assign actions - just like you would normally

Made in Britain: Great comment "make sure the right people are there". Is there sometimes a leaning towards inviting too many people to these virtual meetings?

Response: Yes! because it is so easy with virtual meetings. If it was a face-to-face meeting would the travelling time be worth your while and would you add any value to the meeting?

Response: Being clear & concise about the goals/purpose of the meetings (seems to be a load of meetings for the sake of meeting just because it's easy to arrange on teams). Not doing anything you wouldn't do in a normal physical meeting.

Response: Check your connection before your call time. Be tidy and presentable and watch out for what’s in your background.

Response: The list is long! Cultural acknowledgement for time of call; not muting when others are speaking, keeping your camera off all the time while others have their camera on; not allowing others to speak or not using online reactions & hand raising if that is requested by the meeting. Not having your name or company name showing on your screen... taking calls and doing work while in meetings... joining late... not taking enough notes... recording without asking permission... sharing without asking permission… taking screen grabs and sharing without asking... Using slides that are too busy; assuming that your audience is with you, even though you have no reactions or questions; having the screen placed too far away for your audience to have proper engagement; having too busy a background that detracts from the call...

Made in Britain: This raises an interesting point - setting the "rules" from the start, especially in external/networking type meetings. e.g. Do we use hand up electronically, physically or not at all.

Response: We suggest running through the zoom etiquette before the start of the call. That way everyone is on the same 'page'!

Response: Good list

Response: Fine points indeed! I didn't quite get the one about having the screen placed too far away for engagement? 

Response: Good point re: having your company name / logo on the screen

Response: It is your online badge so it should be prominent and accurate.

Response: I did a DIT trade mission last month, and the general rule for that was mute and screen off unless you were important... Which helped whilst doing other things? As over the week we may have heard the same 6 presentations 10 times...

Response: It is if that is an agreed form...difficult if you are in a smaller meeting though. You should judge and adapt your behaviour during the meeting accordingly

Response: Interested to see the feedback. Following the virtual court hearing that made the news recently, I’d say etiquette should include not appearing as a cartoon cat

Response: I agree with all those that have been mentioned! Those that have been stated are physical face to face meeting etiquettes anyway so I sometimes wonder why people think it is any different on a videocall? You wouldn't talk whilst someone is speaking in physical meeting so why not mute your mic and use raise a hand on video, you would turn up on time presented well for a physical meeting so why not put your camera on for the video?

Response: Agreed. But it sometimes seems that the degree to which people feel motivated to impress is less on video than it is F2F. This seems to fall off as F2F > Video > Phone > Email. Be like Deadpool: maximum effort!

Response: Attend a video call as if you are having a physical meet-up, so everything that you would not do when you are in front of someone physically 

Response: Be prepared: What might be asked and how will you answer it? What answers do you need and how will you get them? What actions will come out of it? How can you demonstrate value / expertise & a route to effective delivery? How do you demonstrate that you value others input?

Response: Well, for starters, muting when needed, but remembering to un-mute yourself after! I think a good tip is to avoid interrupting as much as possible. However, this can be hard as non-verbal cues can be easily missed in a video call.

Response: Let us also add #attire #wfhwear

Made in Britain: An additional factor nobody has mentioned here is screen layout and position of camera. This is something that Nigel Packer was discussing earlier in the week. This is something a lot of people could learn from.

Response: Many people using zoom/teams/etc on laptops will have the camera angled incorrectly, or else sit far back from the screen so that it is difficult to see them clearly or follow their eyes on the screen.

Response: Turn up and finish on time. Do your prep - set an agenda if necessary, and review any documents you'll be discussing before the meeting. Nothing worse than a meeting that's supposed to be 10 mins and lasts all day. 

Question four: Have you seen any evidence of more British companies actively seeking out British suppliers to replace overseas ones? 

Response: We are in a lucky position that all our suppliers are UK based. Their supply chain might not be, but our suppliers all are!

Response: Yes, in fact they have come to us for various projects seeking symmetrical metal components / parts for their supply chain Industries such as the consumer facing home decor, to the more specialist Medical sectors

Made in Britain: That was exactly the point of the question. Trying to see if companies are actively looking for British suppliers. I wonder how many others have experienced this?

Response: A lot of this is due to shipping costs and cross-border struggles of getting supply Another question you could ask, is this just a temporary thing? Or will see increased demand for local suppliers? Especially when businesses are used to having a cheap source of supply

Response: We have been having a look - had a chat with Doncaster Cables who maybe able to help with some of our requirements.

Response: Oh, I wonder if they have plastic/copper off cuts mixed together during their production methodology?

Response: We noticed a comment on a post the other week when you referred to Doncaster Cables - how did you first come across them? 

Response: They popped up on Made in Britain Twitter feed

Response: Our domestic market is key but not the volume of our business. A couple of export customers were looking for contingency supply to manage risk. Back to local supply, you’d think customers would see the benefits in reducing risk, all things considered.

Made in Britain: Why don't they do you think?

Response: I think it’s down to relationships in many cases. If you have a good, long-standing relationship with a supplier who exceeds all your requirements, why change. We work hard to retain the loyalty of our customers and expect that our competition do the same

Response: We have had a few enquiries for producing brochures and catalogues in the UK for companies that have usually bought in Europe as they don’t want the hassle at the ports

Response: There are a plethora of groups on social media dedicated to finding and sharing Made In Britain and Buy British. One I am following has grown to 18K members in the last month

Response: Yes, we have been approached by end-user and distribution clients who want to shorten their supply chain and have guaranteed continuity of product out for the next three years

Join Made in Britain on Twitter at 1pm every Thursday for #madeinbritainhour. We engage with everybody, members and non-members alike (some of whom become members as a result). Hopefully, see you there.

By Made in Britain 7 months ago | Made in Britain news

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