Sanjay Singla, Vice President, Intermediary Distribution, Central Ontario, BMO Global Asset Management, believes virtual face-time with clients will now be a permanent part of the adviser offering, and shares his insightful tips on how to differentiate yourself with a polished and professional online approach.
A new virtual norm has arrived, and it’s here to stay
While there are many debates on what life will look like post-COVID, what’s undeniable is that the virus has accelerated a new virtual norm that has permanently altered workplaces. There’s no question that the last months have been challenging, but the changing environment has created an opportunity for many advisers to adapt their business models – and thrive.
Virtual touchpoints have now become essential to staying top of mind and growing your client base amid a socially distant backdrop. And there’s no reason to think that this will change anytime soon, especially as clients across all demographics grow increasingly comfortable with the flexibility and convenience afforded by online communication. On the ground, many advisers have revealed to me that they’re actually surprised by how many of their older clients have seamlessly transitioned to these platform technologies in other areas of their lives too, whether it’s Zoom or FaceTime calls with grandchildren, work meetings, or exercise classes.
So, professionalising your virtual approach – and adapting best practices – will only benefit your business in the long run. From timely educational seminars that can be hosted and accessed at any time to referral introductions that put a face to a name, these meetings can offer an ideal outlet to share your message; make a great impression; and showcase your brand and value proposition. All the while, you’ll be able to drive growth, maintain trust and save time in the process (for both you and your clients).
How do you keep it polished, effective and efficient?
I’ve prepared a helpful list of eight tips you can immediately put into practice to ensure your business successfully evolves with the times – and that you stay relevant:
- Actively engage your audience
For a webinar, let attendees know you’ll be calling on them periodically when appropriate, or mention people by name when you’re welcoming them at the beginning of a meeting. Establishing a rapport is key to maintaining your audience’s attention through a mediated platform. Learn the art of narrative storytelling to stimulate emotion, and if possible, consider how you might integrate clients into your presentation and messaging. If people know their adviser is aware that they’re in the meeting, they tend to be more focused and present in the discussion. Another benefit to virtual meetings is the ability to share your screen with strong visuals to keep everyone interested and attentive.
- Upgrade your background
Given the remote working situation, it’s not uncommon to work in a messy, unprofessional environment, but that doesn’t mean you should broadcast it. Dust off and tidy up your office space before each meeting. If your living room, or den, needs to be the backdrop, just keep the lighting in mind. As a general rule, the light should not be coming from behind or you’ll appear washed out – or like a deity with a halo! Of course, many of these virtual platforms offer “green screens” and standard backgrounds. Whatever the choice, ensure that it projects the impression you want to make, and that it doesn’t cloud people’s concentration on you and your message.
- Look professional, too
At least from the waist up, it’s still appropriate to dress business casual as you would for a regular face-to-face meeting. Aside from the grooming basics, think strategically about your attire. Wearing a busy or patterned outfit doesn’t translate well to video, nor do bright white or dark black shirts. Consider choosing a plain, solid colour that will compliment your features on camera.
- Minimise and anticipate distractions
With family members around, there are bound to be interruptions, so be sure to apologise right off the bat that there may be an unavoidable break in the action. At the end of the day, life happens, but do your best to ensure you’re in a private, quiet space, and turn off all your notifications, or activate the “Do Not Disturb” setting if you’re running MacOS. Not only will these alarms inevitably distract your audience, but it can throw you off as the presenter. And even if the camera is not on you, do NOT check email, text or catch up on other work. Your attention should be undivided, at all times – just like it would be in person.
- Purchase high-quality equipment
Do your research when it comes to setting up your meetings because not all laptops have cameras, or decent audio. Accessory microphones that directly plug into your USB port are a great option to notch up the sound quality, as are lapel mics that connect straight into the microphone jack of your computer. In terms of video, consider buying an external webcam as an upgrade. And don’t overestimate your internet connection: if it’s spotty, it’s a good idea to purchase a new router, modem or even a Wi-Fi booster to ensure it all runs smoothly. Remember, your clients’ experience should be as easy, seamless and fun as possible.
- Start and end meetings on time
It’s good practice to login into a meeting approximately 15-30 minutes early to anticipate connectivity issues, meeting IDs, passcodes and screen sharing capabilities. With fewer formalities, the tempo for virtual meetings is typically faster than in-person, so find a way to cut to the chase in your speaking points, and minimise any urge for clients to start multi-tasking. That said, it’s important to discuss both social and professional topics as appropriate, but know your audience. More than ever, people are juggling multiple responsibilities, so be sure to demonstrate respect for their time, and keep the conversation relevant.
- Ensure easy access for clients and prospects
Take the initiative to organise and send calendar invites early for all of your virtual meetings so clients have time to prepare, providing step-by-step connection instructions, and troubleshooting options. When you log into the meeting, copy and paste all the details again into the chat box of your chosen platform – including any alternative methods to join if they’re having audio/video, or connectivity, issues. For an educational seminar, let clients know that if for whatever reason they cannot attend, you have the ability to record the session, and then use it as a touchpoint for a follow-up call or email. The easier the process is for others, the better it is for you.
- Practice, practice, practice
If you’re hosting a virtual event, do a practice run and time yourself for good measure. For example, when preparing for a client seminar, I use my son as a guinea pig to ensure I’m not running over my stated time. It’s also wise to triple check all functionality in terms of both audio and video to convey professionalism and ensure your comfort level is consistent throughout. As a suggestion, be well-versed in whatever technology you choose, so you’re able to walk clients through common difficulties.
Don’t skip a beat: leverage the potential
Like it or not, virtual meetings are becoming a regular mode of communication for advisers to maintain important relationships – and part of their key business-building toolkit. Whether it’s an educational presentation to keep clients up-to-speed with current market events, a quarterly portfolio assessment, or a three-way conversation to follow-up on a warm lead from a professional connection or LinkedIn source, the online factor allows for increased productivity. Just think about the time, effort, and logistics involved in organizing a successful in-person seminar, or even a semi-annual review.
The same benefit holds true for your clients, especially the high-net-worth professionals in your book that lead busy lives – another reason why forward-thinking advisers have quickly adopted e-signatures into their businesses to support and expand their virtual approach. It can also be used as a marketing opportunity for potential prospects living in remote or small communities, and for clients that simply cannot travel the distance for a physical engagement.
Bottom line? While COVID-19 has put many things on hold, reliable, effective client communication should not be one of them. Now is not the time to slow down. As these digital meetings inevitably fill up your calendars, it’s time to take a closer look at how to differentiate yourself – and smartly re-tool your offering for future success.