Five tips to fostering connections and building client relationships in a virtual space.

In March, it seemed a hiatus from in-person work, events, and activities would mean just a brief pause in our busy, very face-to-face-focused lives. After all, how would we be able to work effectively, connect with our clients, and continue to build relationships without meeting them in-person?

Particularly for B2B industries and roles traditionally built upon in-person interactions (e.g., professional services, healthcare, and many sales and referrals roles), the shift to virtual seemed virtually impossible.

Fast-forward nine months and we now know that the virtual workforce is, indeed, quite possible and practical for many of us. However, one wrinkle in the virtual space is that it still can’t quite entirely make up for in-person relationship-building. Peers who had strong relationships before our virtual shift have the advantage of being able to carry that momentum forward. Newer relationships can be a bit more challenging to build.

Especially in virtual group meetings, “water cooler” chat is far less organic. And it can be more than a little awkward to have a one-on-one conversation when 10 other peers are listening, or worse, feeling left out. We lose out on the occurrences where the truest sharing and relationship-building occurs.

So how do we foster connections with our clients in a virtual space? Here are five tips:

1. Start meetings off with intentional “sharing” opportunities

Inviting people to share can offset that awkward feeling and promotes inclusion. Looking for topics? Here are two:

  • If you want to keep it business-focused, highlight any big wins or news announcements from your client recently. Take time to hear your client’s view of the news.
  • If it’s appropriate, take the first few minutes (no more than five) of the call to ask a fun, non-work-related question. Pop culture (TV shows, podcasts, music, books, movies) is usually a topic everyone can participate in. The “ah-has” and connections when you find others with the same interest is a great bonding opportunity

2. Jump on the call early – even if you’re not the host

This one’s not too different from in-person network building. You have to be there and be present. Joining early can create space for non-business chatter and provide a more comfortable opportunity to start a conversation with fewer people.

3. Look to the (direct) mail

Virtual meeting fatigue is real. Explore ways to connect with your clients and audience in other ways that can also bring to them some of the physical, tangible elements we are missing. Direct mail is an opportunity. Think about going beyond a printed piece – is there a fun item that might resonate with your audience? Maybe there’s an opportunity for the items to create a shared experience – you can even pair it with a virtual event as well. Hybrid experiences such as food demonstrations, drink mixing or tastings, or crafts and artwork are becoming popular right now.

4. Keep it family-friendly

Many of us have kids at home for at least a portion of the workday. And after-hours events are even tougher these days. After a day of juggling home and work, we just don’t have the fight to carry that into dinner, too. Anything you can do that helps your client with family/work “balance,” that keeps their kids busy for at least a few minutes, or that families can do together is a win.

Here are some ideas: Develop your craft/art event to be for adults and kids. Host a cooking event to bake seasonal cookies. Include younger audiences when you develop specific segments of educational content (e.g., a financial institution could provide the latest industry regulations to its team and also add in a short segment on financial literacy for their kids).

5. Go back to your roots

Strategy always comes before tactics. Before deciding on your activity (tactic), revisit your strategy, your goals, and your audience. Make sure there is alignment. Also look at your past in-person events. What worked well and why?

Why did your clients engage in your activities in the first place; what benefit did they gain? Was it the content/topic, education, or credential? The networking and connections made (e.g., peer-to-peer or business development)? Was it more of the experience itself, such as the venue, entertainment, or a sporting event? Explore ways to (re)introduce those elements into your virtual engagement and events.

It’s very likely that our newfound virtual and hybrid work styles are here to stay, at least in some form. Just as in the physical work environment, building client relationships is and will continue to be a key to success in the virtual space. Want to learn more? Contact us here!

Looking for other communications tips in our virtual world? Check these out: