Build your community and your brand online
New relationships can be trickier to develop when there’s no (or very little) face-to-face interaction, but paying attention to how our prospective clients use digital tools can help us to connect with them on a deeper level. Do they prefer video chat, e-mail or text? Connect with your clients how and where they wish to connect with you. Extroverts will always reach out with questions or concerns; introverts might require a little more probing and attention. Adapt to your clients’ needs and schedule reminders to check in. Let them know you are available and encourage them to reach out if they have something on their mind.
Another way to bolster your online presence is by engaging with your professional community through social platforms. For example, at National Bank Independent Network (NBIN), we have made LinkedIn an important part of our digital focus. We’re putting ourselves out there digitally (and having a lot of fun doing it) by engaging with our clients and by sharing relevant articles and commentary about our industry, information about virtual events, and industry news. By doing this, we can also see what our clients are up to and what topics are most important to them, and engage in conversations that can spark new business opportunities. Using social media can be a great way to engage with your community and show your pride in your profession and your business.
Use data to enhance your brand and your business
With the increased focus on digital platforms in the past 12-18 months, we can now harvest more information from our community than ever before. How many visitors do you get to your website? What types of content are visitors looking at? How much time are viewers spending on your site? Where is the website traffic coming from? We have a wealth of information at our fingertips—literally. We need to make use of all this data to offer tailored solutions for clients and create a positive digital experience for visitors to our digital platforms.
An interesting and fun question I often ask clients and co-workers is, “Have you searched yourself recently?” You need to know where your business ranks in a search engine, because if it’s not on the first page of results, a lot of potential clients will likely never find you. Making the investment to optimize searchability for your business has become crucial in 2021 and is sure to translate into more opportunities.
Put technology to work to create stronger relationships
One major loss over the past year has been the spontaneous collaboration that naturally occurs in the office. After all, you can’t bump into anyone on a video chat platform. Nowadays, one of the practices I suggest to employees and peers is to schedule moments to check in and follow up with team members, or to block off five or ten minutes after a meeting to debrief. In the current environment, we need to make time for these “spontaneous” (or not-so-spontaneous anymore) discussions.
We can also use digital channels and content as conversation starters. A great habit to develop is calling or emailing team members, clients and business partners, not to talk about a particular work topic, but instead to share “read this and thought about you” moments. Maybe it’s just a quick link that you send their way, maybe it’s a news story that spurs an idea and a deeper conversation. The important thing is to develop and exercise connection and communication like a muscle—it needs to be trained regularly to be in top shape!
And as we all know, communicating via text, phone or video is no replacement for face to face; body language and visual cues can be very difficult to pick up on via these platforms (emojis don’t count!). As such, we need to adapt and ask more probing questions if we think something might be misunderstood or warrant further discussion. These conversations can be as straightforward as saying, “Tell me more.” or “What are your thoughts on the matter?”
So what’s next?
In 2021, as we all continue to use more digital solutions, we have to make corporate culture a priority, or else we will run the risk of not evolving or losing it altogether. So, we need to get creative. Last year, industries leaned on their corporate communications teams more than ever to share messages with employee groups and implement virtual engagement programs. This is a trend that will only continue to grow as we continue to make digital systems a focus.
Business leaders have to ensure that there is a robust program in place to regularly connect and communicate with employees. These programs will include forums for team conversations and meetings, newsletters, virtual events, townhalls, etc. These types of communications activities have the power to shape corporate cultures. But, for these programs and behaviours to be effective, business leaders have to embrace them and lead by example.
As we look to an eventual return to the office and a hybrid model of working, striking the right balance between digital tools and in-person connections will pose a significant challenge, but those who do it right will reap many benefits. Digital systems will continue to make business more efficient and allow us to better prioritize the activities that are best done in person: collaborating, strategizing and nurturing relationships. As much as we might all be feeling a little “Zoom fatigue,” video calls will continue once the pandemic is behind us, so choosing the right opportunities to hold digital vs. in-person meetings will be key going forward.