Written by: Ken Haman
Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the term “new normal” has already become overused and now applies to every implication of social distancing in our culture. Humans are adaptive, but we don’t like to change that much. Many patterns that were built into our lives will not change in the long term because of a virus. People like to eat together; we enjoy parties and live entertainment. Over time, much of what has changed during quarantine will slowly get pulled back to familiar patterns.
However, this is unlikely to be the case with virtual meetings. While the pandemic didn’t create an interest in virtual meetings, it has massively accelerated the adoption and improvement of that technology by the general population and financial professionals.
In his May 19 LinkedIn article, “Get Over It! Here’s Why There Is No Going Back to Normal After COVID-19,” writer Joseph F. Coughlin summarized the process we are now experiencing: “COVID-19 fanned the gale of creative destruction that was already underway.…We’ve already possessed the paradigm-shifting technology for a long time.…But much of its vast potential had yet to be realized until the outbreak of COVID-19.”
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the idea of combining voice and visual communication to enable realistic conversations from a distance was first imagined in the 1870s. The idea of having a video conference call is actually 150 years old! Of course, even Zoom founder Eric Yuan couldn’t have imagined the explosive growth of users of virtual meetings; from 40 million Zoom users in all of 2015 to more than 300 million users in April 2020, according to BusinessofApps.com.
10 Reasons Why Your Clients Will Prefer (Maybe Require) Virtual Meetings
The requirement to quarantine created the perfect conditions to push virtual meetings past the tipping point to general adoption. Once advisors and clients were forced to use the technology, it was worth climbing the learning curve to satisfy the need/desire to stay in touch. After a few meetings, the initially confusing technology became familiar to most users. Just as email has evolved over the last three decades, communicating through video will eventually be something we take for granted. And because we already use the internet in our daily lives, that timeline will be shorter than ever.
Of course, the pandemic will eventually end as scientists produce treatments and (we hope) a vaccine to protect us from the virus. However, our fascination with virtual meetings is here to stay because of the ways in which a virtual meeting works better than a live interaction.
Here is a list of 10 reasons why virtual meetings are likely here to stay.
1. Virtual Meetings Allow for a More Efficient Use of Time
Since the salesperson doesn’t need to travel to the client, a virtual meeting can be set up at any time that is convenient for the client. In addition, the duration of the meeting can be managed for greater convenience.
2. The Client or Prospect Controls the Access of the Salesperson
The client or prospect controls his own availability. While this is also true with in-person meetings, virtual meetings take accessibility to a new level. It’s easier to schedule a meeting at odd hours when you don’t need to be face-to-face.
3. The Salesperson Is Forced to Make the Conversation Relevant
The limits of the communication channel force the sales professional to be prepared for the conversation. Just as we can hang up on unsolicited telephone calls, the client or prospect has more freedom to end a conversation in a virtual meeting than in an in-person appointment. Clients will exit a meeting if it isn’t serving a valuable purpose.
4. The Client Controls the Duration of the Meeting
It’s easier to enforce start and end times during a virtual meeting. There are social mores that inhibit many people from asking a salesperson who has overstayed his welcome to leave. There is no such inhibition in a virtual meeting, which increases the client’s feelings of control over her time and attention.
5. The Client Controls the Focus of the Presentation
Virtual meetings must have a defined goal or purpose. Because there are fewer inhibitions in a virtual conversation, the prospect or client has more flexibility about keeping the meeting focused on the original intent and his needs and preferences.
6. Less Social Obligation Equals More Freedom
When humans aren’t face-to-face, our instinctive social responsibility is reduced. Think about driving: Do you express your anger to other motorists in ways you never would face-to-face? Virtual meetings seem less real to our human instincts, which means the client or prospect feels fewer social obligations, more freedom and less need to adapt to the social situation the salesperson is creating.
7. The Client Can Multitask and Pay Less Attention
During in-person meetings, the client or prospect is held hostage to the salesperson’s agenda and can feel that valuable time has been wasted. In a virtual meeting, the client can stay engaged or pay attention to emails, texts, news feeds and social media. This is very appealing to someone who feels like she doesn’t have enough time.
8. Virtual Meetings Contain Higher-Quality Information and Illustrations
Because our normal social instincts are reduced in a virtual meeting, the salesperson must shift from a relationship-based conversation to a message-based presentation. Therefore, the quality and structure of information as well as the impact of illustrations become much more important and the client or prospect gets a better-prepared and higher-quality communication than he would receive in a live interaction.
9. The Salesperson Must Be Well Prepared
Live meetings can be approached with a spontaneous “Let’s see how the conversation flows” mentality. Social obligations and nonverbal cues give the sales professional plenty of feedback with which to navigate a discussion. In virtual meetings, this feedback is drastically reduced, as the screen reduces a life-size three-dimensional image to a two-dimensional thumbnail. Therefore, the prudent sales professional comes to these meetings well prepared.
10. Meetings Can Be Recorded and Reviewed
Virtual meetings can be easily recorded, which allows the client or prospect to replay the meeting as often as desired to ensure that she missed nothing. Memorializing a meeting means that the client doesn’t have to pay close attention.
Remember that the key to understanding the appeal of virtual meetings for clients and prospects is the appeal of having greater control over the conversation. Thus, clients and prospects are likely to prefer virtual meetings over live meetings for the foreseeable future. This will be especially true for busy professionals and business owners, who put a premium on their time but still need to stay informed.
Like all technology-driven big improvements, new approaches are adopted slowly at first until either substantial time has passed or something catalyzes adoption by a large number of people. In 2020, both are true: enough time has passed that virtual meetings are now familiar to most people, and the COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst of change at a level only rarely experienced in our culture.
For more resources from the AB Advisor Institute visit http://alliancebernstein.com/go/abai.
The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AB portfolio-management teams.