Virtual Fatigue? Three Ways You Can Plan Ahead For In-Person Meetings
Marshall Friday is the Director of Sales for ADT Multifamily, overseeing the company’s focus on smart apartments.
You’re sitting at your desk when your email dings. It’s a sound that you’ve heard so many times over the years. You stop what you’re doing and check your inbox. It’s an invite to a webinar related to your industry. The topic and the speakers are relevant to your own day-to-day. You look at the sponsor – you’ve seen their activity and glowing reviews on social media. Then you do the unthinkable: you delete the email and get back to what you were working on.
This reaction isn’t uncommon now that we’re several months into a historical time where in-person events have grounded to a halt. We are getting more and more invitations in our inboxes with some fantastic speakers, but there appears to be a breaking point for many professionals. For the multifamily industry specifically, we’re facing the question of how can we circumvent the virtual overload and start to re-engage our industry to get back the feeling that comes from conducting business in-person? There may not be a perfect answer, but there are options multifamily professionals can explore – when they are ready.
When the in-person element of events and trade shows disappeared, I hunkered down with everyone and opened my arms to the virtual environment. At first, it wasn’t half bad. I had the advantages of speaking on panels, meeting new people – albeit virtually – and I didn’t even have to leave my family at home to do it! I could finish a session and have lunch with my 4-year-old. Awesome, right?
Well, there are signs that the original enthusiasm may be waning. As humans, we are social creatures. It’s difficult to mentally isolate ourselves and stare at a screen when we’ve been accustomed to getting out and meeting, greeting and even shaking hands.
Several apartment associations around the country have chosen to expand interaction with in-person events in the form of golf tournaments. They’re taking all the right precautions according to local guidelines, including offering single-rider golf carts, promoting handwashing and requiring mask usage indoors. Some are even using green, yellow and red armbands to let others know your comfort level when interacting with your peers. The results have been positive. In speaking with the organizers of some of these events, I’ve heard turnout is high and registration often fills up days or weeks ahead of the scheduled events. From this, it’s evident that there are people ready to see other people – in person.
For supplier partners, the issue of almost all interactions happening virtually has not gotten any easier – especially when it comes to prospecting. Owners, developers and managers are inundated with cold emails, pitches, requests for discovery meetings and some straight-up full sales pitches via email. Holding a senior-level position in a publicly-traded company, I’m not immune to cold emails myself. Wading through them is a task to try and find value before committing to yet another 30- to 45-minute virtual meeting. Trust me when I say that there have been some very creative pitches, but what’s the answer for salespeople nationwide who might be seeing response rates dwindling as virtual fatigue continues to set in?
As the multifamily vertical has been accustomed to fraternization, it’s worth considering how to incorporate what has worked for years: face-to-face interaction. It may be different for each individual, partner and group. That’s why the first place to start is asking those you may interact with – prospects, clients and others – about their comfort level when it comes to meeting in-person. That simple gesture is the price of admission – and you might be pleasantly surprised at the responses to that question. I’ve recently begun meeting people for lunches, dinners, drinks and even site walks of existing customers to help answer questions.
When you couple the dipping attendance at virtual events with the reemergence of meeting in person, the message is clear: we are in an industry that cannot continue to operate via virtual alone.
For those who are interested in planning for the in-person component to join with the virtual one, there are three things I believe we can do to ease the transition.
1. Send An Email Campaign
First, I advocate for an email campaign that follows the green, yellow and red format of the apartment association’s golf tournaments. If you’re open to getting back out, add something to your message that says you’re willing to meet in-person. If you’re not ready yet, make that clear to the people with whom you’re communicating. Whether you’re ready to meet face-to-face tomorrow or in six months, gauging interest – and sharing your own – now can help you plan for later.
2. Consider Expanding Invitations
Second, instead of sending over a virtual-only invitation, consider an invitation with in-person and virtual options. If you’re open to in-person, the first option could be at a restaurant of your choosing that is convenient to the prospect. The second option could be a virtual lunch and learn where you send a gift card to the executive you’d like to meet with. This gives them the ability to accept a lunch meeting and maintain their distance.
3. Consider Meeting Location
Finally, consider the meeting location. This could include outdoor venues. It could also include an active customer site. You can confirm that the site has been adhering to proper policies from local guidelines ahead of time, and you’ll have the ability to showcase your product to a new prospect in a safe environment.
As the virus moves from pandemic status to potentially endemic status, life will return to a state closer to what we knew prior to March. Until that time is apparent, it is incumbent on all of us to don our armbands and let the world know our comfort level. My name is Marshall Friday, and I’ve got a green armband on. What color is your armband?