It feels unnecessary to still be saying that we’re in “unprecedented times” when we’ve been in this “new normal” for over six months now, and most of us have established new routines, new goals, and new ways to get our jobs done at the end of the day. But as the year comes to an end and we’re looking with uncertainty at 2021 and what it might bring, the question remains: what should we as salespeople do without travel?
If you’re an investment sales professional, you already know how important traveling is to our business, and to building and growing relationships with partners.
Here at Dakota, an investment sales firm, we rely heavily on travel. In a normal year, the average investment sales professional on our team is on the road two to three days a week, scheduling out across multiple cities three to four weeks in advance. And, in addition to weekly travel, there are several large industry conferences each year, spanning multiple days that every large money manager attends, during which salespeople schedule meetings.
The pandemic has eliminated conferences and travel from our playbooks this year, both of which are key components of relationship building. While we as a sales team have settled into new routines and started diligently using Zoom months ago, we realize that the adjustment period can be ongoing.
To help you finish the year strong and start 2021 with a plan in mind, we put together some of our best tips for navigating the world of investment sales without the ability to travel. These five points will help you and your team become more disciplined and organized so that your relationships are as strong as ever, even without leaving your home.
1. Schedule meetings as if you are traveling
One of the biggest things that has kept up on track this year has been scheduling meetings as if we are going to be traveling. Think about it: you wouldn’t spend the time and money to travel somewhere for just one meeting, right? Reach out and set meetings in advance, and try to fill your weeks with the same number of meetings you would if you were on the road.
At Dakota, our list of accounts is broken up by metro area, so if we were going to Chicago, who would we be setting meetings with? We also try to schedule five meetings a day, with the goal of filling these time slots:
This hasn’t changed even amid the pandemic. Holding yourself and your team accountable to booking and taking meetings as if you were going to be traveling is key to maintaining relationships when things are uncertain. We also recommend being specific when you reach out: give an exact date and time, outline the goal of the meeting, and ask if the person is free to meet with you. Being specific ensures that you continue to have full account coverage even without travel, and forces you to cover a metro area as thoroughly as if you were going to that metro.
City scheduling puts pressure on everyone on the sales team to fill up the day. If you were two weeks out from a trip and you only had two meetings planned, you would continue to reach out and fill your days. Apply that same pressure even without travel: it holds you accountable to a territory, and helps keep you organized.
2. Establish a pipeline scorecard and review it regularly
In lieu of traveling, we recommend identifying your top fifty key accounts, and creating a scorecard around them that you review with your team. The fifty opportunities identified should be your highest priority opportunities, so that none are missed.
At Dakota, we like to ensure that we're in a current sales cycle with those top fifty accounts, and that we have updated, clear next steps in the process. We hold ourselves accountable as a team by continually reviewing these lists together, a process that is also beneficial in that it helps you identify gaps in communication. This in turn allows you to schedule outreach and meetings with anyone you haven’t been in contact with recently.
Our team has scorecards prior to the pandemic as well, but COVID has accelerated the adoption of many tools and processes, scorecards being at the top of the list as they help us focus a large number of accounts into a more manageable and approachable sample size.
3. Pay attention to your data
More than ever, it’s imperative to have up-to-date data within your CRM. This, more than anything else, will enable you to be efficient, even without getting on an airplane and traveling to a given city. It’s critical to know who you’re calling on, so having accurate data is key when you’re doing outreach and setting meetings. Do you know when people have moved jobs or changed job titles? Do you know who is opening and reading emails? If you answer is no, you could be doing yourself a disservice. There are several tools, including Seamless and Rocketreach that will help you do just that.
At Dakota, we know that the people we’re calling on are still trying to reach their own goals, and have their own set of tasks and jobs to do among the pandemic, and we look at ourselves as the resources to help them accomplish their jobs successfully. So, staying up to date on current investments and changes within the industry is all part of that.
4. Get on Video
There’s no doubt that video is everywhere right now, and it’s for good reason.
Video helps you stay connected with your partners and prospects even when you can’t meet face to face, and helps you continue to build relationships. One thing we’ve done and recommend is sending emails that contain a quick video clip of yourself.
Think of it this way: you’re sending a note to an already cluttered inbox, and a video will help you stand out.
A video message allows the person on the other end to see and connect with us without needing to be there in person. Our team has seen great success, especially in terms of getting our emails read, with video. With everything going on, people need connection, they want to know that you’re there for them consistently: in good times and bad. Showing your face, even if only in their inbox, is a great first step to building that trust.
We know that a lot of people aren’t “good on camera,” because a lot of the Dakota team would have said the same thing six months ago! However, being open-minded and agile as things changed, and pivoting to video for email, meetings, and check-ins has been a huge part of our success these last few months.
5. Try new things
Don’t be afraid to try new things. The tried and true approach of conferences and travel might be gone for now, but there are still new ways to engage your partners and prospects.
While conferences aren’t part of our core approach to sales and marketing at Dakota, we understand that there are teams for which a large section of their efforts and budgets is dedicated to conferences and the meetings and leads that stem from them.
To help bridge the gap, we’ve heard of other creative ways to get in front of allocators, like hosting Zoom lunches, Zoom happy hours, etc. These things give you some of the social aspects that've been lost without conferences, while getting you in front of your target audience. Granted, these events are on a smaller scale, but they can be done successfully if you’re calling on the right people at the right time.
Another idea we recommend trying is hosting a quarterly webinar. Without conferences, we’ve seen many of our peers increase their focus on mass marketing through webinars, often with great success. This helps you get an audience all in one place, to present on and share ideas and news in the industry. However, the key to this is consistency. Continue holding a least one webinar every quarter, even when travel is allowed again.
How to put it all together
There’s still a lot of uncertainty about the future, but the key is to keep moving forward. Keep reaching out, setting meetings, and making plans. This year is going to be over before we know it, and we can’t stress enough how imperative it is to start thinking about next year right now.
At Dakota, we’ve always believed that the slow summer months are a great time to map out the calendar for the coming month, but filling in the gaps without travel also gives you more time to plan for the future. In the past, this would include planning out your travel, but now, it means continuing to review those scorecards and set up meetings.
More than ever, it’s critical to be disciplined, to continue to look at your data, and to keep the same level of personal connection, whether it’s by reaching out over email, connecting through a video so that the recipient can see you rather than just more words on a screen, or engaging in a new kind of socializing with your audience, it all comes back to making a connection with the person on the other end.
We’ve all been impacted by the current pandemic, and the reality is that we all still have goals to meet. We can do that by keeping in touch, keeping things human, and by providing continued value to allocators and managers. At Dakota we are able to form and strengthen connections through Dakota Studios, our newest project.