Tips For Managing Remote Clients: How To Sell And Work When You Can't Meet? | Vietcetera
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Tips For Managing Remote Clients: How To Sell And Work When You Can't Meet?


Social distancing measures have sent staff to work from home and all but eliminated face-to-face client contact. Businesses had little choice but to turn to video conferencing apps like Zoom to speak to clients. 

Many founders and managers are discovering that embracing the time-saving and cost-cutting technology has provided a silver lining. Remote meetings are helping to drive down costs by streamlining tasks, cutting down travel time and eliminating flashy client lunches. 

But once the “human touch” is removed from the daily interactions, sales teams and account managers might struggle to optimize trust, reassure clients and keep them informed during the pandemic. It is especially true for businesses dependent on face-to-face contact, such as branding agencies and business consultancies.

Vietcetera has reached out to leaders in client-facing roles to learn how client management is being shaped by the new work-from-home reality.

Chris Elkin, Founder, Doodle Brands

Since transitioning to WFH, how has the agency-client dynamic been affected?

My team and I at Doodle Brands work with a broad range of clients, in all kinds of industries, in Vietnam and the region. Many clients were initially in some form of ‘stand-still shock’, then ‘let’s wait-and-see’ and then ‘let’s wait until this passes’. My advice has been empathetic but honest. Adapt – don’t die. Don’t keep delaying. Don’t wait for things to change back. It’s time to innovate a way forward. Beyond the obvious ‘cost-cutting’ I ask, how might we re-frame these challenges together with your team?   

With the right mindset, methods and tools to empower change, BIG opportunities await those teams that are willing to look again, re-imagine and envision future possibilities to prosper with their clients.  

Other than video conferencing apps, what’s in your WFH toolbox?

A ‘WFH toolbox’ is only as good as the team who seek to extract value from it. The WFH toolbox we use at Doodle Brands is leveraged to help our clients-teams in three key ways:

To ‘Look again’ – to uncover and make clear what customers really need in these fast-changing times.

Otter – This app works on a phone or web browser to record, review, search, play, edit, organize and share conversations, observations and first insights from your customer.

To ‘Understand’ – to help gain stakeholder inputs, swift alignment and a shared way forward together.

Post-it – My team and I train people and facilitate outcomes using Design Thinking methods to help our clients innovate every day. We collaborate very visually together. We facilitate remote and in-person workshops using a lot of ‘Post-it Notes’. This App has handwriting recognition and helps us to ‘digitize’ all our work and then make it available to all stakeholders to better understand the way forward together.

To ‘Do (doodle)’ – to make a desired future solution together.

Mural – This is a game-changing digital white-board/workspace. We use this every day to collaborate and co-create internally, with clients and our clients customers. We use it to plan, to brainstorm new ideas, to evaluate work, to help align and make better decisions and to capture customer empathy.

What is your WFH strategy in approaching new clients? In closing deals?

Well, we try to practice what we preach to our clients (as shared above). Some specific questions I have to guide us in closing deals are:  

  1. How do I add value today to my clients’ crisis?
  2. What ideas have we been working on recently ‘here’ that can be used ‘over here’ with this client when their ‘bounce-back’ comes?  
  3. What is their ‘new reality’ likely to look like? (We keep track of ideas we can develop for that stage.)

Some fundamentals don’t change though. It’s all about people relationships, keeping our promises and building trust over the long-term. We’ve been fortunate to live and do business in Vietnam for nearly 15 years. So a lot of our business comes from referrals initially.

How can companies ensure they continue to provide value during the pandemic?

We’ve got to remain connected more than ever. We can’t stop innovating, working together on problems and ideas – or even talking to customers – just because we can’t physically be together for the moment. While we may be ‘physically distant’ – we are NOT ‘emotionally distant’. There are some amazing things happening to help us. With the right mindset, methods, tools, bandwidth and access we can continue connecting. There are all kinds of ways to deliver new customer delight, by design.

Tuyen Caohuu, Founder and CEO, Tillerman Consulting Group

Since transitioning to WFH, how has the agency-client dynamic been affected?

For existing clients, we’ve definitely received requests to either extend our project timelines, or hit “pause” on certain objectives, particularly ones that involve knowledge/capacity transfer or require extensive stakeholder validation. Engineering solutions are only half the battle, and we’d rather take our time implementing these solutions with clients for full effect, rather than rush through under less than ideal conditions. 

WFH doesn’t mean we can’t get this done, it just requires some realistic adjustments for attention and bandwidth. Our clients are our partners, and if they need to change pace, we do our best to match. What has made this really easy is our practice of developing working agreements with our clients at the start of every project. Delays and changes can happen from both sides, and being on the same page as our clients from the get-go with regards to how we communicate and adjust to these variables is critical for good expectation management and customer satisfaction. COVID-19 is a bump in the road, to be sure, but one that we’re able to address using existing resources.

Other than video conferencing apps, what’s in your WFH toolbox?  

Transparency is the enemy of non-productivity! We’re lucky enough to have a Director of Research and Design who doesn’t just build and identify tools for our teams and clients to use, but also shapes the user interaction with these tools. It’s not so much that we’ve had to invest in new resources to maintain productivity, but rather adjust our behavior using our normal (very light) tech stack – Trello, Slack, dashboards to make sure that we don’t suffer a loss in visibility and collaboration during this time. I’ve found the most helpful practice has been to acknowledge the changes and their effects, and ensure alignment on WFH practices and tool use through working agreements, both internally and for clients.  

What is your WFH strategy in approaching new clients? In closing deals?  

As a referral-based consultancy, we thankfully haven’t been affected too much from a business development standpoint as much of our pre-engagement workup can be done remotely. However, I do miss the personal touch of sitting down with prospective clients, but I consider this a learning opportunity. The less-personal feel of a video call definitely challenges me to be more creative and concise when I’m problem- and solution-finding with a client, but I think this will make me a much more effective communicator when all is said and done.

How can companies ensure they continue to provide value during the pandemic?  

From a leadership level, I think it’s critical to reinforce lines of communication with your client counterparts. If you’re not doing it already, setting up regular conversations to steer projects, eliminate roadblocks, and identify opportunities to lighten the load is a painless way to mutually ensure visibility and alignment, even under frustrating WFH conditions. Maintaining a persistent, trackable question/tech query log is another great way to keep communication and feedback flowing back and forth, especially as issues that are normally flagged face to face may be missed.  

Internally, we’re using the extra time to do staff professional/skills development. Accommodating our clients’ requests to stretch projects has created some free time, and we’re doing the equivalent of everyone else stuck at home and making sure we come out with more tools and knowledge at our disposal.  

From a client standpoint, mandatory office closures provide a rare opportunity to re-examine and reinforce organizational foundations. Updating regulatory compliance, assessing data quality, business intelligence analysis, updating KPI composition and dashboards are tasks that are too often neglected in favor of day-to-day operations.

Megan Ly, Business Development Manager, PRNewswire

Since transitioning to WFH, how has the agency-client dynamic been affected?

There’s a reason why face-to-face meeting is utmost important for an agency-client relationship. You can read their reaction while pitching and exploring what their problems are, and especially you can create a trusted environment for them in person to share their concerns – that’s where you offer your solutions. WFH makes it more difficult and you have to face more disruptions before getting to establish a long-term and in-depth relationship like before. It’s not impossible to do so but it will take longer and maintaining the relationship would take greater efforts.

Other than video conferencing apps, what’s in your WFH toolbox?

Yammer/Slack for internal communications and Whatsapp, Viber, Telegram, LinkedIn for external communications. I need these apps to constantly communicate with my team and clients. Staying connected is essential for any client-facing roles, especially during this time.

What is your WFH strategy in approaching new clients? In closing deals?

My sales playbook has definitely changed since I used to attend networking events, conferences or organize those to find new prospects and then arrange a face-to-face meeting to find out more about them. Based on the nature of our business, I had to increase the time spent reading the news on various media sites and platforms and keep my radar on. I’ll reach out to a colleague in the industry or a friend to get more information on what’s happening with that particular company or ask them for a reference. If there’s an opportunity for collaboration, I’ll approach them through LinkedIn or emails/calls. Right now, we focus on being a reliable and helpful resource for communications professionals by providing research, tips and webinars with experts, so we can attract more interest and ensure we deliver value.

How can companies ensure they continue to provide value during the pandemic?

It varies by industry, but I believe there are a few key actions companies can take to ensure they are still providing value:

  • Be adaptive: mobilize a work-from-home plan or make flexible arrangements to ensure employee’s health and safety are taken care of, since they’re the key assets in keeping the company running.
  • Be transparent: on what you can deliver, and even what you cannot.
  • Be responsive and accessible: make sure customers can reach you easily for information they need about your company, your services or products, and that they receive the answers quickly.
  • Be empathetic and not opportunistic: during this challenging time, more than ever, companies need to put their users/customers’ needs and benefits first, and show that they care, rather than focusing on maximizing their profits.

Long Nguyen – Head of Accounts & Tra Tran – Head of Agency Relations, Vietcetera Media

Since transitioning to WFH, how has the account manager-client dynamic been affected?

WFH has taken away the opportunity to meet clients in person and that connection has always played an essential role in establishing a successful partnership, allowing each party to be transparent about capability and expectation from the get-go. While we do miss the personal touch, we have made it our priority to ensure that WFH does not disrupt or affect our communications with clients along with the quality of the solutions we deliver. 

In addressing these changes, we have opened up our bandwidth for preliminary Q&A sessions and more frequent exchanges to facilitate purposeful virtual discussions, so that each party can come away with actionable and value-adding insights.

Other than video conferencing apps, what’s in your WFH toolbox?

Communications apps including Slack, Trello, Messenger and Whatsapp have been essential. Productivity apps such as Google Keep and Calendar remain important as tools to keep us organized, track our progress and hold ourselves accountable.

What is your WFH strategy in approaching new clients? In closing deals?

In the current circumstances, there are definitely fewer commercial opportunities but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Aside from our usual toolbox (LinkedIn, news sources, social media) for business development, the existing client relationships and network have been our greatest assets thus far. This has resulted in generous information and insights sharing that is invaluable for understanding macroeconomic trends and identifying industries that are thriving. 

However, we have to be highly selective in exploring new opportunities – seeking out the ones that Vietcetera can truly deliver tangible values to – and be transparent in communicating our expectations. In closing deals, our general knowledge of the industries and consumer/reader behavior continues to play a big role in tailoring very specific solutions for Vietcetera clients. 

How can companies ensure they continue to provide value during the pandemic?

From an outward-facing perspective, companies should look to make client communications as frictionless as possible, addressing concerns and requests in good conscience. Flexibility is also important, but it should not compromise companies’ operations. Additionally, acting as a source of information and expertise can help strengthen client relationships down the line.

Internally, this is a great opportunity for product refinement and structural improvements so that companies can provide increasingly impactful solutions for clients.

Joshua Breidenbach, Partner & Creative Director, Rice Creative

Since transitioning to WFH, how has the agency-client dynamic been affected? 

We were already having fewer face-to-face meetings, aside from big presentations. The pace of the agency and our clients seemed to favor meeting online, and sending files / samples back and forth. Simultaneously, this scenario has created a stronger sense of bond and humanity, as everyone is sort of rejigging. In a sense we feel closer, as everyone is in this together. 

Other than video conferencing apps, what’s in your WFH toolbox?

 Slack, Google Hangouts.  

What is your WFH strategy in approaching new clients? In closing deals?

We have prospects out that we have had conversations going with, and we simply check in to see what challenges they face now. We are extremely flexible about the previous conversations. We’re not pressuring anyone. We are only making contact, offering advice, and of course reminding people that it is important to communicate during a recession / crisis. We are also encouraging clients to allow us to help them think beyond the bottom line, perhaps even pursue new opportunities that have now become apparent.  

How can companies ensure they continue to provide value during the pandemic? 

Focus on the mission and try not to get derailed. A company that has true value to offer will have a way. Being creative is essential.

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