Maximising Business Relationships While Remote Working

On the 4th of November, a group of executives and leaders across 20+ financial institutions gathered for a lunchtime Zoom conversation about maximising the effectiveness of business relationships while working remotely.

The timing was fitting. With a second UK lockdown set to begin the following day, many firms recognise they adapted effectively to remote working earlier in the year but need to consider how they best support their teams and serve their clients over the next phase of the pandemic.

Contrasting Perspectives, A Common Focus

Two guest speakers provided unique insight into their experiences. They both lead remote teams with client remits and an emphasis on commercial effectiveness. However, their responsibilities cover different aspects of client relationships.

Elly McMeehan, Head of Client Coverage for Barclaycard, provided a front office, high street bank perspective while Prerna Goel, Head of Customer Experience for ClearBank, provided an operations and technology-focused view from a digital bank lens.

Their remits may differ but their experience leading teams to serve clients while working remotely yielded complementary, practical insight across common themes.

The panel’s opening reflections set the tone. Summarising her team’s experience this year, Elly outlined how they assessed, prioritised and responded to the initial disruption and uncertainty they faced when the pandemic hit.

Using data and data-driven insights, they reviewed the fundamentals: strategy, market approach, client engagement and risk/return decisions.

They then translated strategy into action, applying data-driven insight to tactical execution of their plan, one customer at a time.

Their approach to client engagement, with sharp meetings following clear agendas, using quality research to prepare and understand clients more deeply, paid off. This focus on excellence under pressure proved effective with clients and colleagues alike.

Their market focus was also balanced by an internal focus on colleague’s safety and well-being as everyone adjusted to the ‘new normal’ Elly summarised her team’s approach as: “Do the Basics Better. Then Elevate”.

In contrast, Prerna noted her team, already accustomed to working remotely in a fully digital environment, transitioned into lockdown without significant changes to the way they operated.

However, the intense market uncertainty during that period translated into heightened activity levels for everyone. Prerna and the leadership team quickly realised they needed to balance the double-edged sword of remote working in extreme circumstances: hyper-productivity vs transaction fatigue.

They focused on reducing the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) by ensuring colleagues knew they did not need to be in front of their computers all day and attend every possible call.

They emphasised informal meetings, including prioritising one to one catchups without agendas and sought creative and innovative ways to mimic face to face engagements.

When the lockdown lifted over the summer, they actively encouraged in-person meetings where possible, highlighting the importance of managing energy and engagement levels, both individually and as a team.

Ultimately, social capital, cultivated through many formal and informal interactions, is a valuable resource that can easily be depleted when interactions become too transactional for too long.

This challenging balance between increases in both productivity and transactionalism resonated with half the audience.

When it comes to collaboration, whether across departments or with external partners, the principles Elly and Prerna noted early in the conversation remained true.

Remote working opened up new opportunities as traditional time and geographic constraints no longer constrained the ability to put senior executives in front of key clients.

The sense of shared adversity has been a catalyst for diverse teams to come together to meet client needs. This sentiment was also echoed throughout the later breakout conversations with many of the senior executives.

However, the similar cautions applied to collaboration efforts. The ability to bring many parties together could sometimes result in FOMO and cross-team meetings, particularly when client-facing, requiring careful management to ensure clear, compelling and concise messages landed effectively, resulting in high-quality client conversations.

External partnerships also required thoughtful engagement as the intangible information that can be exchanged by visiting each other’s offices, over a meal or informal activity and the ensuing trust and relationship that develops requires more time, attention and care when Zoom video conferencing is your primary relationship tool.

While this may appear to be a challenge to overcome, it can also be a prompt to try new, creative approaches and prioritise the most important business relationships; staying true to the maxim: Less is More.

The breadth and nuance of perspective Elly and Prerna provided was reflected in the variety of responses from the audience. The majority recognised their organisations have managed to maintain good collaboration by embedding good practices and new approaches.

When it comes to client relationships, there was no surprise: deepening existing relationships when working remotely requires increased attention but is considerably easier than building new relationships.

On this topic, the panel shared several pragmatic ideas. Simple things such as ensuring everyone is using their camera on a call, having one designated colleague quickly introduce everyone to save time at the start of a conversation or simply investing additional time to prepare compelling, punchy communication are all good practices which cumulatively go a long way to building and maintaining client rapport.

Other fruitful approaches include placing a greater reliance on data and digging into industry and competitor trends to develop a deeper understanding of your audience and what matters to them today.

Thoughtfully considering and experimenting with different meeting and engagement formats was another suggestion to stimulate the diverse interactions and new conversations that form the foundation of good business relationships. This could include new cross-functional programmes where different teams presented their client portfolios to colleagues to gain new perspectives on how the organisation could serve clients and generate cross-sale opportunities.

Ultimately, every business relationship is unique and, while working remotely has many advantages, it requires additional energy and attention to build and maintain relationships.

The audience was generally split on this last point with approximately half agreeing that deepening and building relationships is challenging when working remotely but their organisations are getting better but still have room for improvement.

The other half of the audience broadly felt that every relationship is unique and it is too difficult to generalise.

Working remotely brings challenges and opportunities when it comes to maximising relationships but there are principles learned this year which organisations can build on for the remainder of the pandemic.

A good foundation requires doing the basics right, both in terms of serving clients and leading your teams but these extraordinary times are also opportunities to elevate our performance, try new things and ultimately build and invest in the social capital that is the bedrock of great business relationships.

Throughout the session, a theme emerged highlighting that technology solutions were critical to succeeding in a remote environment. While video conferencing tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams were seen as essential in keeping/establishing emotional relationships with colleagues and clients, other technologies were also seen as important – for instance, to improve client research pre-meeting – in order to facilitate punchier, more impactful calls.

Webinar Recording

Watch the video in this must-attend event for both sales leaders and organisational leaders whose role is connected to commercial effectiveness:

? Clients – How can you hold meaningful conversations when you are no longer able to meet?

?‍? Business – How can you set your business up to collaborate to win across front, middle, and back-office teams?

⚙️ Tech – How can technology help or hinder meaningful conversations internally and externally?