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The world of sales keeps getting smaller as businesses continue to integrate video applications with CRM platforms.
Although face-to-face meetings and the hustle and bustle of travel still fill the schedules of many salespeople, there's no denying the importance of video conferencing and how it's transformed the way companies interact with customers and prospects. Video chat cuts the need to spend money on travel and can effectively personalize a relationship -- even more so than a phone call.
With video conferencing applications now another tool in CRM systems, salespeople can pause tasks and start intimate conversations with customers requiring extra attention or a bit of friendly cajoling to spend money. Just as the addition of social media tools in CRM and marketing platforms widened the reach of companies, video apps aim to create another direct channel to customers.
"Virtual meetings are very effective and an intimate way to manage and nurture customer relations," said Kate Leggett, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. "I think more and more companies will only continue to offer video and meetings as collaboration tools."
CRM vendors with video integration
Several companies offer a video connection within their CRM and marketing platforms. Microsoft Dynamics 365 users are able to jump on a video call via Microsoft's own Skype or Skype for Business. Salesforce offers several video conference applications in its AppExchange, including Zoom. And, early this year, HubSpot announced that its users could now automatically open the Zoom app within its platform.
The decision to partner exclusively with Zoom was easy, because many HubSpot employees use the video app on their own, said Kipp Bodnar, HubSpot CMO.
"Like [what] Gmail did for us with email, Zoom changed how we were communicating with clients and customers and amongst ourselves. It made our dream of remote work and our goal of being a global company a reality," Bodnar said. "I run a team of 20 remote people, with people in Dublin, Berlin and Tokyo. Zoom makes our work seamless and personal."
Importance of video conferencing
Kate LeggettPrincipal analyst, Forrester Research
Julian Poulter, a Gartner research director, said there's no way a company can do business today without video conferencing -- phone calls no longer suffice. Video enables businesses to share graphics and images while talking up products, he said.
Video applications open many doors for sales and marketing because they enable customers to feel as if they're receiving exclusive personalized attention, Poulter said.
"You've got webinars, one-on-one meetings and visual support cases. Or, as a customer, I can connect with an agent who can look over my (virtual) shoulder to see if what I'm doing is correct or if I need help. You also see companies doing click to connect, where the customer clicks on an image of a person to have a conversation with them," he said.
Like Bodnar and his HubSpot colleagues, Poulter couldn't imagine having a productive, travel-free workday without the help of video. "There's no way you can function," he said. "I'll probably do six today."
If data is the key to obtaining knowledge that provides a competitive edge, then video is a window into how a customer is really reacting to a company's products and services. Video enables salespeople to better gauge idle curiosity or genuine interest.
"A video chat at the exact time a potential buyer [needs] more information … can be the reason a conversion takes place or never happens," said Brent Leary, a CRM and customer experience analyst. "A timely answer to one question could turn into a full-blown conversation. And a video chat can make that happen more effectively than a connection that's made just by talking with someone."
Employee training needed
Leary recommends that employees shouldn't just jump right into video interactions with customers. Strategy is needed, and training is a must because video chatting isn't the same as face-to-face or even telephone conversations.
"Although it seems the same, this is a different type of interaction environment," Leary said. "People can easily cut you off with a click of the button if they feel you're being inauthentic, don't know what you're talking about or are just wasting their time."
Leary doesn't view video conferencing as a preference of only younger generations, either.
"This actually can be beneficial to elderly folks who might feel more comfortable speaking with someone they can see," he said. "A friendly face and voice can really make a difference in the interaction experience."
Forrester's Leggett agrees. She said her 82-year-old mother uses Skype and Apple FaceTime and is delighted to extend a conversation beyond the audio of a phone. Effective CRM knows no demographic boundary, no matter the tool that is used. That's why Leggett said she envisions organizations putting increasing importance on video conferencing to cut costs but still have a way to forge personalized customer relationships and conduct inter-company business.