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When recruiting channel partners to represent your products and services you’d really prefer to meet them in person, but that’s not practical during a pandemic. So you resort to Zoom, Teams, or similar. Here are some strategies for establishing the most personal connection possible in a mediated interpersonal interaction to help you gather as much subjective input as possible.

It’s been a frustrating year for conducting business – and just communication in general. A year of seemingly endless video calls and choruses of “I think you’re on mute!” Or even worse, the dreaded “Can you please mute yourself?”

We’ve all heard the saying before: “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” This should come as very good news to anyone who is concerned about being less successful at conducting meetings virtually over Zoom, Teams, Webex, Blue Jeans, or other virtual conferencing platforms.

Everything You Do Communicates, Even When You Do Nothing

You send an impassioned request in an email to a colleague. You get no response. What does that tell you?

Literally everything we do communicates, even when we do nothing. The concern that virtual meetings are far less effective is based on the idea that something is missing that can only be achieved when meeting in person. One study suggests that only 7% of human communication comes from the words spoken, 38% comes from the tone of our voice, and 55% comes from our body language. Clearly videoconferencing adds an important visual element that goes considerably beyond simple voice teleconferencing – but after a year of virtual meetings, we all know it’s not 100% the same.

Applying This to Partner Recruiting

The channel continues to be so thoroughly embraced because it provides participating manufacturers and software providers with more salespeople connecting with more customers than they could ever possibly achieve with hired staff. The people in each partner organization are the most important part of the equation. It’s critical to the success of the relationship that those people and the management that leads them be trustworthy, professional, and capable of properly representing the value proposition represented by the products and services involved.

The need to continue adding more qualified partners to grow the business is unquestionable. The more capable partners, the more “feet-on-the-street,” the greater the sales volume that can be achieved.

Some will argue that the only way to gauge trustworthiness and integrity is to meet with them in person. During this pandemic, that is impractical if not impossible. That leaves only telephone or videoconferencing as viable alternatives.

So how do you compensate for what is lost when you can’t meet in person?

What Is Lost When Meeting Virtually?

While a virtual meeting allows you to hear a speaker’s tone of voice and read their body language (from the waist up, at least), some of the nuance can be lost from these paralinquistic, or non-verbal cues. Paying attention to these cues can be extremely valuable in getting more out of every conversation even when interactions are face-to-face.

But especially when communicating over video or telephone, paying close attention to what people say with their eyes, hands, posture, and tone of voice helps you evaluate just how honest and reliable these communications are. While there’s truly nothing quite like being there, paying closer attention to paralinguistic communication really is the next best thing when your only choice is virtual interviewing.

Non-verbal communication includes:

Facial Expressions

While a smile is easy to fake, there are several other cues that few people even think to control. These can be very revelatory. On video calls, the space between speakers, whether it be across a conference table or desk, is reduced to just a couple of feet. Being face-to-face makes these expressions even more noticeable.
Pursed lips, for example, may indicate distaste, disapproval, or distrust. Or your interviewee might be biting their lips, suggesting they are anxious, stressed, worried about something. On the other hand, you may see their eyes light up, or their gaze focus when discussing something that excites them.

Paralinguistics

How one speaks often says much more than the words they are saying. Tone of voice, for example, can indicate extreme emotions or not. The rhythm of speech, inflections, even the volume at which one speaks conveys much. Some seem to feel that speaking faster and more loudly is more persuasive.

Body Language

Most people know what it means when speaking to someone whose arms are folded in front of them. It has been suggested that body language alone may often account for as much as 60% to 65% of all communication. While video calls offer a limited view as opposed to being in the room with someone, you may still pick up on some cues as to how engaged they are in the conversation.

Eye Gaze

The eyes have it! While lens/screen parallax may make it difficult to look directly into someone’s eyes, the eyes really are often the windows into the soul.
Where are they looking? You’ll often notice that the person you’re conferencing with is looking at their own image on the screen, rather than you – certainly something we’ve all been guilty of this year. When you see their eyes slowly moving across the screen, it’s altogether possible they’re typing emails rather than listening to you. Or worse, they’re staring off the side, probably at work being done on a second monitor.

Appearance

There’s a good reason many of the videoconferencing platforms are enabling you to change your background. You may not realize it, but the impressive office the person you’re speaking with may not be real.

While you may be tempted to wonder what a virtual background is hiding, or judge a person’s casual attire, remember the humanity behind the screen. It’s been a tough year for us all, and many are still juggling working from a less than ideal home office (if not their dining room table). On top of that, parents are trying to find space and time for virtual learning from home. In this case, it’s okay to let a slightly less polished appearance slide – you’re here for the conversation, not to read the titles on their bookshelf.

Overall, if a person’s words fail to match their nonverbal cues, trust the nonverbal messages. Listen as much with your eyes as your ears. In most cases, the nonverbal message is much more accurate.

If anything, the pandemic has vastly accelerated the popular acceptance and adoption of virtual calling and conferencing. While the analysis suggested here is certainly an imprecise science, the more aware you are of what the other person may be saying to you with their eyes, their facial expression, body language, gestures and more. You may find yourself as comfortable with the result of your virtual meeting as you would have had you met them in person.

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