7 Ways to Build Virtual Business Connections in a Socially-Distanced World

By James Kwon

2020 is almost a wrap…and wow, has it been a year for the records! Now that we’re living in a newly socially-distanced world, just about everything in our lives has gone a bit topsy-turvy. We’re getting our groceries delivered, having drive-by birthday parties and wearing masks everywhere we go. And for many businesses, day-to-day operations have gone partially or completely remote, depending on the industry.

The “new normal” is here
With more and more employees now working from home than ever before, businesses of all shapes and sizes have had to adapt in order to not only survive, but thrive. Thank goodness for tech tools like Zoom, Slack, Google Docs – and yes, even the trusty ol’ telephone has come in handy a time or two! But while the new virtual methods of communicating may be great for companies to help their employees collaborate in real time and go about their day-to-day, did you know that they can also be used to help your business grow in this new virtual world? 

In fact, according to a recent McKinsey study, “more than three quarters of buyers and sellers say they now prefer digital self-serve and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions – a sentiment that has steadily intensified after lockdowns have ended.” But as a business owner or salesperson, how can you still make meaningful connections in this new virtual world? 

Virtual networking meets business development
Though the days of taking a prospective client out to lunch or hitting the greens with your top customer might be over (for now), it’s still a good idea to continue to use relationship sales tactics as part of your business development strategy. According to the experts at Hubspot, this translates into prioritizing your “connection with the customer over all other aspects of the sale.” But don’t worry, there are still plenty of creative ways that you can still foster real business connections – even if you have to resort to virtual networking.

At Figmints, we specialize in blending creative strategies – digital and physical – with real world solutions to help keep you and your company top of mind. We can help you build lasting connections and drive results that lead to real revenue. And since it turns out that people still want to do business with real people during this “new normal,” our team got together (on Zoom, of course!) to brainstorm some fun strategies that could be a good fit for your company. 

Here are 7 of our favorite virtual networking ideas that add just the right amount of human touch to your company’s virtual business development and marketing strategies. And don’t worry, most networking these days can still be done from the comfort of your own home…cozy slippers and all!

1. Send a thoughtful gift

Who doesn’t love a well-timed present? Gifts are a great way to make a high-impact first impression with a new prospect or a thoughtful way to say “hello” to your current customers. Consider skipping the company swag and step up your gift-giving game with something extra special. Whether you have $20 or $2,000 to spend, remember, it’s the thought (and creativity!) that counts. Don’t forget to add a handwritten note or card for that extra personal touch. 

Stumped? Here are a couple of tips to help you pick out the perfect gift:

Make it personal Try and think about something personal that you’ve heard them mention. It could be their favorite cuisine or beverage, sports team or a hobby. Not sure what they like? Do a little sleuthing online and head to their LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or even Google for some ideas. Then think about gifts that might tie in. If you know they enjoy a good steak, send them a box of ribeyes and tenderloins to grill up at home. For the whiskey enthusiast, maybe a whiskey of the month subscription and some personalized glasses. Or an iTunes gift card for the music lover. 

Share something that you love If it’s a new prospect that you’re just getting to know, don’t worry. There are still plenty of great gift ideas that show you went that extra mile. Consider sending something that’s meaningful to you such as your favorite business leadership book or a novel that you really love. Or, you can think of something they may enjoy from your region such as a specialty pie, beers from a craft brewery or a piece of local artwork. 

Shop small business Supporting your local shops and restaurants is another great way to show your prospects and favorite clients some extra love while also helping out the small businesses in your community. Send along a gift card to a favorite local shop, restaurant or bakery. Give your client’s family a set of tickets to a nearby event or destination. Or, even send along a gift certificate to the local spa for a little much needed R&R.

2. Create connection through an experience 

Even though we might not be able to be together in person right now, there are still plenty of ways to share a memorable experience with your favorite customers and new prospects. It could be something you organize for everyone to do together virtually or even an experience designed to send home. 

Here are a couple of ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

Host a virtual experience they’ll never forget From delicious gourmet cooking classes to wine tastings in California’s wine country and tours of the world’s most famous museums, today’s virtual world brings almost unlimited possibilities. Think about something that would be a fun experience for your clients and prospects, then research and book an event that fits your budget. Send along anything needed for the event, such as a bottle of wine, and invite a small group of guests to your special event. Keeping it intimate can help you make even better personal connections and keep costs down! Plus, these types of experiences usually take place over Zoom, so no travel or physical contact is required.

Send an experience home As we all spend more time away from the office, think about gift ideas that can make staying home a little bit easier and more relaxing…for your client and their family. Maybe it’s a game night party pack complete with snacks and a few board game favorites. A catered meal or meal prep kit to enjoy with family is also always a tasty choice. Or, think about sending something extra indulgent such as a cozy work-from-home blanket, a new home office plant or a relaxing, stress-relieving candle. The possibilities are endless!

3. Start up a friendly competition

Taking part in a little friendly competition is always a great way to bond as both a team and with your clients and prospects. Plus, you get a chance to have a lot of fun with bonus bragging rights that will last well past gameday. At Figmints, we have a half hour meeting set every Wednesday morning in which we have two rules: 1) don’t talk about work-related topics and 2) play a virtual game with each other. It brings us together as a team and gives us something to look forward to each week – especially now when we’re all working remotely.

Here are a couple of ideas to spark a competitive mindset:

Create a scavenger hunt Scavenger hunts are a really fun way to have teammates compete while still keeping their distance. Get both teams together for a scavenger hunt kick off on Zoom and then plan virtual check-ins throughout the game. Whether the hunt lasts a day or a week, think about interesting things for each team to find, how you’ll run your game, and most importantly, what the prizes will be. And don’t forget to be creative!

Play Zoom trivia Zoom doesn’t have to be all work and no play. Round up your top customers (you can  invite a few new prospects, too!) and host an online trivia game. Set aside an afternoon of fun or start later in the day and make it a virtual happy hour. You can even send along some snacks in advance for your players to enjoy during the game. And don’t forget the prizes! Think of things you can send post-game such as electronic gift cards or even a trophy.

4. Do some good for your community

One of the many ways we connect with each other is through supporting charitable causes. Although fundraising events might look a little different these days, there are still ways for your company to stay closely connected to the community, find ways to give back and let your customers and prospects know what you’re up to. And with the holidays just around the corner, now is the perfect time to share some extra love! 

Here are some ways your company can give back:

Run a virtual race for a cause Races might look a little different these days, but you can still enter your company’s team into a virtual race or walk-a-thon in support of your favorite charitable cause. Don’t forget to spread the word and ask for donations as a great way to let your customers and prospects know what you’re passionate about. You might just find they care about the same things, too! 

Set up a food drive Times are tough right now for many families. Consider hosting a food drive to collect donations for those in need. Tease the event on social media and “go live” on the day of the event to help spread the word. Or, if you’re able to, set something up at your place of business to collect donations. This can be as simple as a box in your lobby or a one-day-only “stuff-a-truck.” You can also use your website or social media to collect digital donations and even “gift” donations on behalf of all of your clients. 

Hold a virtual fundraising event – Every year at Figmints we host our Nedleywinks tournament, a mini cornhole-like networking event that raises funds for a local food pantry. The annual has become a tradition and raised more than $20,000 in 2019 with the support of our corporate sponsors! This year, holding the event in person wasn’t an option so we opted to go virtual. Using Zoom and email, we were still able to connect with local businesses, fundraise for a great cause and have lots of fun. Now is a great time to think about ways that your company can fundraise for a local charitable cause. It could be a one-day event or something that engages your prospects and clients all month long.

5. Organize a virtual networking event

In-person networking doesn’t seem to be coming back anytime soon, so now is the perfect time to get a little more creative in how you meet and mingle with your professional contacts. Although we all need to continue to keep our distance while living in Zoom-land, you can still come up with creative and engaging ways to make the most of it. 

Here are some networking ideas that might work for your sales team:

Host an online networking mixer  Meeting and mingling online is a great way to connect people in your network that you think may have great chemistry. Think of a couple of your business contacts that might be able to benefit one another in some way and then invite them to a Zoom introduction call with you as the host. You can ask fun get-to-know you questions to break the ice and then give each participant the chance to share their knowledge. Keep it light and conversational and be sure to follow up with an email after the call so that everyone can exchange information. 

Host an expert webinar or Zoom panel In today’s virtual world it’s relatively easy to gather a bunch of experts together in one room. From online webinars to Zoom panels and lunch and learns, there are lots of ways to engage audiences. Whether you decide to present solo or gather up a few experts to tackle a challenge together, make sure that the content is meaningful, timely and actionable. You can even make it a weekly or monthly series and record the sessions to share on your digital channels. Just don’t forget to send out invites in advance and leave some time at the end for questions and casual conversation. 

Schedule virtual coffee dates Stepping out for one-on-one meetings with prospects and clients might be a bit tricky these days, but you can still use Zoom to “break bread” casually over coffee or lunch from the comfort of your homes. And remember, actual coffee drinking and lunch eating is encouraged! You can even send them takeout for the call or a gift card to a local coffee shop. If happy hour is more your speed, schedule the call for the end of the day and send along their favorite cocktail or beer to share an on-camera toast to good health!

6. Stay in touch digitally

Have you gone digital yet? If your business is not already using digital tools to engage with customers and prospects, now is not only a great time to start, it’s the time to start. And if you’ve already been implementing some digital tactics, such as social media and emails, it’s the ideal moment to take stock of what’s working and revisit your strategies. Here at Figmints, we’re constantly looking at metrics and analytics to always optimize our campaigns. Is your ad working better on Facebook or LinkedIn? Is subject line A or B performing better? Are people actually clicking the CTA on the website to get contact us? We’ll be the first to find out and make sure we’re spending the right dollars in the right places. 

Here are a couple of digital tactics to think about for your company:

Launch a podcast No matter what services or products your business offers, you’re an expert at what you do! Podcasts are a great way to talk about your knowledge and share industry insights. Publish content weekly to keep things fresh and consider inviting clients and other guests “on air” for a quick interview. With just a little bit of equipment you can produce them in house or work with an agency like Figmints to create professionally produced and written content, complete with music, sound effects and scripting. Get the word out through social media, and if you’re really feeling ambitious, you can upload your podcast to iTunes or Spotify and invite listeners to subscribe. 

Send out a digital newsletter Newsletters are a great way to stay in touch with both clients and potential customers. They can be as simple as a monthly bulletin sent over an e-blast. Or, if you’re feeling really creative you can write and design a full-blown, magazine-style newsletter. Brainstorm topics that are “newsworthy” such as new ways your company may be pivoting, how your services may help clients and prospects and anything else you feel is important (or fun!) to share. You can even consider a standing monthly column from your CEO or management to tie each issue together and add an extra level of industry leadership to the mix.

7. Drop some freebie knowledge

You’ve got expertise in your industry and it’s worth sharing! Now is a great time to brainstorm ways that you can step up your thought-leadership activities and shout your know-how from the rooftops. Not only will this help you educate prospects and customers on what you and your business are really good at, but it’s also a great way to hand out some free business advice with no strings attached. Just like the free samples at Costco, your freebie ideas give prospects a chance to get a taste of your work and it will leave them hungry for more. 

Here are some ways you can start to share what you know:

Join a board Maybe you already sit on 3 different leadership boards or this is something you’ve always wanted to add to your list of volunteer activities, but now is a perfect time to offer your time to a non-profit or other organization that needs your guidance. Most board meetings have gone virtual so you won’t have to worry about travel and you’ll have the opportunity to help out using your personal brand of expertise. Plus, sitting on a virtual board is a great way to meet new connections and show your clients what causes are important to you. 

Give away some pro bono services Many businesses have had to cut their budgets or might be teetering on the edge of having to close their doors. Is there something that your company can offer to help? Maybe it’s a free mini strategy session over Zoom, discounted consulting services or a “buy this, get that” offer. Think about the ways that your business might be uniquely qualified and then let your network know that you’re available to offer help. 

Team up with a non-profit – Traditional volunteer activities may be cancelled right now, but you can still think creatively about how you can give back and build relationships along the way. Non-profits are a great place to start. With funding being cut for many causes and more people needing their help than ever before, think about how your company can help a non-profit better fulfill its mission. Can you donate your products, services or your time? At Figmints, we give back through our Hack4Love program. Our team provides their services (free of charge!) for a one-weekend “extreme makeover” of a non-profit’s website, videos, messaging and whatever else they need. Now in a virtual world, we’ve adapted our process a little bit and our team is really looking forward to our next Hack4Love partnership! 

For more great ideas on how you can keep your company top of mind, give the Figmints team of marketing strategists a call. We’d love to share a Zoom coffee and help your company find new ways to thrive. 

7 Ways to Build Connections in a Socially-Distanced World: A Workbook