Building Prospect Relationships in the Age of COVID

Until COVID-19 came along, project ideas and proposals were discussed in person. Now, Kunai uses technology and creativity to reclaim the lost sense of connection.

Relationships are the foundation of consulting businesses, but COVID-19 has introduced new challenges in the form of social distancing and travel restrictions. Where we once could fly out to a prospect and meet over lunch, we now must build connections through email, phone calls, and videoconferencing.

Here at Kunai, we recognized that doing things the old way, minus face-to-face meetings, simply wasn’t enough. We asked ourselves what we could do to increase connection remotely and achieve the personal touch that’s lost when a proposal is sent over e-mail instead of handed off in person. The result was something completely new: Kunai’s relationship pages.

How Our Relationship Pages Work

After a promising conversation with a prospect, we create a hidden, personal page on our website just for them. This personal page becomes the hub for our relationship with this person—a digital replacement for the face-to-face meetings we would have had under different circumstances.

We then email the prospect to tell them about the page and mention that we’ve included a custom portrait and some useful materials. The result has been phenomenal. With the help of these pages, initial conversations quickly turn into leads, and leads into projects. Even when things don’t work out, we often end up staying in touch and building friendships—something that only used to happen after a plane flight.

Your Business Can Do It, Too

If you run a relationship-based business and you’re struggling to connect with prospects during COVID-19, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to bring your relationships online:

1. Automate Page Creation and Management

Using a no-code tool like Webflow, set up a template for your pages. This makes it easy to quickly plug in images, documents, and details about your conversations and project updates.

This page should not be publicly accessible from your main website. Instead, send the prospect an email with a unique URL to their hidden personal page.

Pro tip: At first, our personal page URLs were created using a prospect’s first and last name. For privacy and security reasons, we later switched to a numbered format

2. Personalize Collateral Materials

So the relationship page immediately feels familiar, our illustrator creates and posts a digital portrait based on the prospect’s LinkedIn photo. We also include the prospective company’s logo and a portrait of the Kunai representative they spoke with. 

While the page and illustration are nifty on their own, there also must be useful materials and content for the relationship page to have tangible business value. We always make sure to include our brochure, a summary of our conversation, an animation about what Kunai does, and any documents—like case studies or proposals—that were mentioned on the call. Spend time working on your assets like case studies, brochures, and informational videos to ensure your prospects have something helpful to look at once they’re there.

3. Hire a Great Illustrator

Custom digital portraits are the personal touch that really make a difference here, so it’s important to get them right. Equally important is the need for an illustrator who can turn portraits around soon after a call with a prospect wraps up. Use freelance sites like Fiverr or Upwork to identify illustrators in your budget, and review their portfolios to narrow down those whose styles you like.

To ensure high quality, it’s best to offer a few illustrators a paid, timed test project to inform your hiring decision. Require candidates to create a digital portrait from a provided photo in one hour. The provided picture should be a good one, but not too good; most people’s LinkedIn and social media photos aren’t high-resolution, and many are a little blurry. Make sure your test project reflects the kind of image quality your artist can expect to work with if hired.

4. Use Pages As a Relationship Platform, Not a Substitute

The benefits of these pages at Kunai so far have been incredible. We’ve got a 100% open-rate on our prospecting emails. That’s not a typo. People really want to see their portrait, and once they see their page, they usually stick around and explore the rest of our site as well. 

However, it’s important to remember that these pages are a home for your relationship, not a replacement for it. Building genuine connections is about more than custom illustrations and personal web pages. Though those things demonstrate the kind of individualized attention clients receive, these initial investments are no substitute for long-term personalized attention and relationship building.

Relationship building in the age of COVID-19 has its hurdles, but innovative consultancies aren’t known for shying away from a challenge. As social distancing creates new cultural norms for the way we do business, making meaningful connections will be left to those who creatively adapt.



Sandeep: Tell me a bit about the early part of your career.

Tom: I spent a decade helping to build start-ups focused on application and database software. This was where I learned how to sell and do business development. I was fortunate to be part of one company going public and another being sold to IBM.

Sandeep: What is something you learned during this time that helped you with consulting?

Tom: I began to appreciate how different customers achieved varying levels of success with the same foundational technology. This made me understand just how critical getting your team and process right can be.

Sandeep: This is something I only came to appreciate years into consulting, especially after the sale of my first consultancy to Capital One.I saw teams in different parts of the company trying to solve challenges like real-time messaging. Same corporate culture, same technology, same internal support mechanisms. Night and day outcomes.

Tom: We saw a lot of the same thing after selling our practice to EMC (sold to Dell in 2015). This is probably the thing I'm most proud of when it comes to the teams I've helped to build: the ability to perform well in a variety of contexts, sometimes in ways that inspires the client team to up their game as well.

Sandeep: Yes. It's particularly cool to see your team succeed in individual ways after an skills definitely translate into the corporate environment.

Tom: Totally. We have people who've stayed on at Dell and risen up the ranks, while others took the opportunity to become successful executives at other Fortune 100 companies....or to start their own agencies and startups.

Sandeep: We've both been around a while. My first consulting project was a Y2K thing for Cisco back in 1998. You've been around a little longer than that :). How do you think consulting has changed most during the past five years?

Tom: I think because there is so much infrastructure available now, consulting has become more delivery and outcome-oriented. A better blend of strategic and tactical. Public Cloud has also enabled velocity to increase at a pace unfathomable 5 years ago.

Sandeep: What has stayed the same?

Tom: It's still mostly about people. People who thrive on change and are focused on their personal and professional development. I love that this has not and will not's what I love about consulting.

Sandeep: I know you're adjusting your work style to COVID. You're still a dude who clearly prefers to drive an hour for a socially-distanced hike or outdoor meeting over Zoom any day of the week :) But personal styles aside, what is specifically compelling about a remote agency during the era of COVID?

Tom: Kunai has been remote for years, which gives them an inherent advantage. There is something about the communication and management styles that just works in a way that other organizations are still figuring out.

Sandeep: Yeah, I think what a lot of people fail to realize is that remote work isn't just office work over Zoom. it's an entirely new paradigm. There needs to be an understanding for asynchronous efficiency...and this just takes time and effort to develop. How do you approach remote work and family? What are you learning about separating work and personal time?

Tom: No matter what the form of interaction, Focus. Be present. Quality over quantity. The best weeks are the weeks where I proactively schedule work and personal time. Neil (Kunai's Head of Delivery) shared a great quote with me "With discipline comes freedom." When I am proactively addressing the majority of my professional and personal commitments, I find I earn a little flexibility. A little freedom.

Sandeep: Tell us about a business hero of yours that I may not have heard of before.

Tom: Paul O'Neill is someone you may not know. His work in both the public and the private sector created a profound impact

Sandeep: We are both over forty years old :). How have you learned how to work smarter during the past decade or so? What do you wish you knew about consulting when you were 25 that you know now?

Tom: Consultants want to make lasting change. Lasting change is often not the act of a single person. Today I work much harder bringing others along on the journey.

Sandeep: Last question. What are you doing here? :) Why join a small consulting company this late in your career when you could have a cushy job somewhere else?

Tom: I love a good challenge personally and professionally. When I turned 40, I decided I would run a 10K every Thanksgiving weekend and try to have my finishing time be less than my age. With the exception of one year where I did not run due to a health issue, I have met the goal. I also recently completed the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike race. So, I guess I'm here because I'm a glutton for punishment :) Jokes aside, our customers have a job to do and I intend to put Kunai in a position to execute flawlessly on their behalf. I love committing jointly to audacious goals for our customers and our business.

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