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To Be or Not to Be?

Ties straight, clean shirt, pressed suit, shined shoes, hair combed, and matching socks. I was never known to be a fashion plate when going on sales calls, but those were the "image" items I was aware of before meeting with a customer. I am sure female colleagues similarly thought of their wardrobe, like me, showing a professionally polished image to make a good impression on our customers. When we arrived at our sales call, we went through an exercise to drink in as many details as we could from the surrounding clues the prospect would, unbeknownst, give us. I dare say if you are in sales, you have done the same to assist you in building rapport and assimilating to your surroundings. We all have seen the pictures of the kids, the sports memorabilia, the fishing rod, or even the award hanging on the wall to give us that little leg up with the prospect and get the conversation going. It has been said that salespeople need to know a lot about many subjects without being a master of any. The clues I received on sales calls always seemed to get the ball rolling.


Today, with so many of us doing the sales process in the virtual environment, the goalposts have shifted a little. I have had the great pleasure of working with many great sales organizations, some of which have been very quick to provide and mandate that their sales staff add a virtual background. They want it always to be in place when engaging with customers via Zoom or other types of virtual calls. At first blush, this seems like a good idea, but is it?


While a very significant argument can be made for a company to mandate virtual backgrounds, I believe there is a case to be made against it. Sure, virtual backgrounds can provide a clean, uniform corporate image for a customer, which eliminates any issues for the employee of showing possibly too much in their virtual environment that does not need to be shown. They can also provide a good image of the company’s logo or slogan for all customers to see. On the other hand, backgrounds can seem a little sterile and canned and a little monotonous if you are meeting with several people from the same company, all with the same background. Do not get me wrong, I understand why companies mandate the backgrounds. It is the only way for them to ensure uniformity across a lot of people in many different working environments.


That being said, I am not a huge fan of the backgrounds. Sometimes, I can see them pixilated around the person I am talking with if their bandwidth is a little suspect, making them look like they are part of a bad TV production. Most backgrounds that have been company-issued lack imagination and are bland. Worse still are the default options provided by Zoom or other providers with distracting images of beaches, fancy, unrealistic office views, or city skylines that never really match the business settings.


I have a purpose-built office in my home that is very professional and clean. It tells many stories about me and my very fortunate, successful selling career. There are many conversation starters over my shoulder for any prospect to lock onto. Likewise, I am also looking for that in my prospects office, and a virtual background is my enemy in trying to build rapport and assimilate in the Zoom environment. I would much rather, as a salesperson, have the ability to learn from what I can see in my prospect’s virtual environment, no matter how insignificant or small. I want to see if I can get a little story or history about the person or business I am trying to sell to.


Everyone’s circumstances are different, I get it. Everyone may not have a good office setup. They may be between houses or live in a small apartment that they share with others. Space for others may be at a premium, and the kitchen table may be their new office. And nobody wants to see images of someone’s bedroom either, as that is way too personal, even if it is a guest room.


With more and more of us moving to virtual selling as a normal practice, think carefully about what you had that you may have lost in your selling process and how you can best get that sensory-rich environment of the face-to-face call in a virtual environment. Carefully consider your virtual stage and how you can prepare it to give your customers the best possible experience. Maybe they will get the hint and do a better job with theirs, where they ask the question, “To Be or Not to Be?” Leave the virtual backgrounds turned off.


Roger McNamara Bio:

Roger is a 25+-year veteran of the Payments Industry, most recently as the Director of Business Development with American Express in the US. He has worked on the largest Acquisition targets for acceptance across multiple industries and across the globe that include Airlines, Communications, Technology, Cruise Lines, Entertainment, Fractional Jet, Freight, Government, Healthcare, Insurance, Oil & Gas, Residential Rent, Restaurants, QSR’s, Retail, Services, Supermarkets, Travel, Vehicle Sales, B2B and Wholesale. Over that time, he has sold more than $300 Billion worth of Card processing and became an expert in Bankcard Interchange and Discount Rates, how they are calculated and what merchants pay to accept Credit, and how this is dramatically different from what they believe they pay. He is an expert in Merchant Statement analysis and payment processing and the rules and regulations associated with payments and associations. Roger has also developed the insight for Merchant Services Salesforces and salesforces, in general, to be able to better position their products and gain share, particularly in B2B. Let him show you how you can too. He can be reached at

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