Thursday, June 18, 2009

You Had Me AT Hello: The importance of doing business face to face

You know the process: You research your ideal prospects. You gain access to their contact information. You make The Call. Maybe it takes a few tries, but you finally get your prospect on the phone and a conversation ensues. A good one. One that you would consider a success.
Your prospect is actually interested
, and so your quest to convert them from prospect to client continues. Maybe you send them more information in the mail, or send them to your website. You follow that up with an email. Maybe you find each other through mutual social media efforts. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

And yet, in all of this time, effort, and energy, you and your prospect have yet to meet face to face.

Somewhere along the way, we've lost touch with how very important that face to face contact actually is. When did this become acceptable? Maybe it was once we discovered multiple ways to make communication faster, easier, and more accessible. After all, during the course of any given day, I'm contacting people I have business with via phone, email, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, and other internet based business communication systems. And of course, I own a Blackberry that keeps me connected to all of these methods from anywhere I may choose to roam.

As an unfortunate side effect to all of these communication methods, there are many people who actually shy away from the personal contact. Many times, it's a matter of efficiency. We can send one mass email and reach thousands in the same amount of time it would take to find our keys and get our cars started, not to mention drive time to the meeting, the hour (give or take) that you'll spend with one person, the drive time back to the office.

Other times, it's a matter of personal preference. Particularly many small business owners are prone to want to get as much done as they can with as little face time as possible. Let's face it, just because you have a superior service or product and the resources to become self-employed does not make you a natural born sales person. And the thought of making presentations and meeting someone face to face terrifies you.

Whatever the case may be, whatever the reason for not putting yourself out there, I want to remind you that nothing beats face to face contact. No matter how sophisticated your technology tools are, no matter how proficient you are in Social Media, there is nothing that can take the place of a good old-fashioned handshake and a smile.

Time consuming? Yes. Inconvenient at times? You bet. Optional? Not at all.

Some business models make it possible to actually convert someone from prospect to client using only technology. But those are in the minority. For most, it's important to remember that no matter how great your product or service is, and no matter that your prospect has all the information they may need to make the decision to buy, they are not likely to convert to client without a personal meeting. And the more expensive your product, the truer this becomes.

Even if your business model lends itself to client conversion without a personal meeting, you still need to make a point to meet your newer customers in person at some point if you want to increase the loyalty factor.

The need to look them in the eyes and make a personal connection is what has sent me flying all over the country in the past, meeting with people I've talked to on the phone and been in contact with via email, Facebook, Twitter, you name it. In such a highly competitive marketplace, I couldn't afford not to go.

But it's not always viable to jet-set your way into the hearts of your prospects and clients. So what can be done? Let's look at a couple of creative ways to get face to face with your contacts.

1. Industry Events. Trade shows, Expos, Conventions, and Ceremonies are all great examples of industry events that you can capitalize on when it comes to meeting people in person. If your budget doesn't include flying all over the place to meet new prospects and clients, choosing one or two centralized events per year could be your answer. Be willing to think outside of the box with this. The event might be your own particular industry, but you might need to attend the events particular to your target market as well. Find the most highly attended events, and be there! Not sure which event would be best? Asking your top few clients what shows they attend is a great way to decide. It gives you a chance to call your clients and prospects to see if they will also be in attendance. As a bonus, you'll have the opportunity to begin new relationships in person, giving you a head start on future prospecting.

2. Teleconferences. It doesn't give you the chance to shake their hand, but at least it's a way to introduce personality and character into your business relationships. It's a step in the right direction, and that's what matters.

3. Create your own event. Throw a client appreciation party, host a charity event, or give a seminar. The cost of throwing the event can prove to be less than airfare to see each client if you have a large out-of-area target market.

These pointers will give you a place to start generating the all-important face-to-face contact with your business connections. Even if your clients and prospects can't make the events you attend or create, at least you've put forth the effort. This in and of itself is often more than your competition is doing.

Just remember, no matter what technology can do for us, this fact remains: People do business with people they know, people they like, and people they trust. It's hard to earn those distinctions if you've never had the chance to meet them face to face. So take the time, make the effort, and watch your business relationships blossom.

Jacki Semerau © Copyright 2008


Jessi Miller said...

Good points, Jackie. Increasingly difficult in these times but very true.

Jacki Semerau said...

Agreed, it is tough. But there's always more than one way to skin a cat. Have you used Skype to help you meet face to face with clients that aren't in your area? Do you find it to be an effective way to get "face-to-face?"