By Adam Probolsky
In the modern business landscape, digital communication tools have advanced so far that most companies can maintain good customer relationships without ever meeting face to face with clients. But from our point of view, this lack of necessity is exactly what makes these interactions so meaningful when you do take the time to meet in person.
Despite the high costs involved in travel, accommodation and time away from the office, from the start of our business, we decided that being in the room with a client was more important than recovering the cost of getting there. If a client — or even a prospective client — requests a face-to-face meeting, we schedule it without billing anything for the trip.
Most professional service providers like lawyers, engineers and public relations firms have strict policies for expense cost recovery, however we categorize travel as a marketing cost for our business. Here are the four reasons we actively encourage face-to face-meetings with clients.
1. You Never Know Who You Will Meet
There are many studies which show that face-to-face meetings with clients help build better, longer, more productive relationships, and are more likely to lead to deals being closed. However, it is not only current business that benefits, but future business, too. Face-to-face encounters create more referrals, as people are more likely to ‘put their name behind’ someone who they have met in person, but they also create more organic connections which can be valuable down the line.
When you travel for a client meeting, you are likely to meet more people in the organization than just your key contact. You may be introduced to the CEO, welcomed by the head of HR, and shake hands with some junior members of the sales team or marketers who are working nearby. You may even be invited or have the chance to invite staff for dinner or drinks. All the other people you meet are all important new contacts which may be useful in the future.
Don’t forget to be humble, friendly and professional with everyone you meet, and make a great impression — you never know where these people will end up a few years down the line. Chances are that these people will grow professionally either within the same organization, or change jobs within the coming years.
Ultimately, there are lots of service providers out there, thus, it’s not always about whom you know, but rather who knows and has a comfort-level with you.
2. Flexibility Is a Competitive Advantage
Like so many relationships, business relationships must be built on trust and understanding. We have found that displaying a willingness to fly to a prospective client to talk over a proposal, not just to close the deal, goes a long way toward building trust. It shows the client that we are not just cold-calling prospects, we are actually willing to invest time and money into developing relationships with them.
It also differentiates us from our competition. Once clients have come on board, it is often this level of personal attention and high quality service they receive from us, which will likely stop them from wandering to competitors closer to home.
When looking at the overall picture, it is important to understand that your market stops wherever you are willing to stop. In this respect, we see the entire U.S. as our market meaning we are effectively competing with firms that have offices in all parts of the country.
Just because we chose to base our offices in California doesn’t mean a client should have to pay for a face-to-face meeting in New York City. We chose to make the whole country our physical office, and are willing to take the hit financially on the short-term to build out our client network for the long-term.
3. You Can Reduce Misunderstandings
Studies show that 93% of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues. Discussing critically important issues in person with in-depth and fluid conversation, instead of through sporadic emails or choppy video conferencing solutions can do wonders. When a client sees you taking notes about the conversation, they see clearly that you value their input. A one hour in-person meeting can often be more effective than weeks of back and forth emails.
I’m a visual person, having the ability to draw a diagram, or write on a whiteboard, really helps me to connect and explain my points better. This ability to spot when a client is confused, or unconvinced and explain further, or in a different way, is potentially the most important aspect of a face to face meeting which technology can’t replace.
Catching the signs that someone is skeptical, or confused, is particularly hard through less personal forms of communication such as email, or even via a phone or conference call. If you leave a call or finish an email chain without having caught on, and better explained your position, you risk not fulfilling the task to the client’s satisfaction, or even worse, a customer walking away completely.
4. Be There for the Ups and Downs
When a client is going through a crisis or has very sensitive business to discuss, there is no substitute for sitting across the desk and hashing out an action plan or explaining next steps. Even if your client says it’s OK for you to stay home or suggests a conference call is good enough, when crises hit, being there by their side in stormy waters, will be remembered in the future.
When they think back to surviving a tough moment, your face and your company will be remembered, too. Times of crisis or great achievement are undoubtedly the most vital time to demonstrate your true value. If you can prove yourself as trusted and dedicated with positive results, then you can potentially ensure a very prosperous future working together, and plenty of referrals.
We have had our face-to-face policy in place for more than twenty years, and even during lean years, we have never reconsidered this tactic. By starting the majority of our client journeys with a personal, in-depth meeting, we set the tone for how we continue. And based on feedback from our clients, and the amount of referrals we receive, it seems to be working.