Don't get me wrong-I love technology. I'm thrilled every time I can say to someone, "If you want to know more about me and what I do, go to my Web site." I save the time and money of having to mail out packets of information, and potential customers get to immediately evaluate what I have to offer.
However, there are times when nothing takes the place of a face-to-face meeting. The benefits of meeting in person are many, including:
Picking up on details you might otherwise miss: When you look customers in the eyes, you communicate your sincerity and confidence. Their eyes communicate the trust they have in you-or let you know if they have unanswered questions. If there's more than one person in the room, your peripheral vision can keep you informed as to how others are responding-something you might easily miss even in a videoconference.
Giving the customer a sense of who you are: If you sell lower-priced items, a voice-response system may be all you need. But for a big-ticket item, there's no replacement for the face-to-face sale. If a prospect doesn't know you, he or she can't trust you-and you can hardly blame your prospect for being a little leery about handing over a large sum of money to a perfect stranger.
Obtaining a firsthand look: Taking time to tour a prospect's business will help you build a special bond with that person. While you're there, you'll uncover details about the size of the business, its growth potential, its day-to-day operations-and any problems it might be facing. Plus, you'll be able to meet other people in the organization, any of whom have the potential to bring you more business.
Breaking the ice: Take your customer to breakfast, lunch or dinner. There's something about sharing a meal that builds strong relationships. If you can't share a meal, take advantage of the cocktail hour before a large conference or a 10-minute break from a long presentation. It's not about sharing deep personal secrets, but rather the camaraderie that's built over small talk, finding things in common, making jokes, and understanding personality quirks-all the things you cannot get from phone calls and e-mail.
Cutting through the nonsense: There's a lot to be said for body language. Your posture, gestures and air of confidence say a lot about you that a customer simply can't get through technological means of communication-and vice versa. It's easy to make misinterpretations from the written word or from a disembodied voice over a phone line. When the other person is within your sight, it's easier to get the real answers you need and want.
It's not always possible to sell eye to eye. Sometimes it's just too far to travel, or you may not have the time. When it's impossible to make the trip, use every technological advantage you have at your disposal. But when it is possible, do make the effort to have a face-to-face meeting with your customers. No technology in the world can form a bond as tight or as fundamental as human contact.