Despite our increasingly digital world--or maybe because of it--the power of in-person interactions is now more valuable than ever. Sure, social media, e-mail, video chat and other forms of electronic communication are great for meeting new people, communicating across distances and maintaining connections, but it's those face-to-face meetings that foster trust and lead to solid, long-term relationships and partnerships--some of the most important factors to growing any business. In fact, a survey by e-mail marketer Constant Contact revealed that 48 percent of its respondents believe that a meeting is the most effective driver of business (topping websites and e-mail marketing).
To expand on these results, we spoke with three 'treps about the importance of face time.
Build a trusted network
Paul Roetzer, founder and CEO of inbound marketing agency PR 20/20, can't imagine how his business would have gotten off the ground without several key meetings. "Some of the biggest leaps we've taken as a business have come from being at industry events and being able to nurture the relationships that were started online," he says.
Case in point: Cleveland-based PR 20/20 became marketing tech giant HubSpot's first agency partner after Roetzer met with HubSpot's founders at a conference in 2008. They connected online and through calls initially, but Roetzer says their long-term partnership would not have been possible without that time spent together.
When partnering with another firm, it's important to determine if the leadership team's values and philosophies are aligned with your company's. However, it's "very difficult to figure that out through social media, through just phone calls or GoToMeeting [video conferences]," Roetzer says. "The very select group of other firms that we bring in to work with our clients are people that we have spent a lot of time with, getting to know offline, and that we feel very confident in."
Put the product in customers' hands
It's one of the oldest tricks in the book: Offer a sample of a great product to get prospective buyers hooked. But for Grace Hightower De Niro, founder of New York-based coffee company Coffee of Grace, the key was doing it herself, not hiring strangers to do it on her behalf. To promote her new line of Rwandan coffee, Hightower De Niro rode with a company truck, handing out samples as it traveled around Manhattan over National Coffee Day weekend.
"If a person is just seeing your product as an advertisement, they might say, 'OK, I'll try it,' but if they actually have contact with me, when we have a conversation about it, I think it will have more of an impact that way," she says.
Her efforts paid off: Coffee of Grace enjoyed an uptick in sales from the campaign (Hightower De Niro wouldn't reveal specifics), but perhaps more important was the feedback she got from talking to coffee drinkers, such as increasing the variety of gift sets offered from one to seven.
Make it personal
Simone De La Rue's personal approach was one of the building blocks of her New York fitness club, Body By Simone. "At the end of the day, exercise is exercise--you can get that anywhere," she says. "But it's really about how you make people feel, and I think that something technology hasn't taken away from us is face-to-face communication."
De La Rue says that being at the front of the studio to meet and greet clients by name has been crucial to her success. Now that she has a trusted team in place, she's creating a community at her recently launched Los Angeles location.
Like Hightower De Niro, De La Rue has made personal interaction a part of her promotional efforts as well.
She's reached out to a wider clientele by hosting pop-up classes. "You can buy a DVD, you can buy the book ... but there's nothing like actually taking a class and having that personal interaction," she says. "I try and do as many events and to go out and reach as many people as we can so [they] can have the experience."