The prevailing faux wisdom in the world of sales insists that we are never going back to face-to-face meetings with clients. One senior sales leader recently explained to me that his inside sales force was doing so well that he had decided to have his field salespeople stay out of the field completely, from now on. He was excited by the prospect of lowering the cost of his sales force, perhaps the worst possible outcome where he could direct his time and effort.
What should consume his time (and yours) is winning new deals and growing revenue, an idea we’ll revisit later in this post.
A good many companies believe that because their clients and some of their prospects have been willing to have video conferences instead of meetings, they have somehow consented to never meet with salespeople in person. It’s true that the normalization of video conference calls has been incredible, but what has been more impressive is how much business we’ve been able to do without showing up in person.
But just because something is true about business now, don’t make the mistake of believing that it’s true always and forever. We have been social animals longer than we have been digital social animals.
Treat Big Deals Like Big Deals
Here’s why you might not want to commit to the idea that your salespeople need to trouble themselves to go and visit your prospective clients. Let’s say you are engaged in a complex consultative sale, competing for multimillion-dollar contracts over multiple years. And just to make it interesting, let’s also say your main competition in this deal is your primary rival.
You decided that the prospective client doesn’t mind that you didn’t bother to come and visit them so far, because they agreed to a video conference. The hour-long call went great, and they told you sounded like a great fit for their new initiative, the one that you and your competitor both want to win. After all, visiting their headquarters would mean an expensive plane trip, not to mention a couple Uber rides—and who knows what kind of germs you’d encounter, right?
Instead of booking a video conference, though, your competitor, the one that eats your lunch, booked a plane ticket and traveled to the prospect’s office. They showed up and brought each of the stakeholders their personal favorite drink from Starbucks, hoping the sugar high would outlast the meeting.
Your competitor sat with the decision-makers and decision-shapers in their conference room for two hours, mostly watching their mouths (and taking careful notes) as they told them exactly what they needed and why. They gave them a tour of their facility, and when they introduced them to a couple of the people who will be involved in the project, your competitor spent twenty minutes asking them what they might need to be successful.
You might have saved as much as $1,500 and half a workday by not traveling to meet the client where they live. What you might not have considered, however, was that your competitor was thrilled at the opportunity to meet the clients face-to-face, an easy investment of time and money. You are free to make your own decisions, of course, but that doesn’t exempt you from the consequences of those decisions.
Selling is About Preference
When you show up, you are showing your prospective client that their success is important enough for you to get on a plane, fly to their city, jump in an Uber, and spend time with them where they live. The actions that you take prove that you are serious about the opportunity and that you are willing to invest in helping them improve their results—even before the sale. Your presence says more than looking at someone’s face on a laptop.
Conversely, when you don’t show up, it can look like you aren’t all that serious about the opportunity, that it isn’t worth the inconvenience of traveling to see your prospective client. While you can still create a preference using Zoom and other new tools of the trade, you want to do everything in your power to win the business.
Alas, We Hardly Knew Ye
At some point, not too far into the future, you are going to be meeting with your clients face-to-face and joining them for dinner. That doesn’t mean that every meeting will require a plane trip: your clients and prospects will agree to virtual meetings when it makes sense, like the thirty-minute meeting to discuss some aspect of the solution you are helping them build, or the meeting to brief an executive leader who happened to be out of town when you visited your client in their home office.
But there is a different level of knowing someone that comes from meeting and spending time with them, one that isn’t easy to replicate in any other medium. You don’t want your client to choose your competitor because when asked about you, your contact says, “We don’t really know them because we didn’t have a chance to spend any real time together.”
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