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The Importance of Face-to-Face Meetings in a Sales 2.0 World

29 October 2009

I am one of the people who writes and speaks about the importance of phone and Web communications in today’s selling and buying processes. I am passionate about sharing ideas about using social media and sales productivity technology to improve the quality and quantity of customer contacts, accelerate sales cycles, and reduce cost of sales.  I earn my living in a consulting business that helps companies launch or improve their inside sales functions and transform the way they sell. But I still believe there is nothing quite like a face-to-face meeting.

There is still an important place for in-person visits in Sales 2.0.  Until high-resolution teleconferencing technology becomes less expensive and more ubiquitous (and our culture changes to fully embrace online relationships),  there is no better way to make a connection with someone than meeting them in person.   There is certain special je ne sais quoi that most of us experience when sharing a coffee or meal, engaging in an activity together, or attending the same meeting or conference.  It seems to be hard-wired into our human experience.

I experienced this last week when presenting Sales 2.0 opportunities at a global inside sales leadership meeting to a multi-cultural audience, consisting of sales, marketing, operations, sales training and enablement, strategic planning and lines of business leaders from Europe, Asia, Latin and North America. The purpose of the meeting was to share best practices, identify group and individual challenges, and draft an action plan for addressing the highest priority opportunities and obstacles to success. One would think that the most natural thing for this phone and Web sales group would be to have an online meeting. Could this meeting have been done by web conference? Sure. But since many of the participants had never met before, the executives made a wise call to bring everyone together in one location. The result was that everyone left the meeting feeling like a team, working toward common objectives. This feeling will carry over as the group disperses to their home bases around the world and their relationships are continued by phone and e-mail.

Consider these other possibilities:

1. Phone/Web relationships between inside sales reps and customers can be strengthened considerably with periodic face-to-face check-ins, perhaps at an annual conference or a quarterly individual or group customer meeting.

2. Integrated inside and field teams work better when inside reps are invited to regional kick-offs or recognition events.  It can send an important message, not only to the inside team, but also to key customers about your company’s sales collaboration if occasionally both inside and field reps appear onsite together and present a unified company message.

3. Inside reps in a centralized location can work in concert with local field or partner resources and offer customers personal visits when required. On our web event panel discussion this week on sales innovation, Dan Freund explained that this is how Oracle is managing its “emerging markets” (smallest customer) territory.

4. Inside reps can be allowed some leeway in visiting customers when a particular opportunity size or customer lifetime value warrants the expense.  In a previous post on hybrid reps, I wrote about how Bill Lohr implemented this innovative approach.

These are just some of the ways for phone/Web and face-to-face selling approaches to peacefully coexist and work together to best serve customers as well as your bottom line.   But keep in mind that the natural tendency of many reps is to visit customers when it just isn’t necessary or justified by the value or stage of the opportunity.  Many customers prefer the convenience and efficiency of phone or online communications, especially in the early part of the sales cycle. And most sales managers appreciate their reps who focus on sales productivity – and phone/Web sales are inherently more efficient and profitable- especially when they are paid on margin. But once in a while, for certain situations, it’s important for sales people and their customers – or sales teams internally – to step away from their computers and telephones and get together physically.

What do you think? Is face-to-face selling disappearing in today’s selling environment? Can inside sales people travel in your organization? Are field sales people traveling less?