I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about why showing up is my secret weapon. Many people try to argue that a phone call, email or even a virtual meeting can help them win new business. But if I’ve learned one thing, it’s the importance of meeting with people in their offices. I learn so much about the people they send to the meeting, the company’s unspoken culture and what we might be able to do for them, all of which can’t be conveyed in a digital message.
I’ve probably closed six or seven deals by striking up a conversation based on the office décor of the person I’m meeting. When my job was to do a lot of sales meetings, I’d pick up on visual cues from people’s offices and build a rapport based on what I saw. One time was especially memorable. I noticed that my contact had a very familiar photo of a small town in Portugal. I happened to have the same photos because my wife is Portuguese. Turns out, his wife was born in Europe, as was mine. His kids regrettably don’t speak Portuguese and neither do mine. Immediately, we liked each other and formed a solid connection. Instead of talking about the deal, we’re talking Portugal for the hour we had booked. Our business was an afterthought, because it was already a done deal.
No matter what industry you work in, sales are made by personal relationships. It’s critical to build trust and a sense of shared mission, which then leads to a successful partnership. A 2017 Harvard Business Review study found that face-to-face requests were 34 times more effective than emailed requests. The reason is that nonverbal cues conveyed during a face-to-face interaction make a big difference in how the listener considers the request. Further research has shown that something as simple as a handshake can create a positive association and build trust.
I recall another time where being in someone’s office, in their personal space led to a successful partnership. I sat down for our conversation and noticed that he had a lake trout stuffed and mounted on the wall. Well, I have precious memories of fishing on Lake George and catching a giant lake trout. We started talking and I shared some of my most vivid memories of time spent on the lake with my father. When you can strike up a rapport based on genuine shared interests, you can establish your business relationship on a foundation of trust. This person isn’t just a client, he now feels like he can call me and discuss any issue that arises and that I’ll solve it personally – which I will certainly do.
Face-to-face meetings can also unveil when we may not be right for each other. It’s something that you can really only see in person. We declined a business opportunity based on how our contact treated his staff. Imagine how he’ll work with us when we hit a challenge? I like to meet with clients over a meal as it can be very telling. One time, I had a breakfast meeting with a very picky contact that made simple tasks more complicated than necessary. My theory is that if someone can’t communicate a simple breakfast order, it tells me what they’ll do in a challenging situation. We passed on their business deal with no regrets.
I’ve seen clients learn the value of in-person meetings the hard way. One of our clients put a 30% reduction in business travel goal in place. The idea was to reduce travel expenses and balance the budget. But as the old saying goes, the best intentions can have disastrous outcomes. As the amount spent on business travel dropped, so did their revenue. They watched their new business pipeline dry up. This decision really put the brakes on their company’s sales growth and may take them years to recover from that single year of reduced sales. They learned firsthand that you can’t win new business over the phone.
Check out this brief video of what my fellow road warriors face on the road.
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