How often are you using face-to-face communication in sales?

We all know the importance to face-to-face communication in sales (we’d hope), but just how important is it — and are sales teams starting to screw it up and miss quota? Here now: a brief investigation.

Face-to-face communication research

Quickly before we begin: we’re not talking about email prospecting or cold calling. You have to reach out cold in order to GET face time with your prospect. If you do this right you can be very persuasive in an email. No, this article is about account management, project management and customer satisfaction.

There was a paper not long ago entitled “You’re less persuasive than you think over email,” in turn summarized here on Harvard Business Review. The HBR article has an amazing quote:

If your office runs on email and text-based communication, it’s worth considering whether you could be a more effective communicator by having conversations in person. It is often more convenient and comfortable to use text-based communication than to approach someone in-person, but if you overestimate the effectiveness of such media, you may regularly—and unknowingly—choose inferior means of influence.

The research actually found that face-to-face communication, on average, is 34 times — 34! — more effective than email communication.

Now bring sales into this discussion

Here is Dave Brock writing on Customer Think, with a new article called “The Faces of Our Customers.” He opens by discussing how he asks sales teams this question: “When was the last time you visited customers in a non-sales situation?” He’s talking, of course, about face-to-face communication.

Almost no teams he meets with have met their customers face-to-face ever. Brock writes:

But too often, the “customer” has become an abstraction.  The customer has been reduced to a persona, a set of buying characteristics, a data point in a collection of data points, a member of a market or industry.

This should be a concern for sales within multiple industries. It’s almost an “over-personafication” of sales. Instead of face-to-face meeting, learning about, and wining/dining prospects, we are reducing them to a series of data points and working off that.

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The caveats

Yes, data can be effective. It’s already had a huge impact on sales and will continue to. But you can’t strip away face-to-face communication.

Yes, sometimes the client/customer is far away and digital/phone needs to be the norm for a while. But if it’s a big fish, usually budget can be found for a fly-out and some face-to-face work.

Yes, digital is cheaper to manage than constantly sending members of the sales teams to different locations. But again, if the ROI is 34x higher on a face-to-face interaction, those costs can be justified.

Yes, with only so many hours in the week, it might seem unrealistic to visit a customer and talk about their lives instead of your product. But building that relationship could ensure a huge lifetime customer value, whereas only discussing product may not.

One cool idea from Brock

Consider this in your own organization. It’s not hard (and cheap!) to execute:

Some years ago, I visited a the corporate headquarters of a client.  They had done something remarkable.  In each conference room, in the halls on the way to their cafeteria, they had place pictures of their customers.  People, not logos.  Accompanying each picture was a small card with their story.  The stories weren’t testimonials about my client’s products, but THEIR stories, what they did, what they accomplished.  Every few months, they would rotate new pictures in.

Talking to the CEO about this, he said that he wanted everyone in the organization, even those distant from day to day interaction with customers, to know who their customers are.  He wanted to surround them with the faces of customers, so they could associate what they did with customers, every day.

Bottom line: your customers/clients are important, and getting face-to-face communication time with them is crucial. None of this should be brain surgery. But are you doing it?

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