Technology versus Face-to-Face

January 30, 2010

Technology vs. face to face  

By: Barry Siskind

My kids think I’m a Luddite. I am from the world where the value of face-to-face marketing was one I understood. Now I live in a world where people communicate with their thumbs. However lately I’ve seen that faces and thumbs can live in harmony.

I will admit that thumbs can connect to the world instantly. They can communicate to large numbers of people in real time, even at the cost of good grammar and spelling. Faces still have the advantage of being able to stare eyeball to eyeball with a client even if it is only one at a time. So in a world where it is faster and considerably less expensive to connect with a text, can one justify the cost of face-to-face?

A report I read recently prepared by the Harvard Business Review called, “Managing Across Distance in Today’s Economic Climate” focused on the issue of the high cost of business value versus the benefits.

The report described four key areas where face to face trumps technology:

  • Developing new clients. 95% of respondents said that face-to-face was crucial for building strong and long-term client relationships.
  • Negotiating: When negotiating major contracts and agreements, 82% said that face-to-face meetings are the most effective tool in their arsenal.
  • Maintaining relationships: It’s relatively easy to hide feelings, concerns and priorities behind technology. Any one who deals with people face-to- face on a regular basis will attest to their ability to pick up on signals that often reveal the real story behind the words.
  • Cultural barriers: Try texting a partner on the other side of the world and see if the real message was understood the first time. I am not just talking about language but the nuances of your message which may or may not be recognized. The value of face-to-face is to be able to read the non-verbal acceptance of what you are saying and be able to clarify if necessary.

So there are advantages to face-to-face. However, with the high cost of business travel in a shaky economy do these advantages justify the cost?

In this same report 60% of sales and marketing people said that cutbacks in their business travel would hurt business, while 36% of finance people said cutbacks would have no impact on the business. So now we have the age old conflict between those who solicit business and those who pay for it.

The solution is to make a strong enough case for face-to-face and to provide new metrics for measuring return. Here are three things to consider:

  • Combine business travel with other activities. A major event like a trade show or conference is a magnet for buyers and sellers. By combining your exhibit investment to include time for individual sales calls, meetings and presentations, you can amortize the cost and increase the value of the investment to your corporation.
  • Establish a singular budget. Often the exhibition budget is a marketing activity while sales calls are sales. When you combine both activities under one budget line you create a corporate expenditure that has a higher probability of measurable success.
  • Establish multiple metrics. In the past, corporations measured success by focusing on one or two metrics. In our new world this list of metrics should be expanded. For example you may use your trade show to gather quality leads, a sales meeting to close a sale and an on-site presentation to advance the sales cycle. Three activities needing three individual metrics with the results of the three being attributed to the overall success of the exhibition program.

The battle of thumbs and faces has only just begun. Perhaps in the future one will totally replace the other – but that’s not the case now. Before you let the finance people decimate your face-to-face budget perhaps its time to sit down with them and have a serious conversation.

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