Original article published on Gavin Finn’s LinkedIn profile.
Just because people use the Internet to do more research about products and services does not mean that face-to-face meetings are unnecessary. In fact, when you look at real data, there is proof that in-person meetings are the most important part of a customer’s buying experience. This is certainly not true of every product category, but the reality is that if you want to improve sales and marketing effectiveness, you have to do a great job in face-to-face meetings.
Forrester Research just released a study on how B2B marketers will be allocating budgets in 2015, and the #1 category across the board is face-to-face events, just as it has been since 2008. Even more than digital marketing. That’s not to say that digital marketing is not critical (it is) but overlooking the priority of the physical, face-to-face meeting can be devastating.
Oxford Economics studied the effectiveness of virtual meetings (phone, video, chat, etc.) and determined that for new prospects, in-person meetings were 85% more effective than virtual meetings, and this benefit was incredibly significant even for existing customers (65%).
Why, in this age of Content Marketing, and Social Media, and Digital Marketing, do people still need the personal touch?
Because it is better for the buyer:
- For complex products and services, buying decisions are made less on the basis of technical features and functions, and more on the basis of organizational and personal relationships and trust. Yes, a significant portion of the buyer’s journey happens without a sales person’s involvement. But after the initial selection process, when it comes time to help the prospect make a good buying decision, cognitive studies have shown that there needs to be anemotional connection that goes beyond analytics. Body language, facial expressions, and voice tone are all examples of emotional cues that help buyers evaluate vendors.
- When buyers are making decisions, they need interaction to get all of their final questions answered, and to ensure that they have understood all of the product/solution information correctly.
- Particularly for products that aren’t commodities, buyers want to establish a relationship with the company, and even the people in the company. That relationship will transcend the initial transaction, and will allow for a mutual exchange of value that lasts a long time. One example of this mutual exchange of value is when buyers learn interesting and relevant facts from the sales and marketing people – information that will help them in general, but may not be specifically related to this particular purchase decision. Face-to-face sales and informational meetings allow for “side-line” conversations among participants that are often very valuable in building a rapport.
- Buyers (especially when there is more one person involved in the decision process) make better decisions through face-to-face meetings. A breakthrough study of organizational behavior showed that overall outcomes of group purchase decisions were far superior when there were face-to-face meetings with vendors, highlighting effectiveness both in terms of better decisions (long term satisfaction) as well as efficiency in the process.
And, it’s better for the seller:
- In person meetings are the best forum to clearly articulate competitive differentiation, and to firmly establish a prospect’s understanding of the company’s value proposition. Since the biggest inhibitor to sales is the inability to communicate value messages, according to the MHI Research Institute, addressing this challenge should be a top priority for marketers and sales teams. A face-to-face setting is the best venue to correct any misperceptions regarding the customer’s understanding of the product or the company, and to augment the customer’s existing knowledge with additional benefits and advantages.
- Studies have shown that sales cycles are much shorter when there are face-to-face meetings as part of the process.
- These venues are the best environments in which to truly qualify the prospect, to determine that there is, indeed, a good fit between their need and the company’s solutions, and that they are serious about solving that problem.
- Just as the buyer wants to build relationships, so does the selling organization, and the opportunity to establish a personal connection to the individuals involved in the buying process is far superior in person, than using other channels.
Not every customer interaction has to happen face-to-face. In point of fact, most customer touch-points will not be of this type. The majority will be the customer interacting with marketing content, the website, or third party references absent any involvement of the sales team at all.
But the most important interactions will happen when the people buying your products meet the people selling your products.