For many small businesses today, digital communications – email, texting, social media, and others – have completely taken over. In many ways, this is a good thing. It’s super convenient, efficient and keeps you constantly connected.
But some business owners are starting to wonder. Has it gone too far? These days, many people are reluctant to even pick up the phone and make an “old-fashioned” voice call. They’d much rather send an email. Meanwhile, face-to-face meetings are increasingly rare.
But this “technology takeover” has potentially serious consequences for a business, says Michael Houlihan, co-founder of Barefoot Cellars, a wine-making business focused on being more fun, lighthearted and hip. Business is still built on relationships, and in a purely digital world, relationships can stagnate, or never develop at all.
Trust – another business cornerstone – dips as well, as genuine personal connections are replaced by keystrokes and mouse clicks.
When Houlihan and his partner Bonnie Harvey started Barefoot Cellars, they had no wine business experience. So they paid personal visits to countless suppliers, retailers and potential customers to gain knowledge and build relationships. “The Barefoot brand would never have become successful without meetings, phone calls and recurring personal visits that kept relationships all over the country healthy and up-to-date,” says Houlihan. “People don’t just buy your product or service. They buy you.”
Of course when travel is involved, face-to-face meetings can be expensive. But the digital equivalent – a Skype video call – can fill in nicely. It’s the next best thing to being there. Houlihan now uses Skype frequently in his own business dealings. “Live video streams let you do just about everything except shake hands,” he says.
Here are five reasons to consider more face time in your own business dealings:
1) Taking the time shows you care. People want to be valued and appreciated. Spending time with them – whether in person, on a computer screen or, if all else fails, a phone call, is one of the best ways to build a relationship.
2) You can provide more personalized attention. This might be the key selling success. There’s no “multi-tasking” when you’re standing face-to-face with somebody (unless, of course, you don’t mind being terribly rude). You have to focus on the other person and respond not only to what they say, but also to their mood and other non-verbal signals. You read those signs and adjust your own actions accordingly.
3) You can be more effective in general. When you talk to someone in “real time” you also can make progress in real time and solve problems in real time as well. Sending emails back and forth isn’t always efficient. And thanks to facial expressions, body language and tone of voice, you’ll usually find out more than just the basics when you have verbal conversations. In fact, if you’re really observant, you may notice things about the other company or clients that they aren’t aware of themselves.
4) Other people are more likely to say yes. “In my experience, when you use someone’s name along with eye contact and an attentive demeanor, they’re more likely to be agreeable and to give you the benefit of any doubt,” says Houlihan, who with Harvey wrote “The Barefoot Spirit” (Evolve Publishing, 2013). The next time they see you they’ll be more relaxed and familiar with your company. People want to do business with people they know. And you can get to know them much better “off-screen”.
5) Your vulnerability shows (and that’s a good thing!). In a virtual world, you can almost totally control the image you show to other people. That’s good to a point. But in a face-to-face relationship, the other person gets more of a 360-degree view of who you are. The imperfections and vulnerability they might see actually makes you appear more believable and sincere
Business relationships can and should start through digital means. The tools are there and you should use them. But in order for your business to be lasting and dependable, relationships should be allowed to grow in person as well. Your business will be better off in the long run.
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About the Author: Daniel Kehrer, Founder and Chief Content Officer of BizBest Media, is a senior-level leader in digital media, content development and online marketing with special expertise in startups, SMB, social media and generating traffic, engagement and leads. He holds an MBA from UCLA/Anderson and is a passionate entrepreneur (started 4 businesses), syndicated columnist, blogger, thought leader and author of 7 business and financial books.