Opinion

Let’s make 2017 the year of meeting face-to-face

7 min read

29 December 2016

In an era of email, Slack, Skype and Google Hangouts, I’m a great believer that meeting face-to-face increases the chances of striking a deal – and I’m not alone.

I reckon that during any one month, I end up meeting face-to-face with 40 prospects. At least a quarter of those eventually lead to them buying one or more of our new business services.

When I was a teenager, in the days when the landline was the main way to keep in touch, a friend of mine had a favourite joke that he would tell on the phone. Halfway through a conversation he’d say, “What’s plastic and goes click?” Then he’d hang up.

Quite lame, looking back. Yet if we fast forward to the modern way of doing business, there are lessons in that wisecrack about how easy it is to avoid people, if you’re that way inclined.

Despite the obvious advantages of technology laid bare above, people seem to have a lot less time for meeting face-to-face.

Ironically, this is a product of the hundreds of emails and phone calls we get when at our desks, constantly cutting our chances of spending time with other people. If only it was somehow harder to discount the benefits of talking in person.

At one time, my company worked with a leading light of the ad industry. He’d devised a toolkit demystifying buyer behaviour, and such was his infectious personality that we booked him a series of lunches with up-and-coming marketers.

They gleaned the benefit of his wisdom, and he had the undivided attention of the next generation of brand heroes. I’ll bet a pound to a penny he worked with many of them years later.

Meeting face-to-face provides a wealth of information about someone you’re selling to that is hard to discern via any other channel; difficult on a video conference and near impossible through the vague and ambiguous medium of email. Those newer channels have made it too easy to deal with decisions without leaving your desk.

That’s particularly true, I think, of millennials who have grown up communicating through a screen. But all of us need to push ourselves to get out and meet our clients and suppliers.

With prospects, an initial meeting face-to-face before a pitch situation might automatically give you a better chance of winning the business.

Firstly, it’s much simpler to observe body language in the room compared to on a call. There are rarely distractions; the people you meet have afforded you their time and aren’t busy checking phone messages and emails while you chat. Having a captive audience allows you to fully understand the reason the other party wants you there.

Meanwhile, you also have the benefit of getting to know the prospect in the preamble or straight after meeting face-to-face. That few minutes’ conversation can go a long way to winning them over by creating a bond that sticks in their mind.

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Secondly, it’s fine to regard meeting face-to-face as a chance to show off your work. In the case of our marketing agency clients, that means making use of the pitch to unveil creative campaigns, and convince the prospect your team can solve their problems and is right for the job.

Thirdly, adapting to unexpected scenarios to take control of a negotiation is much harder on a call or video conference. Reasoning and empathy work best when you can maintain eye contact and convey understanding of the prospect’s particular situation.

Whether your meeting is lunch, coffee or drinks, an office catch-up or more formal pitch presentation, you owe it to all attendees (yourself included) to be well prepared.

On the next page, there are a few tips to consider before meeting face-to-face with clients.

(1) Know who’ll be there. Do your research on the individuals and match your team to their personalities. On many occasions, I’ve seen people make the mistake of assuming who is top dog in the room, only to be embarrassed when they are told otherwise. This tactic is often overlooked to the detriment of deal-making.

(2) Matching job roles is equally important. For example, if procurement is coming along, take the managing director or even the FD to talk to them about their individual requirements. They won’t want to hear the creative director waxing lyrical about storytelling.

(3) If you believe you have the wrong people for the meeting, don’t take them. If the prospect insists on the black sheep being there, make sure someone else on your team is in charge of mediating and facilitating

(4) Brush up on reading the room. If a meeting clearly isn’t going to lead straight to a deal on this occasion, be gracious enough to thank your hosts for their time and offer to keep in touch. In my view, every connection you make is positive. Even if you’ve travelled a long way and it transpires there isn’t a major opportunity, there’s nothing to lose.

If you’re still sceptical about the value of meeting face-to-face, look no further than the programme of events we launched eight years ago. It’s a concept we call business-to-business speed dating.

We set up these forums to give brands and agencies face-time with each other, and even in the 15 minutes every agency spends with each brand, there’s a lot to learn. In some cases, chemistry is so strong and immediate that in a growing number of cases follow-up meetings are booked or business is won on the spot.

“People buy people” might be a cliché, but face-to-face business has stood the test of time. Maybe my old schoolmate was on to something when he got bored on the phone and decided instead that he’d talk to me when we got to the classroom.

Chris Kemp is the CEO of Ingenuity

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