It’s official: email, texting, and social media are no longer just helpful supplemental business tools; they’ve taken over the whole game. Although technology has made many aspects of modern living more convenient and “connected,” the pendulum may have swung too far. People are reluctant to do something as simple as picking up the phone. And face-to-face meetings—well, they’re almost unheard of.
This “technology takeover” is not without consequence. Misunderstandings abound. Relationships stagnate. Trust is at an all-time low. And all of these issues are at least partially due to the fact that genuine human connections have been replaced by mouse-clicks and keystrokes.
Social media and technology do have their place, but they are not, and never will be, a substitute for in-person interaction. Your physical presence—or at least the sound of your voice—builds trust that isn’t possible via a keyboard, screen, or profile image.
People don’t just buy your product; they buy you. When we started our company, Barefoot Wines, in the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse, we knew almost nothing about winemaking or the wine business. I can’t tell you how many retailers, suppliers, and potential customers I visited in person during those early years. What I can tell you is that I wouldn’t have succeeded if I had tried to build those relationships via email and social media. All of those meetings, phone calls, and recurring personal visits kept our relationships all over the country healthy and up-to-date.
Here are four advantages of real-time, face-to-face relationship building:
1. The time investment shows you really care. Time spent with another person creates a bond that money can’t buy. Human beings long to be valued and appreciated. In essence, an investment of time says, “While there are many other things I could be doing, I’m choosing to spend my time with you. That’s how important I think you are!” When you spend time with clients and colleagues, you find out what you have in common and you have an opportunity to share your opinions. Plus, visiting someone repeatedly over a period of time can provide valuable non-verbal clues to his or her values and concerns.
2. You can provide personalized attention to your clients. This is perhaps the biggest key to successful sales and the establishment of any long-term relationship. Letters on a screen can’t compete with the personal touch. 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 the doubt. The next time they see you, they will be more relaxed and familiar in your company. And the more visits you have, the more your relationship with that individual strengthens. People want to do business with people they know and you can get to know them much better offscreen.
3. You’re more effective in general. When you talk to someone in real time, you can make progress in real time and solve problems in real time. (Believe it or not, lobbing emails back and forth isn’t always the most efficient method.) Thanks to facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice, you’ll usually find out more than just the basics when you have a verbal conversation. In fact, if you’re really observant, you may notice things about the other company or clients that they themselves aren’t aware of. When an important client or critical team member is on the other side of the globe, a face-to-face meeting once or twice a year can often be a smart investment.
4. Your vulnerability shows (and that’s a good thing). In the virtual world, you can control the image you show to other people. You choose the pictures you post on your profile. You censor the information you don’t want to share in your messages, posts, and updates. And you can think about and edit what you want to say before pressing “send.” But in a real-time, face-to-face relationship, the other person can see you in 3-D and observe your dynamic, spontaneous behavior, including tone of voice, expression, dress, and body language. The other party sees your human imperfections and is aware that you are vulnerable to potential personal rejection. Imperfections and vulnerability make you appear more believable and sincere. Most people will overlook minor foibles in appearance and speech because you are literally there for them. This can be a big advantage in the long run. And in the short run, you take precedence over all their virtual relationships.
At Barefoot we didn’t avoid technology as it developed—far from it. In fact, I encourage entrepreneurs and other businesspeople to utilize those resources. What’s important is to use these wonderful tools appropriately and not let them become crutches. A relationship can start through text, email, or social media. But in order to be lasting, a relationship has to grow in person.
Like any skill, in-person communication takes practice. A good way to start is to eliminate virtual communication when in-person communication is possible. Remember, high touch beats high tech every time.
If you would like to polish your communication skills, consider these AMA seminars:
Developing Effective Business Conversation Skills
Communication Boot Camp