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Business Development Without Face-to-Face Interactions?

It is early June now, and for the most part I have had zero face-to-face/physical meetings with any client/prospect since the middle of March. A hallmark and requirement of typical business development processes have been- at least temporarily- taken away from those in the BD and sales role.

How exactly do we, in BD, make an impact in our industries and for our companies in the present (and near-future) climate?

Back in mid-late March, I did not think this all would last this long- the mandated shutdowns and office closures.  However, here we are just starting to inch back to some semi-normalcy.   But there are ample restrictions via the State and often the municipality. Aside from governmental edicts, many private firms have their own corporate guidelines. Several times in the past 7-10 days I have heard from an AEC firm, “We are greatly limiting any visits from any non-essentials persons to our office.”

So just how critical is “face-time”? This can mean in someone’s office, at a project site, or at some trade association meeting or networking event, etc. According to Zoominfo (October 2018), via the following link  https://blog.zoominfo.com/face-to-face-sales-meetings/  :

“The Benefits of Face-to-Face Interaction in Sales-

    In-person requests are 34 times more successful than those made over email.

    The close rate for in-person meetings is 40%.

    Executives and business travelers estimate that 28% of their current business would be lost without in-person meetings.”

In this fairly recent article, it notes that while face-to-face meetings have lessened over the past few years due to more robust and accepted digital technology, there is still immense importance to the “old-fashioned” meeting and a hand-shake.

Personally and anecdotally I would concur with Zoominfo. Is it IMPOSSIBLE to develop new business (or maintain existing clients) without physical meetings? Probably not impossible, but certainly more difficult and- I would argue- more time-consuming.

We have all had to make due recently with phone calls, emails, and video conference calls (Skype, Zoom, MS Teams, etc). As far as offering some kind of personal “touch”, clearly emails are the least personal. Normal phone calls at least allow the parties to have a true dialogue and hear the other person’s voice and also their inflection points and pauses or other quirks.

Video calls do allow for a visual, in addition to normal audio, but there is still something about it that is lacking. They are not the same as being in the same room or space with someone, and I believe most professionals would agree.

I’ve talked to several people over the past week- some in the AEC field and some not- and most of them have said that they will be working from home for the remainder of the summer.   Their companies have told them to plan on working from home until September.  Some are in Boston, but not all.   For those that have somehow managed to work in an outside sales type of role for 2 ½ months already, can we really make it another 2 ½ months under similar constraints and pressures?

One simple idea is to conduct 1v1 video calls at times.  Many people only consider video/Skype calls when there are 3+ people involved, as would be in a conference call.   But since we have the technology at our fingertips, why not have a more personal and connective “phone call” with a client, prospect, or partner?

I do believe things will loosen up a bit as the weeks progress, however, Boston Proper will likely be the slowest to mimic pre-COVID19 protocols.  The truth is that those in business development must adjust and learn how to still be productive and visible in the marketplace, even if we are not physically “visible.”

Ken Lambert

Author

Ken is a Director of Industry Development and Technical Services at the International Masonry Institute. Some of his writings have been featured in ARCHITECT magazine, constructiondive.com, and for U.S. Building News. He can be reached at klambert@imiweb.org.

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