The last few years have ushered in the practice of visiting with customers using video conferencing (VC) programs, such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex and Google Meet. These are great platforms for holding meetings with customers without having to travel for hours to their manufacturing facilities or corporate offices. These programs are great tools to hold meetings with customers and to quickly solve product performance or design issues that need to be discussed directly with the key players on both sides. So, when do you decide to use VC as opposed to in-person visits? Are we giving up on the personal touch associated with in-person sales visits?

There are four main factors to weigh when considering VC versus the more personal approach of an on-site visit.

Distance

If you are hundreds of miles and many hours away from your customer and the need for the meeting is rather urgent, then VC will oftentimes get the nod due to it being both faster and less costly. It can take hours to drive to the airport, wait in security lines, board planes, and grab rental cars to visit customers. VC can save executives a great deal of time and expense when it comes to meeting with customers. A crucial meeting can be accomplished, and solutions mapped out before a plane could even be boarded and leave the runway!

Number of Desired Participants

The larger the list of attendees, the more difficult it becomes to align schedules and bring everyone together in one place. So, the larger the list of desired participants, then the more likely that VC will be the choice. I have even heard of people using VC in situations where their customer is in the same city due to tight schedules, traffic, and multiple participants. Sometimes it is simply so much easier to get everybody on a screen as opposed to various participants driving across town, walking from adjacent buildings, jumping in and out of cars, riding the elevator down multiple floors to a boardroom or even walking from the west side of a 500,000-square-foot manufacturing facility to the east side of the building. Due to traffic, one can literally spend hours getting from one side of a large city to the other side.

Chicago comes to mind here!

Breadth of Knowledge Required

VC can put a list of people with a broad range of talents in front of your customer to solve key issues, discuss solutions and to brainstorm new product ideas. These participants may include engineering, quality assurance, R&D, and operations experts who otherwise would not be able to leave their posts and travel hours to see your customers. The old-fashioned way would be for the salesperson to go visit the customer, discuss the issues, take notes, and then return to the home office. Then a meeting would be called to review the sales call and devise solutions. However, much can get lost in the translation. Also, a VC meeting can really showcase to your customers the vastness and richness of the talent within your organization. At the same time, VC can allow all the diverse professionals within your organization to pick the brains of your customers, each from their own perspective, and to later come together to determine a comprehensive solution to achieve complete customer satisfaction.

Relationship Building

This is where VC gets the boot. Getting to know your customers intimately still means traveling to their cities, visiting their plants, seeing their operations, meeting their employees, offering potential solutions and, at the end of the day, enjoying dinner together. These in-person visits were somewhat curtailed during Covid times due to obvious reasons, but we are past that now. There is one thing I can say for sure: During my sales career, I would never have achieved the same level of success without personally visiting customers, spending time with them and seeing firsthand both the problems and opportunities they were pondering. We discuss issues together, find solutions together, break bread together and celebrate success together. This has served to forge relationships that transcend the daily business ups and downs. These are indeed relationships that last a lifetime.

After all, when Captain Kirk encountered a new civilization with whom he wanted to establish a relationship with, the first thing he did was turn off the big screen on the Enterprise and beam himself down!

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