Balancing Act: Meet Online or Face-to-Face?

By Heather Baldwin

We’ve devoted a lot of space here to the power of online meetings – how they allow you to demonstrate your product’s capabilities on demand, how you can bring in experts from another part of the country with a single click and how they can help you collaborate with prospects without the expense of traveling. As everyone in sales knows, however, there’s just as much power in meeting clients face to face where you can read their body language, build rapport and see firsthand how they work. So how do you balance the two? What should be done in person versus online? Is face time still as important in the sales process as it used to be?

“Face time is still a critical aspect of sales, though it plays a slightly different role now than it used to,” says Peter Ryce, Breeze evangelist at Macromedia (www.macromedia.com). Most organizations, he says, are finding that face time is still crucial at the beginning and end of the sales process, but many of the intermediate meetings they used to hold in person now can be done online. Take the example of one San Francisco-based design firm. For every project this firm completed, they once held five in-person client meetings regardless of where the client was based. After September 11, 2001 when travel became more difficult, the firm re-evaluated its procedures. It determined that while all five meetings were still important, only two needed to be done in person – the initial meeting to agree on terms and to bond and build rapport and the final meeting for delivery of the project. The three milestone meetings, it decided, could be conducted online. This balance has turned out to be enormously effective, resulting in huge cost and time savings for both the design firm and its clients without any reduction in either the quality of the firm’s work or the quality of its relationships.

“At some point early in the sales process there needs to be an in-person meeting,” says Ryce. “Shaking hands, having lunch – the social aspects of a relationship need to be done in person.” It’s not just because relationships need eye contact. Online meetings, Ryce points out, tend to stay formal and focused because you’re online for a specific reason. In person, however, there often are many opportunities to digress into discussions about families and hobbies – the types of discussions that build the foundation for a relationship.

So when determining the right balance between online and face-to-face meetings for your organization, it’s important to analyze each meeting your sales reps typically hold with their customers and question whether the meeting’s main goal is to establish a relationship or deliver or collaborate on content. Sure, every meeting is likely to include an element of both, but which weighs more heavily? If it’s the relationship, go in person. If it’s content, meet online where the quality of material can be just as rich as – and often richer than – it is in person.

That’s essentially the rule followed by one pharmaceutical company that uses Macromedia Breeze to deliver online, rich media presentations about its new products. Its reps hold an initial face-to-face meeting with doctors to start building a relationship and then use Breeze to conduct live or recorded seminars as new products roll out. The doctors can watch these seminars at their convenience. Once a year the reps go back to visit in person to continue building the relationship.

In the end achieving the optimal balance between face time and virtual time remains more an art than a science. “You really have to feel it out as you go,” says Ryce.

For more information, visit http://www.sellingpower.com/webconf.