Face-to-face selling will never be obsolete
 
Face-to-face selling will never be obsolete
08 MARCH 2013 7:08 AM

Business interactions via technology will never replace the value or ROI of being face to face with customers and prospects.

“The problem with communication … is the illusion that it has been accomplished.”
—George Bernard Shaw

For the record, I am a huge advocate for the use of technology-based communication and selling skills—when and if appropriate. But there’s no doubt in my mind I might no longer be in business were it not for my selective usage of emailing, texting, teleconferencing, webinars and other virtual meetings.

Consulting clients has helped convince me that conducting downloading sessions and presenting findings and recommendations via the latest technology can be effective given the importance of late of reducing travel costs together with the need for optimizing participants’ time and availability.

But those business interactions via technology will never replace the value or the return on investment of being face to face with customers and prospects.
 
Face-to-face communication and selling skills—what I refer to as the traditional, tried and tested, relationship-based skills—are the very lynchpins used toward establishing business relationships that survive.

I believe—strongly indeed, today more than ever—in these two principles:

  1. We live by relationships with support from technology; and
  2. selling was never intended to be faceless or silent.

I also believe at risk is a generation of near-robotic hospitality sales professionals, working alone, using technology 100% for communication and selling, denied all of the relationship-building advantages of personal, face-to-face interaction.

Selling face to face is becoming obsolete? Not a chance.
Having gone on record with the above, you can imagine how troubled I was in reading Geoffrey James’ “Inc.” article, “Selling face-to-face is almost obsolete.”

Anyone who has heard me speak, has taken a class or workshop I’ve conducted or has been reading my recent columns and other published articles can appreciate how worked up I became.

Most troubling for me was finding a link to the piece on the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International’s website—so I had to assume that many hospitality senior sales and marketing executives will have read it.

I pray James’ article will not fall into the hands of hospitality owners, asset managers and operators, providing them with even more ammunition to cut or eliminate critical budget items including travel and entertainment, trade show participation and outside personal sales calls.

A new kind of selling environment?
“The road warrior is becoming increasingly rare in the business world,” James cites from a study by Dr. James Oldroyd, a researcher in the mathematics of selling. I was never very good in math, but I was very successful in selling on the road.

James writes about a "new kind of selling environment" in which “many top companies” are hiring and cultivating people capable of communicating with customers with a combination of email, phone, texting, social media and Web conferencing.

I have no argument with any of the communication tools James mentions. All are important and can be very effective. But to state categorically that face-to-face selling is not part of this “new kind of selling environment,” and, furthermore, has become obsolete—well, that’s absolute nonsense.

Would James and Dr. Oldroyd have us believe there is no longer value in face-to-face selling? We Americans are social animals. We might be using more technology tools in the future, but nothing will ever replace face-to-face interactions. And let’s never forget that 90% of human communication is non-verbal.

We Americans love to congregate. It is part of our DNA. The 19th century French political philosopher and writer Alexis de Tocqueville observed what was most distinctive of Americans: a passion to form associations around interests, causes and values. Early in the 20th century, new immigrants would gather at The Boston Commons to find work, sell their products and services, learn where to shop, and how to find housing, doctors, attorneys, accountants, craftsmen and butchers.

I’m able to draw upon both recent empirical data together with my half-century of professional selling experience, instructing classes, conducting sales workshops and delivering speeches at industry events in support of my opinions.

I believe without face-to-face interaction, today’s hospitality sales professionals miss out on observing in customers and prospects:

  • the office/work environment;
  • tone of voice;
  • facial expressions;
  • body language;
  • hand gestures and nuances;
  • humor—important but not always conveyed or comfortable via telecom

The hospitality sales pro faces missed opportunities to create bonding, credibility and trust—cornerstones for any business attempting to sell a product or service.

No chances to observe “out-of-frame” communication, attention span and distractions (e.g. prospect engaged in multi-tasking, nor will the prospect be able to really see “who you are,” what you look like or how you dress).

Factual evidence is overwhelming in refuting James’ article while making a case for face-to-face selling. There are scores of studies, surveys and articles from Fortune 1,000 chief marketing officers, Forbes Insights, the U.S. Travel Association, Oxford Economics, The Maritz Institute, Hilton Report: Business Communications and more that give testimony to the value and ROI of conducting business face to face with customers:

  • Both executives and business travelers estimate that 28% of current business would be lost without in person business and meetings;
  • both executives and business travelers estimate that roughly 40% of their prospective customers are converted to new customers with an in-person meeting compared with 16% without that opportunity;
  • 85% of corporate executives surveyed perceive Web meetings and teleconferences to be less effective than in-person meetings with prospective customers;
  • 63% believe virtual meetings are less effective than in-person meetings with current customers;
  • meetings and events provide the highest ROI of any marketing channel;
  • for every dollar invested in business travel, companies realize $12.50 in incremental revenue and $3.80 in new profits;
  • executives cited customer meetings as having the greatest returns, in the range of $15 to $19.99 per dollar invested; and
  • executives identified the average return on conference and trade show participation to be in the range of $4 to $5.99 per dollar invested.

Doing away with face-to-face communication is a mistake
Research and study conclusions produced by the sources above all point to the fact that eliminating face-to-face business communication would be a mistake.

One senior executive even acknowledged that his Fortune 100 Company paid a huge price for cutting back on travel and face-to-face interaction with customers during the peak of the Great Recession and made a new commitment to correct that the following year.

Even the creators of LinkedIn, one of the largest digital connectivity platforms on the Web, gathered frequently in person to create and build what is today LinkedIn, according to David A. Gordon, principal at First Approach.

And while hospitality sales pros have enjoyed the speed and ease of social media platforms for prospecting and relationship building, the practice can become habit forming with the risk of becoming lazy. The jury might be still out on how many of these social media messages are lost due to vast numbers involved.

Unfortunately, as part of my sales and marketing consulting practice, I have observed far too many sales associates joined at the hip with their computers, only occasionally working the phones for proactive sales work.

So, bottom line here, we live by relationships with support from technology. Got it? It’s OK for today’s hospitality sales pros to use technology-based selling tools if and when appropriate, but let’s never abandon the relationship-based selling tools.

Let’s never stop using the phone excessively and never stop making those critical outside sales calls, hosting familiarization trips, working the booths and aisles at trade shows and other important customer events.

That’s how you make your sales goals. That’s how you develop and maintain solid customer relationships. And guess what? You will become more motivated in your work and—here it comes—you might even have some fun along the way.

Now, how do you overcome today’s barriers keeping sales pros from getting face-to-face with busy meeting and event planners and managers? I will address that and add some tried and tested tips in next month’s column.

David M. Brudney (David@DavidBrudney.com, 760-476-0830) is a charter member of the International Society of Hospitality Consultants and a veteran sales-and-marketing professional concluding his fourth decade of service to the hospitality industry. He is now a proud member of Laguna Strategic Advisors, a business advisor consortium co-founded by Ed Fuller, retired president and managing director of Marriott Lodging International. Brudney advises lodging owners, lenders, asset managers and operators about hotel sales and marketing best practices and conducts reviews of sales-and-marketing operations throughout the world. His website is www.davidbrudney.com.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of HotelNewsNow.com or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

5 Comments

  • GeoffreyJames March 8, 2013 3:39 AM

    David, First let me say that I consider people with your experience to be incredible resources who have vast value to add to these discussions. That being said, I think you're taking Oldroyd's research out of context. He was just tracking hiring patterns and the trend is to hire more inside sales people and have less people in the field. This makes sense in the context of globalization. It's simply not practical to send people to the other side of the world to meet in person. Geoffrey James

  • Jeff Coy March 8, 2013 5:44 AM

    David, you fossil. Get with it. The image of my face on my computer monitor can be face to face with the image of your face on your monitor. I can still see your body language without ever having to meet you. That will work, won't? David, if you aren't picking up on the sarcasm, I agree with you. Your friend, another fossil.

  • djaurand March 11, 2013 6:19 AM

    Mr Brudney, you're right.
    Too many hotel managers and sales people think sales and marketing on the Internet should work on auto-pilot with no human interaction.
    As a hotel photographer and virtual tour producer, with a history in hotel management and sales, a I think a hotel's website should be an extention or mirror of the in-hotel sales methods.
    A call for information about a Wedding Reception should include guiding the bride-to-be to an Online Property Tour. Its an Internet reflection of what a Catering Manager would do if the bride visited the hotel in person.
    And she could come back as often as she wants, bringing her mother, maid of honor, brides maids and....oh yeah, the groom ;)
    Using a hotel website as much like person to person sales as possible, makes Internet tools work better.
    Hotel managers and sales people need to stop thinking of digital marketing as something different and separate from traditional hotel marketing.

  • Anonymous March 11, 2013 8:21 AM

    David, the irony is that the article was not about face to face selling really becoming obsolete but that the number of outside sales people has been relatively flat compared and that the mix of contact methods with consumers has changed. As such, at HSMAI, we thought it was interesting for hotel sales and marketing executives to see that other industries are facing the same challenges with being able to communicate with customers face to face. We are in no way endorsing a concept of making face to face obsolete. Bob Gilbert, President & CEO, HSMAI

  • Anonymous March 11, 2013 9:02 AM

    I couldn't agree more with your sales philosphy, "We live by relationships with support from technology". No doubt today's workforce has a heavy dependence on technology which paradoxically makes face to face and personal relationships interactions that much more valuable.

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