By Colleen Jolly
About half way between London and Australia it suddenly hit me – Australia is really far away. Trapped in a tiny tin can thousands of feet above the earth was not the best time to entertain this realization. I started wondering why, exactly, was I doing this? The old adage “it seemed like a good idea at the time” immediately sprung to my mind. The real reason, though — since I had tons of time to think about it — is that there is something very powerful about a face-to-face meeting.
E-mail, phone, Skype, fax, Facebook, Twitter, Gchat and all the other instant electronic communications tools today make us forget the concept of distance and the importance of looking someone in the eye and firmly shaking his or her hand. In my travels, I have noticed that we Americans are notorious for conducting business virtually. We often make quick decisions and do not invest a lot of time in building relationships before doing business. I, too, am complicit in this decision-making process. I buy based on recommendations from friends or sometimes because I recognize a company’s name from advertising. I buy first, and then I go back and develop a relationship if I had a good first experience. Otherwise, I move on to the next service-provider.
Outside the U.S. is different — there is a lot of “dating” before actually doing business with someone. Non-American buyers also listen to their friends and also fall prey to clever advertising but real, traditional selling still involves, at the very least, one face-to-face meeting and typically more than one.
While travel today is considerably cheaper, faster and easier than it was even 50 years ago, it still is not convenient. Even when cost is no object there is time involved – time away from your family, your work, your priorities and time invested in the potential of developing a new client.
Working with people outside your familiar industry or your familiar geographic locations is hard. Flying to the other side of the world in the hope that the trip proves valuable and does not strain other resources too much (staff at the home office, cash flow, delayed decision-making with time zone issues, etc.) involves an awful lot of faith.
So, here I sit, on another layover in yet another airport, attempting to bolster my faith and repeating my mantra: It is important to meet people, look them in the eye and listen to their stories in person and not just via e-mail. Simply making the effort to go to their offices in their city in their country is valuable to them, and if it is valuable to your customer or client then it should be valuable to you.
Business-guru Stephen Covey espouses the concept, “Seek first to understand and then be understood.” I now enter Australia seeking that understanding and having faith that I in turn will be understood.