Question: My small business relies on clients from all around the country. To save money, I have our product and planning meetings via conference call. Is that bad form? Should I be flying to meet them in person — and if so, how often?
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Answer: Technology and economics have changed the art of business communication over the past two decades. In my industry, it was once a given that independent writers would travel periodically to meet their editors in New York or whatever big city they might call home, just to keep relationships strong and exchange story ideas. Today that happens far less frequently; between phone calls, email and social media, many writer-editor relationships thrive for years with no face-to-face contact.
In your case, I wouldn’t worry too much about conducting client meetings via teleconference if it’s been working well.
“This is fine as long as you are gaining information with these calls needed to close sales,” says John Treace, CEO of J.R. Treace & Associates, a sales management consulting firm based in Jacksonville, Florida. “It is always best to meet in person, but phone works as long as it is acceptable to the customer and as long as a relationship does not need to be built.”
On the other hand, if one of your product and planning meetings is crucial to securing a big order, and the cost of traveling to the client would be minimal in relation to the size of the sale, you may want to make a personal visit.
Still, “This is all a judgment call,” Treace concludes. “I’ve done a lot of business myself over the phone, and as long as everyone is happy, it works.”
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Still puzzled? Try putting some numbers on the question. Rough out the costs of flying around the country to meet with your clients, and if you find them prohibitive, consider your question answered. In that case, video conferences might work as an attractive middle ground between teleconferences and personal visits.
But if you find that you could build some travel into your budget, consider dropping in on your most important clients as time permits — maybe once a year. Where you have multiple clients in the same city, group your visits to minimize costs. Face-to-face meetings may not always be essential to building client relationships, but it’s safe to say they seldom hurt.