In an age of digital disruption, information overload and believing we are busier than ever, there is no question that SME’s and start-ups are focused on using technology to remove the hassle of face-to-face (F2F) contact with clients.
With the rise & rise of the ‘gig economy’ and many talented executives, managers and specialists giving up the boardrooms and heading into the ‘barefoot businessman’ economy, never has there been a time where large organisations are much more open and if fact keen to work with start-ups and SMEs.
It is widely recognised that these start-ups, SME’s and freelancers (of sort) possess a range of elements extremely attractive to LSO’s (large scale organisations), these being;
- Having a range of specialised skills
- Providing high level of servicing and support (likely due to that “hunger” we possess)
- Being nimble and flexible
- Developing new concepts outside the walls of the ‘organisation’
- Providing an objective lens to providing solutions
Most of all, contractors can be called upon and removed from the organisation as projects, budgets & requirements allow, alleviating headcount issues with corporate offices. Hence it’s an opportune time for start-ups and SMEs to be pursuing bigger companies as clients.
Where the game changes in the ‘big leagues’
Technology has hampered not only SME’s or start-ups but many people’s abilities, capabilities and confidence to communicate within the F2F setting. Where once the people ‘pounded the pavement’, knocked on doors and went through the ‘hard sell’, now in many cases business transactions are undertaken online with virtually no interaction – in some cases there is none at all!
For an insight to see how hard it was, a great reflective piece is the movie “The Founder”, the story about Roy Kroc, the founder of the McDonalds franchise – not McDonalds itself, but that is another story for another day. The movie depicts how hard it was to make a sale for SME’s, where communication, sales techniques and determination were required.
With ecommerce people are transacting millions of dollars daily without even seeing a customer face-to-face.
So, is the art of F2F dead and buried? Is the art of the ‘F2F’ a thing of the past like the Sony Discman? Of course it isn’t!
If you are operating a start-up or SME and you are starting to get some traction, maybe you are starting to get some runs on the board and a few larger clients through your emails, automation and ecommerce platform. Now, what about the big fish?
A Forbes study found that 8/10 business executives prefer in-person meetings it also found that executives believe that F2F meetings foster better desirable business outcomes and actions in terms of reaching a consensus and decision making—both of which are critical for a B2B sale.
When it comes time for your SME or start-up to start pitching for the business, what should you be doing?
An Oxford Economics study found that in-person meetings were 85% more effective at converting new prospects and 65% more effective at gaining repeat business. We are not talking just a fad, that is a serious amount of business.
It is a fairly simple principle, get out from behind the desk and start meeting with your clients face to face – yes, that’s you too even if you are an ecommerce business!
How do you get the ‘face time’ with existing or potential clients?
There is a common misconception that travelling, meetings and conference are a waste of money, well Oxford Economics would disagree with you. Meetings International found that companies earned $12.50 for every $1 spent on business travel, while Oxford Economics study shows F2F meetings had returns of 15:1!
Meetings, trade networking events & industry conferences are not only a great way to build your profile within the industry, with key customers or even generate new customers; it is a way for your start-up or SME to see what else is out there, be inspired and potentially iterate with new solutions.
The importance of face time with B2B customers and prospects is not confined just to purchases and deals; it is an opportunity to expand horizons, look for new opportunities or even – forbid, make a friend the old fashioned way.
Studies conducted earlier this year by B2B Marketing found that 68% of respondents felt the best way to keep up with their industry or profession was to have potential suppliers and providers at conferences, seminars and exhibitions. Tradeshows & events are excellent ways for you to grow your profile, meet new people, learn new things and take a plunge.
You may think that as a start-up, you are too small and there is nothing out there for you….wrong! There are conferences such as StartCon, which are purely geared for start-ups, filled with like-minded businesses, entrepreneurs and ideas galore.
Implications for start-ups and SMEs
As an SME or start-up it is vital to understand your key customers and prospects in detail. This may mean a little more than browsing your LinkedIn contacts; it can be as simple as meeting for a cup of coffee or a drink after hours – whatever suits you and your potential prospect. Understand what makes them tick, pick up their buying signals, pain points and explore how you may become a long-term and valuable asset not only to them now, but in their future roles or companies, as inevitable we all move around in our careers.
Know who are the key people like change agents and influencers, as previously mentioned, networking events and tradeshows are a great way to meet these people, connect with them and even involve them in your business growth – be it through sales or some other integration.
Identify opportunities where you can have meaningful value-added discussions and build/solidify strong relationships. This is not just on the ‘golf course’, it could be just about anywhere, doing anything. A F2F relationship will go a long way to not only to build a business relationship but will open doors to your contacts network through the referral.
Finally, as a start-up or SME, you need to start thinking in customer terms— such as what is on their mind even before they are thinking about buying. To do this, you need to meet them, engage with them and interact with them…the old-fashioned way.
Ecommerce, social media, digital platforms and automation are fantastic tools, but they should be leveraged as support tools – they don’t, won’t and can’t open every door you may wish to go through…that is up to you.
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 CXcellence: How to achieve CX success in B2B in 2017, Benchmarking Report