There’s some­thing to be said for face-to-face inter­ac­tions. You would be wise to rein­vest in them — offline.

5 min read

Opin­ions expressed by Entre­pre­neur con­trib­u­tors are their own.

Today, con­sumers buy toi­letries with the click of a mouse; browse desired items across the web using image-recog­ni­tion soft­ware; and cel­e­brate how they need­n’t even leave the house — unless they want to: Where shop­pers once vis­it­ed exclu­sive bou­tiques, even the design­er goods those bou­tiques sell can now be deliv­ered straight to their doorstep.

Case in point: LVMH — own­er of the lux­u­ry brands Louis Vuit­ton, Chan­don and Sepho­ra — report­ed $13.44 bil­lion in rev­enue in the first quar­ter of 2018 alone, thanks in large part to its online sales.

Relat­ed: Is Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Replac­ing Your Intel­li­gence?

Suc­cess sto­ries such as LVMH’s explain why brands are pour­ing resources into social media, arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and oth­er dig­i­tal expe­ri­ences. But, despite this quest by com­pa­nies to adopt the lat­est and great­est dig­i­tal tools, any observ­er (like me) has to won­der: Are brands los­ing sight of the val­ue of stel­lar in-per­son expe­ri­ences?

I for one believe that offline touch­points will always be nec­es­sary. Take, real estate, for exam­ple; it’s the indus­try my com­pa­ny Agen­tol­ogy oper­ates in. Accord­ing to The Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Real­tors (NAR), 90 per­cent of home buy­ers and sell­ers start their search online. Addi­tion­al­ly, Zil­low’s new Instant Offers plat­form allows sell­ers to receive and accept cash offers from investors for their homes online with­out using a human agent.

How­ev­er, real estate trans­ac­tions typ­i­cal­ly don’t end online. Zil­low exec­u­tive Errol Samuel­son recent­ly told Inman that although around 33 per­cent of the sell­ers who asked for an Instant Offer did go on to sell their home online, 90 per­cent decid­ed to list with an agent rather than accept an insti­tu­tion­al investor’s cash offer.

The mes­sage? There’s some­thing to be said for face-to-face inter­ac­tions, and you would be wise to rein­vest in them.

The shortcomings of online marketing

The inter­net cer­tain­ly dri­ves sales, but it also has its lim­its. For one thing, thanks to the spread of such much-talked-about con­cepts as fake news, and the recent Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal, con­sumers’ mis­trust of infor­ma­tion they find online has increased, accord­ing to a study by the mar­ket­ing agency Per­formics and Medill School of Jour­nal­ism.

Relat­ed: How to Tell if Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca Scraped Your Face­book Data

Meet­ing with cus­tomers in per­son, on the oth­er hand, goes a long way in build­ing trust and loy­al­ty. It enables deep­er con­ver­sa­tions that just can’t hap­pen online. It allows you to bet­ter explain mar­ket con­di­tions and under­stand your cus­tomers’ most press­ing con­cerns and unmet needs. While friend­li­ness can cer­tain­ly be con­veyed online, noth­ing can replace a warm hand­shake or a per­son­al­ized intro­duc­tion.

In my indus­try, if you com­mu­ni­cate with cus­tomers only online, you risk the chance that they’ll find anoth­er agent: Con­sid­er that 72 per­cent of buy­ers work with the first agent they’re able to meet in per­son, accord­ing to NAR. Anoth­er find­ing: Maritz Glob­al Events dis­cov­ered that prospects are twice as like­ly to become cus­tomers of a com­pa­ny after meet­ing its rep­re­sen­ta­tive in per­son.

Try these tac­tics to build a strong offline pres­ence that dri­ves sales:

1. Let your hair down. A recent Gart­ner study found that 89 per­cent of busi­ness­es sur­veyed com­pete almost entire­ly on cus­tomer expe­ri­ence alone. When you meet poten­tial cus­tomers in per­son, there­fore, it’s crit­i­cal to make them feel at ease; so ditch the idea of high-pres­sure sales meet­ings. Instead, build rela­tion­ships over a cup of cof­fee or a bite to eat.

Host­ing social gath­er­ings at least once a quar­ter can set you apart from the com­pe­ti­tion. Bell Heli­copter, for exam­ple, held a great cus­tomer appre­ci­a­tion event a few years ago that includ­ed live music, food and pho­to ops with Dis­ney char­ac­ters. You don’t need to pull out all the stops; any type of social meet­up is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to build cus­tomer rela­tion­ships in a stress-free way.

2. Become flu­ent in read­ing body lan­guage. Body lan­guage is one of the most impor­tant com­po­nents of human inter­ac­tion. Accord­ing to research from UCLA pro­fes­sor Albert Mehra­bi­an, more than half of our mes­sages are con­veyed through body lan­guage.

Body lan­guage cues can pro­vide you a wealth of infor­ma­tion on oth­er peo­ple’s thoughts and feel­ings — if you know how to read them. For instance, if a guest cross­es her arms and rais­es her eye­brows, it may indi­cate that she’s not open to what you’re say­ing. On the oth­er hand, if she mir­rors your own body lan­guage (e.g., she leans her head in the same direc­tion as you), that could indi­cate that she trusts you.

Relat­ed: 3 Sim­ple Body Lan­guage Tips to Tur­bocharge Your Sell­ing

Addi­tion­al­ly, pay atten­tion to what your own body lan­guage con­veys. Amy Cud­dy gave a great TED Talk about how body lan­guage affects deci­sion-mak­ing. Her research indi­cat­ed that peo­ple are more inclined to take a risk when the per­son pre­sent­ing the idea assumes a high-pow­er pos­ture.

3. Get cre­ative with your nudges. Most com­pa­nies rely on email to fol­low up after a sales meet­ing, but don’t under­es­ti­mate the impact of an offline fol­low-up. A per­son­al­ized thank-you note or post­card, for instance, can go a long way in estab­lish­ing an emo­tion­al con­nec­tion with your cus­tomers. Research from the Har­vard Busi­ness Review showed that emo­tion­al­ly con­nect­ed cus­tomers in one study were 52 per­cent more valu­able than those who were just high­ly sat­is­fied.

Bot­tom line? Don’t expect the ini­tial in-per­son meet­ing to do all the work for you. No mat­ter how well you con­nect with a prospect dur­ing a meet­ing, if you fail to stay top of mind by employ­ing strate­gic fol­low-ups, you’ll quick­ly lose your prospec­t’s inter­est.

To put this in con­text: In a mat­ter of decades, the inter­net has trans­formed the way brands and con­sumers inter­act. But that does­n’t mean that tried-and-true tech­niques are no longer effec­tive. Aug­ment your sales and mar­ket­ing strate­gies with offline ini­tia­tives, and you’ll reap the rewards of life­long cus­tomer loy­al­ty.

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