Building Relationships: Digital vs. Face-to-face

How things have changed!  We used to run around chasing a ball till it was dark; now we are experts on playstations.  We used to write letters (remember the pain of those thank you letters at Christmas?); now we use texts, emails and Facebook.  Perhaps we would go to see a show or a play; now we download films on our laptops.  There is no ‘better or worse’ comparison here – each reality has its merits.  The same applies to building and maintaining relationships with our clients and targets.  The only way in the past was to get out and meet people face-to-face; these days we have a new range of options at our disposal – from digital marketing and blogs through to networking tools such as LinkedIn and Facebook.  We can stay in touch with people on a regular basis without ever exchanging a word with them, perhaps even without ever meeting them at all.

However, if we agree that any high-value sales activity depends on developing strong relationships with clients, I am sure we would also agree that face-to-face contact is fundamental to building those relationships.  So does that mean that all the digital contacts that we generate are a waste of time?  Certainly not.  I see them as having two key roles in supporting the face-to-face relationship effort:

Firstly, they can drive the generation of new contacts, leads, prospects.  By creating ‘noise’ around a company, a product or a key player, potential buyers can be attracted.  Also, specific campaigns can target potential groups of clients in a coordinated and focussed way.  In other words, a digital approach can attract potential clients into the sales funnel.  The hit-rate may not necessarily be high, but the outcomes should be measurable in terms of successful lead generation.  Of course, those new leads can move quickly to first face-to-face meetings and an immediate deepening of the relationship.

Secondly, digital contacts can stoke the fires of the relationship.  Once a potential new client has been drawn into the sales funnel and we have held a first face-to-face meeting and done all the right follow-up, we still need to keep in touch.  Multiple face-to-face meetings may be neither practical nor appropriate, so the digital route can be exploited.  Feeding the relationship with contacts on a ‘little and often’ basis will keep you ‘front of mind’ with your targets, and ahead of your competitors.  Exactly the same principals apply when looking at existing client relationships where there is a need to both protect the relationships and to identify further sales opportunities.

So, a digital approach can both generate new opportunities and help build deeper relationships with both targets and clients.  But this will only be fully effective as part of a considered contact plan that ensures face-to-face contact with the client at key moments in the relationship.  Digital cannot build that relationship on its own.   It would be like saying that playing FIFA 2012 on the playstation will help you get fit!  At some point you just have to put in the leg work…