The world is constantly changing, developing and it looks easy to build relationships digitally. After all, with Google, you can readily research which tour operators have a programmes to your destination, you can check LinkedIn to find out the name of their Product Manager and follow up with an e-mail to him or her. You can invite the Product Manager to review your resort or hotel presentation on Slideshare and could use Skype to deal with any immediate issues. You can send your rates on a spreadsheet through Google Drive and share your resort or hotel photos with your new contact using Dropbox. You can maintain the contact by e-mail or Skype and invite the contact to follow your company LinkedIn page, Facebook page, Google+ or Twitter to keep them updated with news and developments, whilst charting your progress throughout in your CRM. Of course, any or all of this can be done from your smartphone and there are many alternative apps you could use to do the same job to those I mentioned.
It all sounds like an ideal solution to building relationships over the vast distances – in geography and in time – we often deal with. After all, nothing is missing, the whole process of relationship building has been covered – or has it ? Could we have missed something ?
In the scenario I have just outlined, a connection has been built between two companies. Even in this highly connected world, really successful business relationships are built and developed on an on-going basis between people and, whilst all of these apps to handle or replace the paperwork are convenient, there simply is no app. to substitute for human interaction, no app to replace a handshake.
In building relationships between ourselves and clients to develop the relationship established between our companies, we each come to know and understand something about the other person. What we learn may be seemingly small things such as whether that client contact has children, is married or has a partner, where he or she lives, and so on, but they are vital to him or her. This is the basis on which the personal relationship is developed and it is the personal relationship with a client that drives the connection between the two companies forwards and ultimately determines the true success of that connection. Good personal relationships in business create a motivation for your client to use and push your product in a way that a simple company connection alone rarely achieves.
It is also critically important to keep in mind that good personal relationships with clients very often result in new leads that otherwise simply would not come up – LinkedIn is a very useful tool but you can achieve much more in terms of new business leads in a one hour networking session – person to person – than you could ever hope for in a month of using LinkedIn to its best potential. Human beings are not utterly predictable beings. We have a strong spontaneous element in our character which causes opportunities to arise and be grabbed at that moment, or be lost. This spontaneity rarely shows itself in e-mail exchanges – we focus on our main message and keep it as short as we can, thus excluding the lead that we might have mentioned in a face to face chat with a friend or colleague in business.
Take our own business as an example; as sales and marketing representatives for resorts and hotels in South East Asia, our clients are around 8,000 miles (12,750 kilometres) and many time-zones away. What could possibly go wrong if resorts and hotels in South East Asia were to develop contacts with UK and Europe tour operators, agents and corporate clients in the way I described at the outset ?
- The contacts at those tour operators, agents and corporate clients may not fully appreciate the unique selling points of a resort or hotel as clearly as they would if Joaquin or I were standing in front of them. They could have concerns that do not come into the exchanges but nag away at the relationship subsequently.
- The connection not having developed on a personal level, the client is much less motivated to ensure that the resort or hotel gets the best exposure in their programme and the volume of business that the resort or hotel may have expected.
- The distance and the lack of a personal relationship means that follow up is not as effective. It is a dangerous illusion that developing business starts and ends with exchanging contracts.
- The opportunities to grow the relationship between the two companies, which can flow from a personal relationship between ourselves and a Product Manager, simply do not come up and, all too often, the relationship between the companies stagnates at the point at which it started.
- The resort or hotel does not benefit from leads that arise because we have built a personal relationship with Product Managers, which are unique (in hospitality) to companies such as ourselves acting as sales and marketing representatives for a number of resorts and hotels. We get opportunities arising every week that stem from relationships we have built with a Product Manager relating to one resort or hotel, which can benefit a second, third and fourth resort or hotel in different destinations. Such opportunities do not come to a single resort or hotel acting alone for themselves from a great distance in time and place.
Most human beings have anything between a desire and a compulsion to please other human beings with whom they feel a degree of personal connection. It really doesn’t matter how good your technology, there is no near prospect of anything which can substitute for the business which flows between companies as a result of strong personal relationships between their representatives.
What is your experience of building relationships in business ? Can technology replace the personal relationship ?