When I started in this business eleven years ago, Fischer Technical Company shared one "aol" email address, had no webpage, no twitter account, no facebook page, no Linkedin profile, no digital address book, and only a few of our customers were set up to sell their full range of products on line. Most importantly, I did not have a GPS system to help me travel to and from meetings!
Technology since then has reshaped our industry. More and more of our customers are focusing on their webpage and virtually all of them allows for customers to order direct from the web. Many of them even allow for special pricing to be given when signing in to their account. Also, technology has allowed many new dealers to enter our marketplace. A select group of them have even become powerhouses in the industry with sales far surpassing their long established competitors.
Fischer Technical Company (along with virtually everyone else in the market) now has a webpage, linkedin account, twitter account, and Facebook page (sorry MySpace). I have that elusive GPS in my car now and my cell phone is approximately 782 times more efficient than the desktop computer we had in 2001 when I started. I've given new product presentations on my iPad and images/prices/literature is emailed to customers in a matter of seconds.
Despite all of these advancements, I've seen one area of technology that I believe is hurting our industry. The acceptance of the "virtual meeting" is taking away the key ingredient to a successful business relationship...the handshake and personal relationship. When I started visiting customers, one of our customers from a mid size catalog house told me, "I work with people, not companies." I didn't understand his point very well at first, but over the past several years, I've grown to embrace it.
I make it a point to personally visit as many of our dealers across the country as I possibly can each year. I need them to know that they can personally count on me to take theirs and their customer needs into account as we work together. On the flip side, I need to know that me personally, and the service/products I offer are important enough for them to take a few minutes out of their day to see how we can improve and grow our business relationship.
I have very strong personal relationships with many of our customers, especially those I've been regularly visiting the past 10 years. At first, I'd look to them for advice and suggestions, as I've grown in the business, I find us reaching out to each other more and more. The benefit to this type of relationship is that trust is established and our mutual businesses grow as we bring new ideas to each other. It's very personal.
In my opinion, meeting in front of a computer in a "virtual boardroom" does not accomplish nearly as much. As a sales person, I'm a show and tell type of person. I like to take a sample of our product and point out the advantages or ask for opinions and/or suggestions. Even though I can send a sample to a person before we "cyber meet", I can't be there in the same room to physically point out features/benefits or see an example of how an improvement can be made.
Perhaps I'm from the old school, but when I shake a businessman or businesswoman's hand and look them in the eyes to make an agreement, this holds more weight with me than a 25 page generic agreement written by attorneys (and likely for attorneys) signed by both parties.
In conclusion, while the changes in technology have allowed our business to progress into the next era, its important not to forget the paths we've taken to get to this point. Building personal relationships and in person meetings cannot be replaced by virtual meetings and chat rooms.
Have a great week!