After a few years of scrimping and saving any way they can, businesses seem to be hopping their executives back on the plane to travel to clients in person. Social media and technological advances in internet provision have seen a trend toward using video conferencing with the help of companies like AVEX rather than meeting face to face. All these break-throughs turned up just in time for the recession it would seem. Economic crises aside, instant communication through a commercial phone system has revolutionised how we do business. It has helped smaller businesses expand into wider territories, and allowed employees to work remotely.
Those of us who have survived the last few years may be thanking our lucky stars for the technologies in our offices. But what has it really cost us to stop shaking hands with our clients and trade partners? Can those gut feelings about a good deal or a dodgy trader be as reliable when they are not in the room? Reading a face and body language is essential when we’re trying to win a contract or strike a good deal. However, any sales exec worth his salt will tell you there is just something in the air. The trouble with video conferencing is you are not sharing the air between you. You may not even be in the same country.
Execs are facing all manner of press-fuelled fears about terrorism, extreme weather, and planes being shot out of the sky. They are braving the runways once more and heading out to meet their customers. There is little to enjoy about flying around the world, but a good exec knows how to make the most of their lot. It’s not always about the journey. It is more about the destination. The flights and endless waiting are excellent opportunities to do some research on the client, and check up on a couple of local bars in the area. Most importantly, and thanks to these new technologies in communication, they can keep in touch with the office.
This means execs have a lot more to do these days than they did before smartphones. If they are in constant contact, their activities are more accountable and more work related. Putting out fires remotely has become the bane of the travelling manager. There is no downtime when you are away on business. Thanks to the financial crisis, the vast majority of us are down on manpower to keep things running smoothly in our absence. There is certainly no time to organise the finer details of our accommodation when we arrive. For a start, travelling to Europe puts up language barriers and the hassle of calculating currency conversions.
More and more businesses are turning to executive accommodation services. These companies only need to know which city you are going to and what kind of accommodation you need. They then come up with address details and make sure you have everything you need when you get there. They save so much time, stress and admin that businesses who use them once rarely tackle their own arrangements again. Rather than you or your PA taking a couple of hours out to make phone calls and bookings, utilising a simple agent web form leaves you to get on with running your business.
If you are a regular business traveller, heading out to Europe is not just about a long haul flight. There are cultural considerations too. Your client needs to be wooed and wowed. Your accommodation may need to include provisions for entertaining them. You might want to use a yacht or villa to help the meeting feel more friendly and less formal. Arranging all this in a foreign country will take hours of research and work. Recruiting a specialist agent to manage the details and make a booking on your behalf saves valuable time and energy. We all like to feel looked after when we are abroad as well. Utilising the services of an agent can take the stress out of the business trip.
If more of us are starting to move back to meeting clients and trade partners in person, is there still a place for the video calling facilities we have come to rely on recently? While it costs substantially less up front than a flight and accommodation overseas, can it cost us contracts? Worse still, is it possible we are failing to spot the signs of a bad deal? We could be getting our business and its reputation into trouble because our human instincts can’t be used in full. Video calls are great to be able to see and hear the other person, but what we are missing is that physical contact. A good handshake can tell you a lot about a person. How much can you tell about a person or their company from a single view of the back wall of their conference room?
While there will always be a place for video calling as a means to keep in touch and see the faces of loved ones, in business it can be ineffective. Compared to meeting in person, the traditional relationship between two managing directors will be lost completely. A lot of businesses have cut their corporate entertainment budget to the bone and beyond in recent years. But there is a general consensus it could be harming business in the long term to remove the relationship between businesses.
The question business owners need to pose is how much money are they willing to risk on a person they have never met? All businesses do it, but most contain the risk of large contracts by meeting with the other business owner. Credit checks, telephone calls and video conferencing, are great for giving assurances, but they all have their limits. Business travel is not dead, nor can it ever be. The human condition needs us to be in the same room. We need to look each other up and down and get that raw instinct into play. After all, the biggest deals in history have been done on gut feelings about a person. We will always recruit our staff that way.