Times have changed, yes. Ideas change and evolve, definitely. Business customs and protocols have changed, absolutely. What hasn't changed? Not much. We're all living a digital, internet and social media driven world these days. But you know what hasn't changed? Your trusty business card. This simple, single, small piece of paper is still one of your best and strongest marketing tools ever.
The Business Card
The fact that business cards have been around since the 15th century should tell us something - as should the fact that attempts to reinvent business cards in a more digital-world-friendly way have failed. The exchange of business cards is a ritual that is carried on every day around the world. Why are they important? Because they help us quickly establish connections, initiate a relationship, and solidify a personal contact. Do you ever notice how people often have stacks of business cards on their desk, and riffle through them to find just the right contact? Even the appearance of the card can bring back memories of when you met that individual, and help strengthen the relationship that started at the exchange of two small pieces of paper.
Here's the reality of having and using a business card: business cards serve as a physical connection, a memory of the introduction. You don't get a business card when you Google someone's name or find them on LinkedIn. You don't get a business card when you phone someone whose name you found on an electronic list. You get a business card when you meet someone in person, have a conversation long or short, shake a hand, establish a connection. And in business, personal interaction is everything. Which leads us to...
Face to Face is the way to go
Face time, it turns out, is the most important activity for relationship-building. A recent survey of business travelers conducted by Wakefield Research confirmed this overwhelmingly: 96% of those surveyed indicated that in-person meetings are critical to developing and maintaining strong relationships. Another survey by e-mail marketer Constant Contact revealed that 48 percent of its respondents believe that a face-to-face meeting is the most effective driver of business (topping websites and e-mail marketing).
Why is this so important? Because so many of the key elements of successful communication can only take place when you are face-to-face. You can take note of the other person's facial expressions, read their subconscious body language, see how they use conscious movements or gestures, and hear their tone of voice. All are critical factors in communication, and help you build the basis for a business relationship.
You can't see or experience these by email, watching a webinar or by looking at someone's social media profile. Have you ever misinterpreted the tone of someone's "voice" in an email or text? I think we all have. And you can only approximate the experience when listening to a podcast or attending a telepresence meeting. There is another, extremely beneficial reality related to in person meetings:
You meet someone on the trade show floor, during a conference or at a cocktail party. You know you want to form a business relationship-they can help you, you can help them but you know there's a potential business opportunity there. Don't wait to start building that relationship. Don't wait until you get home to send an email to the person - along with all of the other people they also met at the same event. While you're still there and present, invite the person out for coffee or drinks. Spending 15 or 30 minutes will allow you to get to know each other a bit more, build social bonds, and start the process of trust. Then send a follow-up with a call or email suggesting a date and time for a phone call to your new acquaintance, who will definitely remember you. By the third interaction, you have the beginnings of a new and beautiful relationship.
It's all about building trust
Business is rapidly becoming more global, and more virtual at the same time. The massive number of people and organizations we need to deal with on a daily basis, coupled with the many ways we can interact, make for a lot of fleeting relationships. It's hard to remember that you even met someone online, much less recall anything about that person. But to succeed in business, you need to have deep, long lasting relationships, not shallow and short-lived ones. You need to be able to recall specifics about the people with whom you will be doing business, not just refresh your memory by looking at someone's online profile.
In-person meetings provide ample opportunities for us to build trust, the basis of a relationship. The small talk that takes place when meeting with someone allows us to find areas of mutual interest, learn about the other person, and discover their uniqueness. Choice of words, style of interacting, personality quirks - all of these come to the forefront when you meet someone in person. Looking into the person's eyes and watching their body language shows the person's confidence, empathy, fear, humor or sincerity - allowing us to build a mental image that doesn't go away. These are the things that stick with you, and allow you to instantly reconnect with someone, the key to building solid, long-term relationships.
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