I've been in sales of one form or another since the late 1970s. To be successful in sales back then, you needed a good product, a fair price and, most of all, a good reputation. You could build such a reputation, and a strong business, through word-of-mouth marketing and strong relationships with your customers.
Today, a lot of people are relying on technology and social media for word-of-mouth marketing and relationship building. Instead of conversations, people are relying on impressions, views, clicks, likes, shares, yada yada yada. Share a useful article on LinkedIn and it might get a few dozen views. Share a photo with a funny or interesting quote and it could easily get hundreds of likes and a handful of shares. Problem is, building a relationship is hard work, not entertainment.
Attention spans have evaporated. Years ago, we had 15-30 seconds to deliver an elevator pitch and express a value proposition. On today's digital platforms – website, social media brand pages, mobile apps, etc. – we have three seconds to make a first impression and keep someone's attention.
Year ago, we communicated in person, on the phone or by snail mail. Today, people send e-mails, texts and instant messages. Many aren't read, and fewer are returned. I was talking to an RVCF member the other day who was out of the office on business for a few days. He returned to find 3,000 e-mails in his inbox. How many of those e-mails do you think he read or responded to?
My point here is not to demonize technology. And I'm not going to take your ball and tell you to get off my lawn.
We have more collaboration tools today than we did 20, 30, or 40 years ago. Technology can be a wonderful thing. Social media can be a wonderful thing. But technology and social media shouldn't replace the most powerful collaboration tools we have at our disposal – the phone call and the face-to-face meeting.
If you have a problem with a trading partner, or you have an idea to share with your peers, you don't make progress and drive positive change by sending e-mails, texts and instant messages. Those things create noise. And noise creates problems and delays.
Unreturned e-mails might give the impression that your peers and trading partners don't want to hear from you, or that they're avoiding you. But that's usually not the case.
They do want to hear from you – literally. They want to hear your voice. They want to see your face. They want to sit across the table from you. They want to get rid of the noise. If you want to build stronger business relationships, solve problems, share and implement new ideas, and streamline processes, don't type or tap.
Pick. Up. The. Phone.
I'm not saying you should delete all your apps and never use LinkedIn again. I would humbly suggest that you use them to support and supplement real conversations and face-to-face meetings, not replace them.
If there's one form of technology I'd like to see embraced, it's video conferencing. It's not realistic to schedule an in-person visit with every peer or trading partner. I get that. But there's no reason why you can't have a real time, face-to-face video conference, whether it's with your counterpart or a large group.
You don't need a large conference room with expensive technology to hold an interactive meeting. You just need a desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone with a quality video conferencing app.
The need and desire for real conversations and face-to-face collaboration are why RVCF exists. That's why we have our signature conferences and other live events every year. That's why we spend months planning one-on-one meetings. That's why we hold monthly conference calls. Every conference, every event, every meeting, and every call are opportunities to solve a problem and strengthen a relationship.
The retail industry landscape is too competitive and challenging to let noise get in the way of progress. Take advantage of events and calls that give you a platform for verbal and face-to-face collaboration. At the very least, pick up the phone. You'll be glad you did, and so will the people you're calling.
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