Facebook…or Face Time?March 1, 2013

Why Business Relationships Take More Than Texting, Friending and Online Connecting By
March 1, 2013

Facebook…or Face Time?

Why Business Relationships Take More Than Texting, Friending and Online Connecting

Houlihan,Michael-COLMichael Houlihan, author along with Bonnie Harvey of The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built a Bestselling Wine, Evolve Publishing, May 21, 2013, started the Barefoot Wine brand in their laundry room in 1986, made it a nationwide best-seller, and successfully sold the brand to E&J Gallo in 2005. To learn more, visit www.thebarefootspirit.com.

It’s official: Email, texting and social media are no longer just helpful supplemental business tools. They’ve taken over the whole game. Yes, technology has made many aspects of modern living more convenient and connected, but the pendulum has swung too far. Now, people are reluctant to do something as simple as picking up the phone, preferring to shoot off an email instead. And face-to-face meetings — well, we sure could use a lot more of them.

This “technology takeover” is not without consequence. Misunderstandings abound. Relationships stagnate. Trust is at an all-time low. And all of these issues are at least partially due to the fact that genuine human connections have been replaced by mouse-clicks and keystrokes.

Social media and technology do have their place, but they are not, and never will be, a substitute for in-person interaction. Your physical presence — or at least the sound of your voice — builds trust you can’t even approach with a keyboard, screen or profile image.

Having boot-strapped a business from the ground up, I know what I’m talking about. Bonnie Harvey and I are the founders of Barefoot Cellars, the company that transformed the image of American wine from staid and unimaginative to fun, lighthearted and hip. When we started our company in the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse, we knew almost nothing about winemaking or the wine business. Our new book, The Barefoot Spirit, tells our California-style rags-to-riches story in compelling and colorful fashion, and reveals just what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur.

I can’t tell you how many retailers, suppliers and potential customers I visited in person during those early years. What I can tell you is that I would have never gotten satisfactory results if I had tried to build those relationships via email and social media. The Barefoot brand would never have become a national best-seller without meetings, phone calls and recurring personal visits that kept relationships all over the country healthy and up-to-date.

Face-to-Face Meetings

People don’t just buy your product; they buy you.

Of course, in a global economy, face-to-face meetings are expensive. When clients, vendors and even employees are on the other side of the world, it’s not economically feasible to hop on a plane every time a meeting is needed. In these cases, Skype is the next best thing to being there. We accomplish so much more when we become more than just an email address or a disembodied voice to one another. If you make the time necessary for personal meetings — if not in person, then via Skype or, at the very least, on the phone — others will not only remember you, but they will appreciate the effort you put forth.

Read on for seven specific advantages of real-time, in-person, face-to-face relationship-building:

  1. The time investment shows you really care.  It’s a fairly universal truth that human beings want to be valued and appreciated. Spending time with someone else, whether that’s in person, face-to-face on a computer screen, or, if all else fails, via a phone call, is one of the best ways to convey these things. In essence, an investment of time says, “While there are many other things I could be doing, I’m choosing to spend my time with you. That’s how important I think you are!” Minutes and hours spent with another person have the power to create a bond that money can’t buy.
  2. You’re better able to give personalized attention. This is perhaps the biggest key to successful sales and the establishment of any long-term relationship. Think about it: It’s hard to multitask on something unrelated when someone is physically planted in front of you, demanding your attention. Unless you have no problem with blatant rudeness, you’re focusing on the other person, responding not only to what they say, but also to their mood, movements and many other non-verbal signals. You will read these signs and adjust your behavior accordingly.
  3. You’re more effective in general. When you’re talking to someone else in real time, you can make progress in real time and solve problems in real time. (Believe it or not, lobbing emails back and forth isn’t always the most efficient method!) Thanks to facial expressions, body language and tone of voice (see below for more information on each), you’ll usually find out more than just the basics when you have a verbal conversation. In fact, if you’re really observant, you may notice things about the other company or clients that they themselves aren’t even aware of.
  4. Facial expressions help get your message across. Did you know that the human face has at least 20 muscles that work in concert to create a myriad of telling facial expressions? When you put it that way, the process sounds complex, but amazingly (as you know!) we don’t have to consciously think about forming those expressions at all. This is a powerful argument for face-to-face meetings, whether they’re in person or via Skype.
  5. Observing those expressions during verbal communication can give you instant feedback about how your message is being received. You can quickly adjust your message on the spot to make it more meaningful or agreeable, and avoid possible misunderstandings.
  6. So does your body language. Unlike looking at a posed profile shot or any still image sent over email, being face-to-face with another person gives you the opportunity to see the other person’s dynamic reaction and make adjustments to your own message. Real-time body language provides tons of non-verbal cues that are impossible to convey in a text or email. For instance, if you know that hands in one’s pockets indicate boredom or disinterest, whereas leaning slightly forward indicates interest, you’ll be able to respond more accurately to others and avoid sending messages you don’t mean to…and so does your tonality. It’s happened to everyone: You send an email that’s laced with sarcasm or humor, which the recipient totally fails to pick up on. Oops! Now you’re left frantically doing damage control. That’s one major reason why texting, emailing and friending can be great ways to communicate while failing to succeed at relationship-building.
  7. Your vulnerability shows (and that’s a good thing). In the virtual world, you can almost totally control the image you show to other people. You choose the pictures you post on your profile. You censor the information you do and don’t want to share in your messages, posts and updates. And usually, you can think about and edit what you want to say before pressing “send.” But in a real-time, face-to-face relationship, the other person can see you in 3-D and observe your dynamic, spontaneous behavior including tone of voice, expression, dress and body language. The other party sees your human imperfections and is aware that you are vulnerable to potential personal rejection.

How to Use Tech Tools

Despite my belief that people want in-person attention, Barefoot didn’t avoid technology as it developed — far from it. What’s important is to use these tools appropriately and not let them become crutches.

A relationship can start through text, email or social media; in fact, I encourage entrepreneurs and other businesspeople to utilize those resources. But in order to be lasting and dependable, a relationship has to grow in person.

A good way to start is to eliminate virtual communication when in-person communication is possible or more effective. So shake hands and come out a winner! High touch beats high tech every time. I&FMM

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