In an era when mobile phones and video conferencing are ubiquitous, some people question the need for business travel at all. Many companies view business travel as simply an expense and don’t see the benefits that come from it. Sitting in an office and staring at a glowing screen is not a replacement for putting your feet on the ground. There are four key reasons why business travel is still important.
Closing a Deal or Signing New Business
Face-to-face meetings are important to closing business. Oxford Economics has found that the rate of converting prospects to actual customers nearly doubles when a face-to-face meeting is added. In many industry segments, that can mean closing nearly 100% of the business deals. Some Fortune 100 companies won’t sign large contracts without a face-to-face meeting between company leaders. Think about it—would you trust your professional future to someone you’ve never met?
When you are out in the field, you have the chance to meet people you would never interact with if you were sitting in your office. This networking can take several forms. One scenario is that you meet someone you have no relationship with at all, strike up a conversation on a plane or in a restaurant, and you find that there are synergies between your businesses. Another possibility is that you’re visiting an existing customer and meet someone else you don’t have a relationship with, and you figure out how your company can expand its footprint with this new contact. You are broadening your book of business with an existing customer just by networking. You never would have uncovered these opportunities without an in-person meeting.
Two key parts of leadership are the ability to inspire others to have confidence in you and your company and to motivate others, even if you lack authority. To do this, you need to be visible—both with colleagues and with customers. Taking the time to meet with people in-person can help them feel that you are invested in their success.
The biggest reason why business travel is important is to foster personal interactions. Face-to-face meetings can increase understanding and empathy, reduce miscommunication, and foster a team spirit of “us.” Prior to launching my own business, I was an executive at an international advertising agency. I had a colleague in Europe, and our communications were fraught with tension and misunderstandings. We just couldn’t get on the same page. I frequently felt like we were working against each other, instead of working together for mutual success. After about a year of this, we had a chance to meet in person. During our meeting, we found we had common goals and were able to build a long, productive relationship with each other. This never would have happened on a conference call.
Technology is not a substitute for getting in front of your customers and colleagues. Business travel is not only a cost to your business; it can also result in tremendous benefits and yield new business opportunities.