I recently had the opportunity to visit a prospect in a relatively new European country with a colleague. The lengthy trip from my home in Ohio was made with high hopes of returning with a nice order. Lady luck was not with us on that trip, but I returned with something even more valuable: a renewed perspective that personal relationships still matter in business.
The first person I encountered when I landed in this foreign country was a taxi driver. He quickly discovered by my accent and clothes that I was not a local. After such a long flight, the last thing I wanted was a chatty driver as all I cared about at that moment was a warm shower and a few hours of sleep. The short 15-minute drive to the hotel was filled with a narrative about his city and its history.
The next morning, another driver (the president of the potential customer) picked us up at the hotel. A great amount of time that day was spent on their shop floor and in their offices learning about their processes, machinery, people and company history. At the end of the day, the general manager insisted on taking us to see the historical sights of the region. His passion for his country and its history–like the taxi driver's–was obvious. He could certainly have been a very successful tour guide!
On the second and last day of our visit to this faraway land, I thought for certain that we would leave with an order. As the day went on, I realized that coming home with an order on this visit would not happen, even though the prospect liked our product and admitted that they needed and wanted it. This visit was a social call: an opportunity for them to get to know us and for us to get to know them. The president told us that he could not yet buy, as we had only met three times previously at trade shows and during one other visit. They wanted someone they knew, someone they could trust: a long-term partner and not just a vendor.
We live in times where almost everything can be purchased with a click of the mouse, without ever a handshake or even a look in the eye. This long-distance social call was a great reminder that people sell to people, and relationships still matter, even in our age of instant gratification.
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