Modern marketing: Human touch still has magic in digital world

In this era of instant digital communication, I was reminded recently that the human touch still has a place in business.

I spent several days last week in Baltimore at the national Remodeling Show, a major showcase for home and building product manufacturers. My agency’s client, Minnesota-based Marvin Windows and Doors, was a sponsor of the show, and I was on hand to deal with media and help out in other ways.

These shows are serious business. Most exhibitors don’t expect to make sales at the show, but they do hope to gather leads — sales prospects whom they can contact after the show. They also talk with current customers, seeking to maintain and solidify those relationships.

The booth exhibits range from large installations costing tens of thousands of dollars — hundreds of thousands at some larger shows — to fairly rudimentary booths that aren’t much more than a table, a computer monitor, and some product samples and brochures.

What the exhibitors large and small have in common is an eagerness to connect. Walk through any of these shows, and you’ll see the staff in every booth constantly scanning the crowd, looking for the slightest opening to start a conversation.

I’ve always thought that there’s something brave about real salesmanship. A real salesperson doesn’t have the option of fading into the woodwork, stepping back and playing it cool. Real salespeople have to believe that the next prospect might be the big one, and act accordingly.

Entertaining is also part of the human equation at these events. Drinks and dinner to wrap up the day are expected, and although there may be laughter, there’s a serious undercurrent to the levity. One is always on duty, even over cocktails.

The importance of making connections was underscored at an evening reception thrown by Hanley Wood, a publisher of construction industry data, magazines and websites that organized the Remodeling Show.

Marvin arranged to have best-selling author Sarah Susanka at the reception to sign copies of her latest book, “Not So Big Remodeling.” Susanka, you’ll recall, was a Minneapolis-based architect when “The Not So Big House” catapulted her to prominence in 1998; she now lives in North Carolina.

It was remarkable to see the eagerness with which the attendees lined up to meet and talk with Susanka. One couple, who run a remodeling business on the West Coast, excitedly told me that a project of theirs had been featured in the original “Not So Big House.” They were thrilled to be meeting her, more than a decade after their work had appeared in her first book.

Best-selling author Sarah Susanka signs copies of her latest book, "Not So Big Remodeling," at the annual Remodeling Show last week.
MinnPost photo by John Reinan
Best-selling author Sarah Susanka signs copies of her latest book, “Not So Big Remodeling,” at the annual Remodeling Show last week.

Susanka signed more than 200 books, and many of the recipients made a point of thanking Marvin for bringing her to the event. Will that sell more windows? Probably not today or tomorrow, but the good will might help a sales rep get a foot in the door sometime in the future.

Digital communication is changing everything we know about business communication. It lets us target and track more efficiently. Recipients can opt in to whichever information they want to receive. We can create and send material at a fraction of the cost and time for printed matter. And it’s all done in a very brisk, arms-length fashion.

But events like the Remodeling Show remind me that a one-on-one connection still can be a vital part of the sales process.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Francis Ferrell on 09/20/2010 - 03:02 pm.

    Digital communications without a doubt have turned the business world into fast-paced streamlined environment at warp speeds. However, as many established companies have learned, nothing beats the person-to-person face-to-face business contact.

    I know of a recent relevant instance where the digital way of conducting business transactions would not have helped a small outstate MN manufacturing gain a lucrative supply contract.

    In fact, the out-of-state[TN] distributing company which was letting out the contract, let their VP in charge come to MN in the middle of a winter storm to see the MN company’s plant and employees. The person-to-person contacts made proved beneficial for all concerned. Old school long lasting business relationships can’t always be made in the digital world and by emails.

    Now if the business world could only be more personally involved with it’s dealings on all levels who knows what could be had? It’s amazing what a handshake can do for business!

  2. Submitted by John Reinan on 09/20/2010 - 05:07 pm.

    Thanks for that comment, Francis. After I wrote this item, I learned of a recent survey of business people that backs our joint opinion:

    According to this, only 31% of business people believe that social media such as blogs, Twitter, etc., are effective.

    But 72% of them believe face to face contact is effective.

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