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The power of human connection

Technology allows us to connect and meet with people from the comfort of our offices and homes, but face-to-face interaction is still vital in B2B marketing.

Like a lot of people, I struggled with the physical separation the pandemic imposed on us. But even before Covid-19 arrived, technology was steadily chipping away at the business case for in-person meetings. Fast forward to today and it’s still logical to question the value of spending precious time and money travelling to meet a customer or sales target in person, or to attend a team meeting that could be held on any of the numerous video conference platforms available.

The pandemic lockdowns also showed just how quickly air pollution levels could fall when we curbed our travel. If like me, you try to make a conscious effort to manage your carbon footprint, it’s important to weigh up the environmental implications of a business trip. 

But as spring arrives and I start planning which of this year’s trade show events to attend, I can’t help but feel excited by the prospect of bustling exhibition halls, conversations over coffee, and chance meetings with new connections.

Building rapport

Relationships have always been at the heart of B2B, and whilst technology reduces the need to spend time and money attending meetings in person, successful connections still need human-to-human interaction. Taking the time to really get to know someone, to build understanding and rapport, is an investment in the future. And the most effective way to do this is undoubtedly in person.

In a recent CNN article, neuroscientist Gyula Kovács explains that “our brain has been trained to become familiar with someone through direct personal interaction, which is why this is still the fastest way to get to know somebody.”

Dr Lucy McBride, a primary care doctor in Washington, D.C. agrees with Kovács: “Relationships require trust and a safe, non-judgmental space for open conversation and idea-sharing. A computer might provide some of that for a time, but over time we need more human connection than the pandemic afforded - for our overall health and well-being.”

A Cornell University study found that we tend to overestimate the power of our persuasiveness via text-based communication, and underestimate the power of our persuasiveness via face-to-face communication. For one experiment, participants were told to ask 10 strangers to complete a survey. Half the participants made the request by email, and half made it in person. Both groups felt equally confident about the effectiveness of their requests, but the face-to face requests proved to be 34 times more effective than the emailed ones.

But what about the environmental footprint of in-person meetings? Video conferencing is obviously a better option, although it isn’t without impact.  A recent study revealed that 6 hours of Zoom meetings involving 200 participants generated 1,324 kg of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s equivalent to driving almost 3,300 miles. But this was still much greener than the participants meeting in person, as traditional conferences on average generate around 66 times more carbon.    

Finding the balance

Clearly, there is a balance to be struck. It makes sense to get together for team building events, and for meetings where the topics being discussed are complex and require greater focus. When you are trying to establish a new business connection and build rapport and trust, in-person beats virtual every time. And online events can’t replicate the atmosphere and dynamics of an exhibition hall filled with buyers and sellers.   

If travelling is the choice you make then considering the best way to travel to minimise your carbon footprint and coordinating your plans to see as many people as possible makes good business sense, as well as being sustainable. At the same time, there are plenty of meetings that can be held just as effectively online, saving time, money and carbon emissions.

Digital channels undoubtedly have a vital place in the communications mix, but they shouldn’t become the default option. Technology allows us to make conscious choices. The challenge is to achieve the right mix, accepting that different types of interaction need different approaches to achieve the desired result.

Natalie, EM Development Director

I’m happy to meet online or in person, so if you’d like to catch up please get in touch and we’ll work out when and how we meet.