Doing business behind the mask
We have arrived at the one-year mark of the pandemic, our initial quarantine, and our transformation—ready or not—into a virtual work world. I am a very social person and initially, I struggled with the lack of face-to-face interaction. I missed my coffee shop meetups, my professional association evening events, and taking the train from the burbs to downtown Philly for client meetings.
At first, many of my in-person meetings became conference calls. But soon after that, I found myself visiting the home offices of my coworkers, clients and prospects through Zoom, Google meet, or Microsoft Teams. Kids popping into the screen, dogs barking, cats crawling onto desks, and contractors hammering in the background, have gradually become so commonplace, no one even mentions the minor interruptions anymore. Of course, the phrases “you’re on mute, you’re frozen, and I can’t see your video” have become typical as some still deal with bad connections or internet bandwidth challenges. (I have not yet encountered anyone frozen behind a talking cat filter, though!)
For most of my career, I have driven about an hour to and from work every day. Determined to always be productive, I adapted by listening to Audible books, catching up with family or friends on hands-free phone calls, or clearing my brain by singing along to my favorite music playlists.
The pandemic, however, reduced my commute to mere seconds, walking from my bedroom down the hall to my office. And that has been a huge time saver. It allows so much flexibility to wake up early, catch up on emails, work out, shower (or not) and get back to work. I have enjoyed the comfort of working in jeans, sweats and slippers. And the ability to attend lunch and dinner events without fighting traffic or getting home late, has been a huge plus. But I have missed being with people!
I miss walking into a dinner meeting filled with a roomful of strangers and walking out with a dozen business cards and several coffee talk meetings lined up. I miss meeting someone new and learning how much we have in common. I miss riding the regional rail with a coworker, crammed in shoulder-to-shoulder, and catching up on our kids’ latest adventures and accomplishments.
That’s why I was so thrilled when I recently secured a new client with a retail showroom about two hours away. As part of learning the culture and better understanding the business, I volunteered to visit once or twice a week.
On my first visit, I welcomed the opportunity to get back in my car again, listen to an audio book, and wind my way along beautiful country roads on my way to the final stretch across the highway. After getting set up in a spare office, I spent several hours with various team members. Although I had planned to ask a handful of questions, once we started talking, the conversation flowed down various additional paths, providing valuable insights and additional information. Those meetings also allowed me to experience the daily environment of my client, the unexpected situations they deal with day to day. And, at the same time, it provided the chance to build a stronger rapport and have much more personal interaction—human to human, unencumbered by digital challenges. And best of all, it inspired me, energized me, and made me feel like a true and integral part of the team.
Most of all, it reinforced for me that although most business activities in B2B marketing can easily be conducted over the phone, video conferences, or in a home office, there is no replacement for face-to-face conversations. Business is always personal. And there’s no substitute for human-to-human interaction—even if it is mask-to-mask.