Some research about face-to-face communication at live events

Some research about face-to-face communication at live events
Why is that magical things happen at trade shows? Or at conferences, user group meetings, and live corporate events? Is it just passé that we who are older than 40 still like to see and talk to people in person? Are we just refusing to admit the inevitable; that some combination of email, webinars, texting, conference calls, video conferencing, and twitter are all we really need to do to meet people, establish relationships and do some business?

I don’t think we’re kidding ourselves about the value of looking someone in the eye when they’re standing three feet away from you, and talking with them. We in the face-to-face marketing and sales business may not be able to quantify it, but we intuitively know that face-to-to face interaction and communication is better. We may not be able to tell you exactly why this is the case, but there is some research to support our own feelings.

The following is from an article in the NY Times on April 5th, 2010 by Benedict Carey ( In a series of studies, psychologists have found that social bonding between conversation partners is highly dependent on a rhythmic and usually subconscious give and take of gestures and expressions that creates a kind of shared good will. “Part of that could be the buying in on the interaction itself,” Dr. Chartrand said.
And I have often cited the research done by Professor Albert Mehrabian at UCLA regarding how much is communicated face-to-face, with just your voice, and with just your words. Here’s what Professor Mehrabian found:
7% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in the words that are spoken.
38% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said).
55% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in facial expression.

And simplified:
7% of meaning in the words that are spoken.
38% of meaning is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said).
55% of meaning is in facial expression.

So this means that when you’re talking with someone live, face-to-face, you’ve got all the potential communication working for you. And 55% of what’s being communicated is non-verbal. This means trust, rapport, and getting to know the other person happens faster and actually happens at all.

If you’re on the phone you drop down to less than half of the potential communication: 45%. This means you have to be a lot more precise with what you say, as the person you’re talking to can’t see your facial expressions and body language.

And if you only have email or texting, only words, you’ve got about 7% working for you. Maybe 9% with some emoticons :). Precision is really key when it’s only words that are being communicated as some words have slightly different meanings to different people. And you sometimes have no idea what kind of mood or state-of-mind the other party is in and misinterpretations a lot more likely.

That’s why live events work. If you want people to have meaningful, human experiences, live events are it all happens in business. People still do business with people.

If you’re in a commodity business, where price and delivery are really the key differentiators, then personal relationships between the supplier and the buyer probably don’t matter much, if there’s a relationship at all. I don’t think anybody at OfficeMax knows me because I order office supplies through their website.

But if, like me, you’re in a business that requires some marketing and selling, then establishing relationships, rapport, and trust still count. In fact, they are required. No one is going to do business with a training company like mine without at least talking to someone over the phone. Or at least they shouldn’t. When your product is a service, it’s harder to sell and how well the service fits the client and well the service is delivered makes a huge difference.

The research backs up what most of us have already known: even though all the information about your company and its products and services are on your website, it’s just different when you’re standing face-to-face with someone saying the same thing. It’s personal and most people still like to do business with other people, not just with websites.

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Referral fees and sales commissions

My business is a service business. And often my clients and contacts look to me for recommendations for other services that are related to mine but that I do not provide. If I know a good resource or two for my clients, I am happy to introduce them to each other. And since I started my own business over 20 years ago, my policy is that I do not accept nor give referral fees.

There are plenty of opportunities to ask for referral fees and they are often offered to me. But I always refuse. I believe in putting the best resource in front of my clients, not the resource that pays me the most money. The hardest part of my business, and most businesses, is getting the business. But my clients pay my fee and I’m happy with that. I’m not greedy and I don’t try to make even more money because of my relationship with my clients.

And I truly believe that what comes around goes around. And I count on incremental, referral business finding its way back to me. And it has. It’s a long-term approach to doing business, and I think it’s the right way to do business. It’s the business equivalent of the golden rule; it’s how I would want to be treated if I were the client. As the client, I am trusting my vendor to put their choice of the best vendor they know in front of me, not the one that’s going to kick-back the most money.

And almost without exception, the best resources I know of, and the people I refer in, feel the same way. These are very nice, comfortable relationships. We know, like and respect each other for who we are and the services we provide, not for the money we funnel back to each other.

Sales commissions are different. Someone selling my services to their client means that I get a call asking me if I am available on a certain date to provide training for their client – in other words they sold my services and all I have to do is show up – then I will typically offer them the sales commission that’s built into my fee structure. It rarely happens that a completely finished sale is put at my doorstep. I usually have to put in some time and effort to complete the deal. But I still offer the commission and about half the time is my offer of commission accepted. For the other half, as it is for me, this too falls into the “what comes around goes around” category.

Just this week a friend of mine did an email introduction between me and his client. To my friend he made a referral very early in the sales cycle. But when I got on the phone with his client, it was a done deal. The client was ready to go. But my friend refused my offer of a sales commission. Why? Because his intent was not to sell my services. Clearly without him it never would have happened but, to him, he simply made a referral.

My friend didn’t try to close the business for me. And I don’t try to close the business for other businesses. Like my friend, I make a point to make the referral early on in the sales cycle. Counting on selling other people’s services is not part of my revenue model. But having a well-earned reputation and loyal clients is part of my revenue model. By not accepting nor giving referral fees keeps every deal very clean and honorable.

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