The Value of Face to Face Connections

September 21, 2010

Sarah Susanka signs copies of her "Not So Big Remodeling" at the Remodeling Show in Baltimore. She appeared as a guest of Marvin Windows and Doors.

Editor’s note: This is John Reinan’s weekly marketing column for MinnPost.com.

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.

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.