A face-to-face meeting has long been considered the optimal sales forum because it allows the richest interaction. Besides the actual words, you have body language, facial expressions, and eye movement. But it's also the hardest to arrange and most expensive medium. When you add "time" to the mix, it's nowhere near as optimal as the phone.

When I ask lawyers to name their biggest marketing/sales challenges, "time" is always number one. If that's the case, why do they favor spending an hour-and-a-half over lunch on a conversation that would take 20 minutes by phone? The answer is that's what their mentors did, and taught them to do. In some ways, this is just a vestige of a time when the pace of business was slower, and it was primarily based on local social contacts and relationships.

F2F meetings have serious drawbacks relative to phone calls:

  • They're harder to schedule, simply because they require a longer time commitment.
  • You experience a high cancellation/reschedule rate, once again because of the time commitment required. Busy people, even those who really like you and enjoy your company, often discover on the day of the lunch that they can't justify that much time, so they reschedule. (Frequent rescheduling or cancellation is also a reliable sign that your agenda or topic is of marginal importance.)

I'm not saying to eschew F2F meetings entirely, but to be more judicious about them. Arrange an in-person meeting only when your purpose can't be accomplished through another medium. That means, no F2F for Suspects (people we've not yet qualified as Prospects, i.e., confirmed our Door-Opener problem, learned the Cost of Doing Nothing, and discussed money). It's too expensive relative to the unknown value of a Suspect.


To-Do: Use email and the phone to cover more ground

The person you're trying to engage will be available for a 20-minute, focused call much sooner than a F2F meeting that will usually require an hour. Using the phone lets you cover more market ground, much sooner. You also eliminate travel time, which is pure cost with no payoff.

Today, most people rely on email for their initial contact. It's asynchronous, meaning they can look at it at their convenience, and reply or not. Your Subject line determines whether or not they open it, and the first paragraph either engages them or not. Make sure your purpose is crystal clear, and that it's all about benefit to the recipient. Your call to action is, "Let's arrange a 20-minute call to discuss particulars and see if this makes as much sense for you as it has for many others."

There's nothing that says you have to meet with someone to do business with them. People are long used to hiring experts located elsewhere, whom they've not met. After all, they're not hiring your smiling face, but your relevant perspective, quick brain, and useful expertise. Seeing your smiling face is a bonus, should it ever happen, but it's not a requirement. In situations where the stakes are very high, a prospect might insist on meeting you, but it should be the last step, not the first.

Many years ago, an IT consultancy was considering hiring me. We'd already defined their problem and established the cost of doing nothing. They wanted me to fly from DC to Atlanta to meet with them. I didn't want to spend the time or money unless I was pretty sure they were going to hire me, and that the trip was the final piece in the puzzle. I wish my conversation with the VP Sales had been recorded so you could hear two sales pros jockeying for position, she trying to get me to commit to come to Atlanta, me trying to get her to say that the gig was mine to lose, pending the trip. She knew exactly what I was doing, and respected it. Finally, she said, "Mike, it's worth your while. Come to Atlanta." So I did, and we had a deal.

Maybe it's because these trips have always come out of my pocket, but I think it's more likely that I learned hard lessons spending that money and time foolishly, and am now determined to make sure it's justified by the prospect making it clear that they want to hire me, but need to meet me. The "want to hire me" part is critical. I'm not going to invest in a trip for a sale that I have no idea where I stand.

There are many reasons to meet face to face. Spending time off the clock with clients is a good one, as is mending fences after a problem. There are others. Here, I'm speaking only through the sales lens. Do everything you can to make the sale without a visit -- even if it's local. Most lawyers' sales time is very limited. Those with whom I've worked generally commit to three hours per week to pursue an increase of $500k to $1m. Can you really afford to spend half that on one lunch with someone who's merely a contact, and about whose needs and buying tendencies you know little?

I strongly urge you to break the F2F habit. Instead, consider those meetings as very scarce, expensive assets that you must husband wisely. That means doing everything you can to qualify and validate the sale -- and your likelihood of winning -- before granting one.

Mike O'Horo

This is the 10th in a 13-part series of Not-To-Do/To-Do pairs

Next week: Not-To-Do #11- Pitch Business and Hope for the Best

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