In Europe most business travel was stopped for almost two years from March 2020 until early this year. The majority of this hiatus was mandated by governments across the European Union and some was a result of customers, especially universities, refusing to accept visitors, in all but highly exceptional circumstances.
This past weekend I saw something that reminded me how quickly we have returned to normal. The New York Times reported on “Travel Chaos” at Dublin Airport. They noted that “More than 1,000 passengers missed flights there in a day, part of a spate of similar difficulties across Europe as demand for travel surges.”. Around a week ago, Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam (one of Europe's busiest hubs), experienced similar chaos with many customers who had arrived hours early for flights, still missing them. It is clear that our appetite for travel has returned after an absence enforced by COVID.
While lockdowns were uncomfortable for business, many of us adapted quickly, using tools like TeamViewer Pilot to assist with remote installations and vlogging hardware and software to create quality live and interactive product presentations. Indeed, we also benefited from savings in time and money as sales and support team members were effectively grounded.
But, and there’s always a but, now that travel is back, the question is should we just return to our pre-2020 practices or should we re-evaluate our travel needs and plan accordingly? I believe the latter is the answer for most of us.
Pre-sales visits to customers used to be the mainstay of high-value technical product selling but they were costly and possibly not as effective as we thought. Often half-day presentations involve another half-day of travel out and back again, in addition to an overnight stay in a hotel somewhere. So a day and a half, or two days plus costs for a three hour visit. I still think this may sometimes be necessary, especially for complex sales involving many stakeholders who often have different concerns. In these sales there is little substitute for getting in front of the group and finding out what everybody wants from the solution and addressing all those issues. If we don’t visit in such situations, then often a remote presentation will involve only one or two users at the other side who will have to try to “sell” the project internally.
So, I believe that sales processes where the decision making process is clear, the number of influencers is small, and where everyone can be present at a remote presentation, can be well catered for with a virtual meeting. Even if we have multiple virtual meetings with this group over time to advance the sale, it will still be more efficient than flying for an in-person visit and also much easier to schedule. So as long as salespeople are asking good qualifying questions and obtain a good understanding of the client's internal decision making processes and people, then they can make a good decision on whether a visit is required. As in all sales situations, asking good questions and listening carefully to the answers is key!
Things are a little different when it comes to installation and training visits. Here a return to the old ways may be the best solution to ensure customers are happy with what they have invested their money in. If, pre-COVID, you considered certain products to need a technical installation and training visit, then this is likely to be needed a
gain. I saw situations over the last two years where what would have been achieved during a simple one-afternoon installation visit took three days of video conferencing to achieve remotely. It was energy sapping for both customers and ourselves and no-one felt that the experience was a positive one. In some cases we learned a lot and this resulted in shipping systems almost fully assembled and with better manuals and often video guides. Where changing how we ship and install hasn’t been possible then a return to an efficient in-person on-site installation is definitely warranted.
And then, of course, there are trade shows. Here the jury is still out. Many trade shows had been dying a slow death in the decade before the lockdown. Now that many have returned, it remains to be seen how well attended they will be. Some, like Experimental Biology in the USA have decided to throw in the towel and cease. Many others are re-emerging like a phoenix from the ashes but will they either burn brightly or just be a dull fizzle of their
former glory. I think a few shows will remain relevant in every sector but most will be abandoned in the coming few years. However, predicting which will be poorly attended is difficult and so we will continue to exhibit at many until it becomes clear who the winners and losers are.
Engineers often use the Agile system for improving already released software. This essentially involves a four-step process: Tweak, Release, Measure, Repeat. All the elements of a healthy sales and support process deserve the same attention. This is very true of our travel policies and we all need to continually adjust these, measure the effectiveness of these adjustments and create a quality feedback look to learn from the measured results.
Travel safely and efficiently!
May 31st, 2022
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