The debate around the value of virtual versus in-person meetings seems endless and, with the relaxation of COVID restrictions, businesses are trying to gauge where the optimum balance lies.
Having been forced into the virtual world, we may have wearied over time but few would deny that virtual meetings have added convenience and flexibility to how we engage with one another. Bain and Co research suggests that many buyers now value virtual at least as highly as in-person meetings. 75% percent of those surveyed in fact agreed or were neutral that virtual meetings are as effective even for complex products.
In reality which is ‘better’ depends both on the situation and the individuals involved – some of us are very comfortable with virtual meetings while others can’t wait to get back to meeting face-to-face. The good news is that post-COVID both businesses and buyers have far more choice in how meetings take place. Whether in-person, virtually or over the phone, different types of interaction can be applied at different stages of the customer’s journey, in different sales scenarios and depending on the preferences of the individuals involved.
Without the need for expensive, time-consuming travel, virtual appointments are cost-effective, flexible and sustainable. Without geographical constraints, they allow businesses to reach a wider audience and meetings can be more inclusive where some participants aren’t able to travel. They can be one-to-one or include a larger group, address very specific agenda points in a targeted way or explore broader topics with the benefit of visual aids, screen sharing and demos to convey more complex concepts.
Whilst in-person meetings have costs to the environment and to business in terms of time and travel, they build the trust and transparency that are essential to long-term relationships. If a sizeable investment in on the table, buyers expect to meet their supplier face-to-face and see physically who they are dealing with. Human-to-human interaction creates better emotional connections and greater clarity, as body language and facial expressions can be read. Interactions are more natural without Wi-Fi interruptions, uncomfortable silences and stilted conversation as you struggle to read if your prospect is even engaged. We are social beings and we need to connect with others without the technical hitches that are common in the virtual world.
Over the phone
Phone appointments are a good half-way point between virtual and in-person. They can be flexible and scheduled at short notice, multiple parties can be conferenced in but, with minimal technology, they tip the balance towards a more human and natural form of interaction. Some individuals feel self-conscious on a video call, find the interaction artificial or the quality of communication simply better on an audio-only connection. Phone appointments are also generally less invasive than virtual or face-to-face meetings and can provide the opportunity to establish trust and rapport when buyers aren’t yet ready to commit to a demo or in-person meeting. Senior decision-makers in particular are time poor and a phone appointment still allows for a highly personal connection without requiring the same level of commitment.
Now that restrictions are relaxed, it isn’t a case of replacing virtual with face-to-face but combining the different options to meet both parties’ needs with greater flexibility and convenience for all. And, it is entirely feasible to integrate different elements of each. For example, hybrid appointments allow for some people to attend in person whilst others connect via video. A meeting might begin as an audio call but can convert easily to video if it becomes clear that visual aids are helpful and participants can join using audio only, rather than activating video.
A systematic approach
Suppliers have greater opportunity than ever to connect in a meaningful way with buyers, whilst at the same time increasing productivity and reducing overheads for themselves.
B2B appointment setting - 7 steps to success
However, striking the right balance and applying each option strategically to greatest effect does require a systematic approach, which is where an agile, expert appointment setting service with a clear brief can help. They will marry target objectives, buying stage and customer preferences to the most appropriate format, be that a short introductory phone call in the early stages, a virtual demo in the qualifying stage or a face-to-face meeting of senior decision-makers in the closing stage of a deal.
Read more about best practice B2B appointment-setting: