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June 23, 2009
Will I Stay or Will I Go?
 

In the era of financial meltdown, “staycations,” slashed budgets and cost-cutting on all sides of the marketing ecosystem, what is the value of business travel? No one will dispute the importance of face time with clients, but how do we make good business decisions that balance budgets with relationship-building? For small- to medium-sized agencies, this is a real issue. Unless you are building a purely local business, you probably have clients all over the country¾if not the world. And technology has been a huge driver to servicing global clients: email, web conferencing and telecommuting all enhance our ability deliver services to a more geographically diverse range of clients and stay competitive. But technology only takes us so far.

Without actually sitting across the table from someone, you can’t read their body language. You can’t always hear the inflection in their voice over a speakerphone or see their face when you reveal a new piece of work. Pretty obvious, right? But you also don’t get a glimpse of the picture on their desk. It might be their spouse or kids, or a landscape from a favorite trip. Seeing where they sit when they call you to discuss a project is also important. Office or cube? Noisy or quiet? Window? While you may not realize it, where they eat lunch, the stack of magazines on their desk, the length of their commute ¾ these are all important insights. They help us find the common ground that makes working together a better experience. And they simply cannot be gleaned over the phone. The quality of our client relationships has a direct correlation to our ability understand their world, and that includes more than just the business at hand on any given day. So how do we get to know each other, agency and client, without constantly battling over the cost of travel? Here are some thoughts.

·         Develop a relationship calendar that sets out regular intervals for face-to-face meetings. Beyond the expected meetings for critical presentations, planning for a monthly (or other appropriate interval) meeting allows for better negotiation on covering costs.

·         Invite the clients to your office. It’s often surprising how willing and able clients are to come to you, when given time to plan. Maybe a trip to your location can align with other business for them. Maybe a work session away from the daily flurry of their workplace is a productive opportunity. 

·         Meet the client where they are already traveling. As above, the client may appreciate the flexibility to spend time with you while on other business. And a “neutral” location may be more cost-effective for both of you.

·         Look for deals. The travel industry is feeling the pain and bargains are available for flights, hotels and pretty much anything else you need. Sometimes we rely on the tried and true carriers and facilities, when there are better options out there.

The agency/client relationship always relies on a certain amount of chemistry. We all know when it happens and we know the great work and results that can come from it. But it is not always instantaneous and it always requires care and feeding. We know that our standards for “travel and entertainment” have changed in the new normal. Even a perceived extravagance of any kind is simply not an option. But any client will appreciate a sincere effort to spend time together to help keep the business on track. And if we can minimize the haggle over who’s paying, a little road trip can keep the shine on any relationship.

No one will dispute the importance of face time with clients, but how do we make good business decisions that balance budgets with relationship-building? For small- to medium-sized agencies, this is a real issue. Unless you are building a purely local business, you probably have clients all over the country¾if not the world. And technology has been a huge driver to servicing global clients: email, web conferencing and telecommuting all enhance our ability deliver services to a more geographically diverse range of clients and stay competitive. But technology only takes us so far.
Without actually sitting across the table from someone, you can’t read their body language. You can’t always hear the inflection in their voice over a speakerphone or see their face when you reveal a new piece of work. Pretty obvious, right? But you also don’t get a glimpse of the picture on their desk. It might be their spouse or kids, or a landscape from a favorite trip. Seeing where they sit when they call you to discuss a project is also important. Office or cube? Noisy or quiet? Window? While you may not realize it, where they eat lunch, the stack of magazines on their desk, the length of their commute ¾ these are all important insights. They help us find the common ground that makes working together a better experience. And they simply cannot be gleaned over the phone. The quality of our client relationships has a direct correlation to our ability understand their world, and that includes more than just the business at hand on any given day. So how do we get to know each other, agency and client, without constantly battling over the cost of travel? Here are some thoughts.
·         Develop a relationship calendar that sets out regular intervals for face-to-face meetings. Beyond the expected meetings for critical presentations, planning for a monthly (or other appropriate interval) meeting allows for better negotiation on covering costs.
·         Invite the clients to your office. It’s often surprising how willing and able clients are to come to you, when given time to plan. Maybe a trip to your location can align with other business for them. Maybe a work session away from the daily flurry of their workplace is a productive opportunity. 
·         Meet the client where they are already traveling. As above, the client may appreciate the flexibility to spend time with you while on other business. And a “neutral” location may be more cost-effective for both of you.
·         Look for deals. The travel industry is feeling the pain and bargains are available for flights, hotels and pretty much anything else you need. Sometimes we rely on the tried and true carriers and facilities, when there are better options out there.
The agency/client relationship always relies on a certain amount of chemistry. We all know when it happens and we know the great work and results that can come from it. But it is not always instantaneous and it always requires care and feeding. We know that our standards for “travel and entertainment” have changed in the new normal. Even a perceived extravagance of any kind is simply not an option. But any client will appreciate a sincere effort to spend time together to help keep the business on track. And if we can minimize the haggle over who’s paying, a little road trip can keep the shine on any relationship.

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Diane McKinnon brings more than 18 years of advertising, interactive marketing and design experience to SicolaMartin. Since joining the agency in 2002, Diane has managed the strategy and implementation of all interactive, direct and e-marketing media initiatives. In 2004, Diane also took on management of all creative services at the agency. Some of her client experience includes 3M, AMD, AT&T, BMC Software, HP, Quark, and Blu-ray Disc.
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