A face-to-face meeting is still the best way to build strong relationships.

by Gabrielle Boko, EVP of Marketing, Sage North America

Like most of you, I use an ever-broadening collection of devices and applications that make communicating and collaborating with colleagues, business associates, friends and family easy and instantaneous. So it may surprise you when I tell you that putting email, video conferencing, social media platforms and your phones aside in favor of scheduling face-to-face meetings is one of the best business decisions you can make all year. That includes attending conferences, events, and training meetings. In fact, organizers for these events now place more emphasis on facilitating in-person meetings.

As you get out of your office to meet with peers, customers, and others face-to-face, here are some tips for how to build relationships that will be much more meaningful and rewarding than simply growing your LinkedIn network.

Tip #1: Attend conferences and trade shows

When the Great Recession hit in 2008, companies understandably slashed budgets for exhibiting and attending trade shows and conferences. It was impossible to justify the high travel costs and time out of the office.

But conferences and trade shows are making a comeback, and your current and prospective partners and customers (along with your competitors) are increasingly returning to these events.

Even if your business is not exhibiting, the networking opportunities alone can make the trip and expense worthwhile. Actively participating in the conversations about the news and trends affecting your industry will help you build stronger relationships and make more meaningful connections with your peers, thought leaders, and potential clients. Face-to-face interaction is critical to achieving this level of exposure, and is definitely not something you can accomplish by staying at the office.

While you may feel you can’t afford time away from the office, think about the more than 200 million people who do so every year. That many people can’t be wrong.

Sage Summit 2015 is a great opportunity to discuss new ideas, gain insights for decision making and improve your problem solving through powerful conversations with peers and leaders.

Tip #2: Don’t ignore current customers at the expense of selling to prospects

Acquiring new customers is not the only way to grow your business. You should also be constantly working to up-sell your existing ones because the sales cycle is (or should be) much shorter.

However, do not just show up to an event or meeting and expect to walk away with a PO in hand. Do your research ahead of time so you know the successes a customer has achieved thanks to your product or service, and so you can also anticipate what problems or issues may come up during the meeting. That way you will be able to confidently explain how you can help solve them too.

Tip #3: Invest in “weak” relationships

Sometimes “weak” relationships — those with people we know but not that well — hold a lot of power, and revisiting them can prove extremely beneficial. Take time to reconnect or get to know people you have crossed paths with in the past. You can increase your knowledge, discuss new concepts, and consider different viewpoints. Who knows? You may discover how to optimize your business management processes or build your company’s value.

Tip # 4: Immediate follow-up

Make sure to follow-up within a few business days after a meeting, event, or conference. If you met someone for the first time, connect on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, email or whatever networking platforms are most relevant to you and your business. Continue to invest in those relationships by taking time to engage and exchange ideas through various methods, until you can meet again in person.

Believe me, your customers, partners and even colleagues in remote offices will appreciate the time and effort you demonstrate by setting and attending in-person meetings. Face-to-face meetings are crucial in building stronger relationships and making more meaningful connections with peers and thought leaders in your industry.

One final networking tip: Be real; don’t try to sell yourself or your product. Don’t be the person that goes from person to person, passing out business cards – that’s like the in-person version of adding seemingly random contacts to your LinkedIn network.

Gabie is excited to attend Sage Summit 2015 this July in New Orleans. Sage Summit brings together subject matter experts and top business leaders to inspire small and medium-sized businesses with the energy, insights and guidance to achieve their own visions of success. Register with the code SCORE.

Gabrielle Boko is Executive Vice President of marketing for Sage North America. Born and raised in Alaska, Gabie has innovation in her blood, and has built her career in marketing, sales, and channel development with leading technology innovators. She brings that passion for growth companies to her role at Sage, a company focused on helping small and medium sized companies realize their ambitions and achieve success.

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