Digital Communication Aside, Business Travel Still Matters
Between email, instant messaging, social media, SMS, VoIP phone service, video chat software, and a bevy of other convenient communication tools, many organizations are opting to cut back on business travel and instead leverage remote resources to engage prospects, interact with clients, and handle human resources. But is this the right choice?
Even in a world of advanced communication, thereâ€™s something to be said for face-to-face interactions and interpersonal connections. If you listen to leading sales experts, management advisors, and leadership consultants, theyâ€™re warning people against ditching business travel for screen time â€“ and they have good reasons for doing so.
As you approach a new year of planning logistics, will you continue to embrace the power of business travel? Or will you resort to the perceived convenience of advanced technology?
Finding Balance in a Digital World
Consider the fact that you can run an entire organization with a computer and a smartphone from a spare bedroom. Technology has made it possible to handle everything from hiring to payroll to sales to invoicing to bookkeeping to human resources without ever having to be in the same room with your employees or customers.
The influx of powerful new software solutions and cloud services has been a welcome breath of fresh air for introverted entrepreneurs. Even extroverted business owners on the other end of the spectrum have enjoyed the cost-savings that scalable technology has provided in recent years. However, the rise in digital tools â€“ and communication tools, in particular â€“ has given way to a false sense of security.
Certain duties can be addressed remotely without any negative consequences. Cloud accounting, for example, is a huge timesaver. The same goes for voice answering services that allow businesses to outsource their customer service lines for optimal productivity. But then there are other tasks and actions that really shouldn’t be digitally streamlined.
Customer service, sales meetings, client services, employee training, leadership gatherings, consulting, interviewing, hiring â€“ these are all examples of core business activities that are better off being handled manually in a face-to-face fashion. Even if all of these tasks can be streamlined virtually using software or digital communication tools, there’s something to be said for interpersonal connectivity.
The Continued Appeal of Business Travel
Intuitively, you’d probably expect the growth of digital technology to suppress business travel, but this isn’t necessarily true. If you take a deeper dive into the data, you’ll discover that business travel is as popular as it’s ever been, with businesses spending more than they ever have before.
According to one recent report, global business travel grew 5.8 percent in 2017 and 7.1 percent in 2018. At the time of the report, it was projected that business travel would grow another 4.9 percent in 2019, with numbers dipping slightly to 4.7 percent in 2020 and 4.3 percent in 2021 before inching up to 5 percent growth in 2022.
While the United States is the second-biggest spender in the global business travel industry (projected to spend $354.6 billion annually by 2022), it’s not the fastest-growing. India gets that recognition, with projections calling for 71 percent growth from 2017 to 2022. Other nations experiencing ravenous growth include China (37 percent growth), Spain (30 percent growth), and Germany (28 percent growth).
According to a separate report, the biggest travel spenders (in terms of industries) are food processing and services, utilities, real estate, social and personal services, professional and business services, transportation services, government, and wholesale trade.
5 Benefits of Business Travel
There’s still a massive appeal to business travel. Billions of dollars are spent on travel per year, even though a few strategically leveraged software platforms and smart devices could essentially replace the need for global travel.
From the outside looking in, it likely seems foolish for an organization to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on travel, but these expenditures are typically justified. Here are a few of the specific reasons why:
- The Power of Face-to-Face Sales
Theoretically, there’s no reason for a sales team to be dispatched out of the office to visit prospects and clients. Between phone, email, and video chat, everything can be addressed virtually and remotely. Yet businesses continue the practice of sending salespeople out into the field â€“ and they have a good reason for it.
Research shows that face-to-face interactions continue to yield compelling benefits that digital technology simply canâ€™t replicate. Consider that:
- In-person sales requests are 34-times more successful than those made via email.
- The average close rate for face-to-face meetings is an impressive 40 percent.
- Executives and salespeople estimate theyâ€™d lose 28 percent of their current business without in-person meetings.
In other words, thereâ€™s something that happens on a biological or relational level that continues to give face-to-face selling an advantage over digital alternatives.
For products and services that are complex, purchase decisions are made less on the basis of technical functions and features and more on the basis of the personal relationships and trust with the individual selling it. Cognitive studies show that there’s an emotional connection that surpasses analytics. Things like voice tone, facial expressions, and body language are all captured in a way that email, phone, and even video conferencing can’t. This helps buyers make better-informed purchase decisions.
Likewise, in-person interactions help salespeople. Evidence suggests that face-to-face meetings provide a superior platform for clearly articulating the product/service and persuading prospects on the value being offered. And when you consider that the single biggest inhibitor to sales is poorly communicated value messages, this in-person forum can mean the difference between winning a client and losing a sale.
This isnâ€™t to say businesses donâ€™t handle any part of the sales process digitally or remotely. In fact, many of the early stages are facilitated over phone calls and emails. But when it comes to closing a deal, both the salesperson and the buyer would prefer to be in the same room.
- Better Judgment
Whether itâ€™s a salesperson visiting a prospect, or a manager taking a tour of different branches to check in on operations, itâ€™s easier to make informed and accurate judgments when there are boots on the ground.
Take a manager visiting a struggling branch, for example. While he can view all of the numbers on a spreadsheet and schedule as many conference calls as he wants, thereâ€™s nothing like being able to visit the branch and see things firsthand. He can analyze facial expressions, body language, and non-verbal communication. He can observe the feeling of the office and the details that get lost through text, audio, and video. As a result, heâ€™s able to implement better improvements and more carefully targeted solutions.
Likewise, the employees of the branch feel a greater sense of connection to the corporate office. No longer is it just a name on an email address â€“ it’s an actual living, breathing human being with a personality. High expectations stop seeming oppressive and unreasonable and actually feel genuine. Itâ€™s a complete and total game-changer.
- Better Networking and Exposure
Social networking platforms like LinkedIn make it easier than ever to network and establish relationships with key players inside and outside of your industry. However, there’s something about face-to-face networking in the digital age that continues to deliver value.
LinkedIn is great, but it should only be a fraction of a company/professionalâ€™s networking strategy. The bulk of networking happens in-person. Hereâ€™s why:
- Emails and texts are easy to blow off or forget about. Youâ€™re more apt to get honest feedback when you meet with someone in person. Conversations that would take weeks of back and forth messaging can happen in minutes.
- Itâ€™s hard to truly showcase your personality online. Even with images, emojis, and video, thereâ€™s nothing that can fully replicate being in the same room with another person.
- Interpreting someone’s tone in an email is difficult. What does that exclamation point mean? Did she mean to put a comma there? Is he being short? Why did he take such a long time to respond? With in-person networking, most of the riffraff is eliminated and youâ€™re free to focus on the substantive aspects of the engagement.
- From a company networking perspective, being present at tradeshows, conferences, and industry meetings allows the brand to gain valuable exposure. Thereâ€™s something powerful about seeing a brand offline that validates everything a prospect or partner has seen online. It adds an instant degree of credibility that might have previously been lacking.
- Enhances Individual Skills
Business travel doesnâ€™t just benefit the business or improve sales numbers â€“ it also has a way of empowering individuals and strengthening skillsets. Consider that:
- Business travel makes younger professionals feel more important â€“ as if theyâ€™re being entrusted to carry out an important mission. This strengthens confidence, which ultimately benefits both the employee and the employer.
- Business travel teaches invaluable lessons about flexibility, change, and how to deal with unpredictable circumstances. These are lessons that canâ€™t be learned as quickly or efficiently when an employee is in the safe confines of the office.
- When business travel is done with a partner, thereâ€™s a bonding effect that takes place. This strengthens interpersonal relationships within the organization and creates an opportunity for more trust and loyalty.
- When it comes to international travel, employees get the opportunity to broaden their horizons and experience new cultures. This has a positive impact on their worldview and leads to more well-rounded personal development.
- Research shows that 62 percent of people feel like travel allows them to connect with their inner self, while 76 percent find it takes them out of their comfort zone (in a good way). Roughly 77 percent of people say travel gives them a chance to learn from others with different life experiences. In 70 percent of travelers, this fosters a better understanding and appreciation of unique points of view.
The more organizations prioritize business travel and face-to-face engagement, the stronger its employees become. This remains true, even in a world of ubiquitous digital connectivity.
- Higher Employee Engagement
Not every employee loves the idea of taking business trips. Many see it as a hassle and would prefer to stay home and sleep in their own beds. However, one thing is for certain: Business travel promotes a higher degree of employee engagement.
Employees who are asked to travel on behalf of the company feel appreciated, needed, and important. They also develop a greater sense of loyalty to the company, since theyâ€™re basically acting as liaisons for the organization.
When an employee is more engaged, she’s more likely to take ownership of her work and seek to better the organization. It also leads employees to seek upward mobility within the company, rather than look elsewhere for career growth.
Be Smarter With Business Travel
Make no mistake about it â€“ business travel has its challenges. If youâ€™re going to prioritize it within your own organization, you have to be smart about how you tackle it.
Smart business is travel is strategic, well thought out, and purposeful. You aren’t just sending people across the globe for the purpose of personal development. There has to be a clear and discernible ROI.
At the end of each year, itâ€™s helpful to sit down with key leaders in your organization and develop a plan for travel in the following year. Who do you want to travel? What are some key events where your business needs to be present? Whatâ€™s your travel budget? How can you maximize resources and cut costs in a way that doesnâ€™t negatively impact results? These are questions that should be answered with thoughtfulness and clarity.
No matter how much software and technology your business is armed with, you’ll never be able to totally replace the value of face-to-face interactions and interpersonal connections. This means business travel will continue to yield significant value in 2020 and beyond. Are you ready to take full advantage?