Everyone is looking for the newest "hack" to connect with prospects and close big deals. Scraping LinkedIn? Endlessly blasting your list with cold emails? Retargeted ads to custom audiences?

How about this: Meet clients face-to-face. A novel concept in our current age of automation and virtual communications.

Yes, tech makes it easy to do business from nearly anywhere, managing teams and engaging with clients spread across the world. And while we have more ways to help us stay connected than ever before, which has made conducting business remotely more acceptable, it could be causing us to sacrifice building deep relationships and closing better deals.

Establishing trust by going the distance

When I was a 20-year-old college student, I did video production work for large-scale events. My largest client sent out a request for proposal (RFP) each year, and selected my company and a dozen of my competitors to fulfill their various productions around the U.S. 

After two successful seasons, I had an idea. What if I could eliminate the RFP by committing to produce every single event around the country? That would be simpler to manage for them, with a more consistent product for their customers. 

I booked a flight out to their headquarters to make a presentation stating our case. After meeting everyone, I explained in detail all the reasons why working with one partner would be more efficient and profitable for them, and presented my vision for the partnership. To make a long story short, we landed a deal that ended up being worth nearly $200,000 per year.

Here's the thing. Engaging over email, phone calls and through video certainly has its place. But when it comes to landing big deals with new prospects or expanding deals with existing customers, face-to-face time can instantly earn you more credibility. Because digital communication has become the norm, showing up in person also stands out far more.  

Would that room of executives have trusted a 20-year-old college kid if the presentation had been done over a screen share? Would they have taken a chance and put all their chips on one vendor? Probably not.

Taking the time to fly across the country showed their team I valued the relationship -- and, I found out later that I was the only vendor to ever visit their office in person. I was able to make a strong first impression and I also got to read the body language of everyone in the room and adjust my communications in real time -- not as easy to do over the phone.

Value versus risk

Naturally there's more time and often more expense involved in meeting someone face-to-face, so you have to assess if the potential value overrides any risk involved. What do you have to lose if you make the effort? And more importantly, what do you have to lose if you don't make the effort?

Years ago, I was invited to dinner with Shark Tank's Daymond John, but I passed on the opportunity because I had a client appointment scheduled. I often think back to that day and wonder what would have happened if I had rescheduled or refunded my client to fly to dinner. The right in person meeting could be priceless for your business.

Recently, the opportunity for a last-minute face-to-face recently came up again. I was introduced to business expert Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth. 30-minutes into our conversation he asked, "How soon could you come out to visit?"

Without even checking my schedule, I replied, "Tomorrow." Twelve hours later, I was on a flight to meet with his wife and team to learn about their major initiatives and vision, and discuss opportunities for collaboration.

When you are doing big deals and you want to build big relationships, you have to plan for flexibility, take chances and occasionally embrace reshuffling your schedule. Investing the time and effort it takes to meet face-to-face will strengthen your relationships and your business.

Published on: Mar 30, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.