Technology alone cannot and should not be a conduit through which we build our business relationships.
I don’t know about you, but these days, I find myself bombarded with information regarding the foodservice industry, most of which I cannot avoid reading. I read each item with the hope that it will feed me a kernel of information that will help me better serve our foodservice clients and run our industrial engineering consulting business. This includes publications like rd+d and FE&S, which I read nearly front to back.
Maureen Slocum’s publisher’s letter The Telephone Game, which appeared in the March/April issue of rd+d, caught my eye. After reading it (a few times), it made me think about the ways technology impacts how we manage foodservice projects and develop our working relationships. Technology, no doubt, plays a meaningful role in so many aspects of foodservice design and project management. It allows us to move more effectively and efficiently than many of us ever imagined. But I would suggest to you that it cannot and should not be a conduit through which we build our business relationships. Because no matter what technologies you use, people still buy from people at the end of the day. And both parties need to trust that the other will deliver on their commitments. It’s that simple.
So, let’s start with a question: What’s the best way to uncover new resources?
First consider that “smart marketing is more about help than hype.” If something sounds too good to be true, that’s likely the case. Customers need to be able to look past the hype and suppliers need to be straightforward about they can and can’t do. True business partners are honest and helpful to one another. From a supplier’s perspective, sometimes being helpful means nothing more than guiding your partner to someone else who has the right solution if you truly do not have what they need. True partners do this because it demonstrates they know the industry and that they have their customers’ best interests in mind.
Search for solutions, not just products. In order to do this, both parties have to understand the issues at hand. Address these issues in a holistic way. Sometimes this will include bringing in other resources/technologies/equipment to help address the issue. A collaborative approach can be very impactful and everyone should embrace these opportunities because they give you the chance to learn more and broaden your experience — a win for everyone involved.
In-Your-Face Project Management
I find that a “let me come see you” approach is best, rather than a computer presentation or sending materials around. I believe this is the best approach for a variety of reasons:
- Being together can help build trust among both parties. Both parties can see how engaged the other is and that can serve as a sound foundation moving forward.
- By being present you each learn much more about the dynamics of each other’s business. From a consultant’s perspective, we learn lots when we see a foodservice operation in action. No two concepts are the same. Consider that most of the time, a customer will be able to tell you what they think they want, but perhaps this is not what they actually need. Your presence will help sort this out a bit better. Seeing it live will help you be helpful (suggestion No. 1 above).
- Spending time together makes both sides real. There is a human at the end of that telephone or computer. Spending time face to face, preferably on the front end of a project, will enable you get to know one another. As human beings, we like to work with people that we have good chemistry with; people we like. Chemistry is very difficult to analyze over the phone. Both parties should invest in getting to know one another.
- A live visit will enable you to better understand the client’s issues and opportunities. That will in turn facilitate you offering more holistic and complete solutions that will serve them better.
Perhaps in a few decades, and for some businesses already, B2B electronic interfaces and business consummation will work as the end solution. But I say that in the foodservice business, face to face is still critical.
Keep in mind that most of the leaders of this industry grew up in a non-computerized world, including myself. You can say that we are “computer refugees” and we still prefer face to face interaction from time to time. I am not suggesting the initial contact not be done through a phone call and through the significant network of computers. But to really build momentum with a project and achieve game-changing results, what I am suggesting is a face-to-face meeting is necessary early in the process
Nothing replaces the human touch. After all, we are still social animals.