Building Relationships over Distance –Tips for Success
I recently read a great article that talks about how midsized companies can take advantage of slow periods to visit customers, partners, and others to better understand their needs.
The article comes from Erik Sherman from the National Center for the Middle Market. Part of Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, the center provides knowledge, leadership, and innovative research on U.S. midsized businesses.
Sherman provides is great advice, but in a fast-moving, highly competitive economy that never seems to slow down, I would add the following points:
- Getting to know your stakeholders shouldn’t be just a once-a- year activity
- Engaging with them shouldn’t be limited by the ability to travel due to time or budget constraints
Let’s take the case of engaging with employees and co-workers. As middle market companies continue to lead economic growth and job creation, employers have to look further afield to find people with the right skills. Indeed, the National Center for the Middle Market’s 2Q 2014 Middle Market Indicator suggests that “Attracting, Training and Retaining” Talent is rising on the list of executives’ concerns.
Can collaboration technologies help? I certainly believe so.
From my own perspective, I’m based in the UK, but my manager and many of my colleagues and team mates, are based in various locations across Europe and the U.S. Our full team gets together maybe once or twice a year – usually at an industry event. But we actually see each other regularly, sometimes daily, courtesy of Cisco’s Video Collaboration and WebEx Conferencing solutions.
Whether it is for project team meetings, all-hands management briefings, or ad-hoc communications with colleagues and other stakeholders, I feel I have a personal connection with my co-workers that I wouldn’t otherwise have as a remotely –based team member. And visual cues also help indicate if we have a common understanding and are alignment on the key issues of the day.
Maybe it helps that we’re (mostly) all over worrying about bad hair days and used to seeing each other grab a quick meal during a meeting. Who knows?
What I do know is that even before I meet a new colleague in person for the first time, there’s a familiarity that means we can get on with work together and be productive straight away.
I’m not getting sentimental about this relationship stuff. Using technology to enhance relationships makes sound business sense, too. Take a look at this report from Boston Consulting Group, Lessons on Technology and Growth from Small Business Leaders.
It’s a really interesting read, looking at the characteristics of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that embrace technology to different degrees. Here are just a few things that jumped-out to me about small to medium organizations who are Technology Leaders:
- Technology-enabled collaboration is key to how they compete against larger organizations
- They access a broad range of voice over IP (VOIP), messaging, and cloud-based collaboration software
- Technology leaders innovate, experiment, and embrace tech-enabled business models
- Two-thirds say they have more satisfied customers thanks to technology.
- They outpace their like-sized peers other SMEs in terms of revenue growth
I think fast-growing US sportswear company ROKA Sports is a great example of what’s possible. Check out the following video to see how they are using Cisco Collaboration solutions to bring together disparate teams and supply chain partners to innovate.
As more small and midsized businesses move to embrace hybrid cloud technology, Cisco is helping make innovative collaboration possible for them. Cisco provides industry-leading IP communications with business quality voice, video, messaging, chat, and customer collaboration capabilities. Capabilities that can be experienced on any device, anywhere via on-premises solutions, partner-hosted cloud services, or Cisco WebEx conferencing services.
Maybe we should still have those important visits to meet customers, co-workers and suppliers in person as well. But instead of annual fact-finding missions, they can be to help cement relationships and celebrate more joint successes.
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