Using video to build relationships with clients

I recently spoke with Patricia Hursh, chief client officer and founder of Boulder, Colo.-based SmartSearch Marketing, to find out how she was putting video-conferencing technology to work.

Here's what she had to tell me:

How does SmartSearch use video conferencing?

SmartSearch Marketing specializes in search marketing solutions for our clients. Our whole business is about people. We’re not making and selling widgets; we're selling people, processes and knowledge. We’re essentially a virtual agency. Not everyone is located in one office—or even one state. Video conferencing works beautifully for us even simply internally. This technology enables us to be a consistent, coherent team, even when we are not located in one office or even one city. As a virtual service business, it is not uncommon for a mid-size client who hired us to have never met us in person. Video conferencing gives us a cost effective connection with prospects, current clients and partners – bringing the “people” aspect of our business to life.

What are the business benefits of the technology?

Video conferencing enables trust. The biggest decision factors in hiring an agency are compatibility with your organization, and whether your organization trusts the agency. Video goes much farther in building trust than a voice on the phone. As an example, we have a core team of five people serving one client in another state. Once a week, we will have a live video conferencing meeting with the client. It's a great way to develop a trusted multi-party relationship on a periodic basis. That kind of relationship could be done effectively one-on-one through occasional client visits, but when you think of a core team of five individuals, the expense becomes cost prohibitive.

Of course, there will be times when we’re traveling, in a crowded location or simply at home and not feeling well. At those times it may not make sense to be on a video conference. So it will not completely replace the way people do business now. It is safe to say, however, that it will grow in acceptance because it builds closer connections, enables collaboration and streamlines operational costs.

The most obvious operational cost savings is in reduced travel expense. An even more important cost savings, however, is associated with time. When you're working with team members in far-flung areas who have to coordinate with clients in yet another area, the time that would have otherwise been spent in coordinating physical meetings is reduced to almost nothing with video conferencing.

What advice do you have for other business people making the move to video conferencing?

Having a multifaceted video conferencing experience is essential. Video conferencing can compress the amount of work done in a single meeting, as compared to physical visits, because all the participants have access to all work materials immediately. We already share documents in video conferencing collaboration. In time, it seems logical to see that collaboration becoming more interactive, with live brainstorming and multiparty updates to documents and projects.

Another possibility would be updating project plans, tapping directly into applications such as Microsoft Project to make on-the-fly changes to timelines, schedules or other breakdowns. We also see real value in video conferencing for developing client rapport, and even shortening the sales cycle in client acquisition.

With video conferencing, you get a better sense of the person. You begin to understand body language and mannerisms better. It conveys personality much more effectively than it any other electronic medium. In a people-focused business, personality is vitally important.