Internet Marketing Must Die: Real Life Lessons In Getting Out From Behind Your Desk

Internet Marketing Must Die: Real Life Lessons In Getting Out From Behind Your Desk
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My business depends on helping other businesses market themselves online.

So I should be falling all over myself convincing people why internet marketing is the best thing since Oreos (which are way better than sliced bread, by the way).

And yet that’s not what I’m about to say.

What I’m about to say is: step away from the keyboard. Close Facebook. Get off Twitter. Stop working on your next marketing email. Ditch Skype.

Put on some pants and go meet someone for breakfast right now.

Even if it’s 6PM, someone, somewhere, will make you pancakes. Go.

Still here? Ok, then read on to find out why it’s absolutely necessary to leave technology behind and go out and meet people face-to-face.

The Shiny Days Of The Internet Are Over

You know how when you got a new bike for your birthday it was all shiny and new and brilliant and you couldn’t wait to get out and ride it?

But eventually you got used to it. You scuffed it up a bit. Riding it became more utilitarian than anything else, a way to go buy yourself some bubblegum when your mom wouldn’t drive you to the store.

Maybe you fell off a few times and that made you mad so you kicked it. And stubbed your toe, which made you madder so you shoved your bike into the shed and walked to the store instead.

That’s kind of like the internet.

Ten or fifteen years ago when it was still pretty shiny and new, we all ran around building shiny, new websites and using impressive technology like Flash to make our sites do cool things.

We discovered email, and sometime later, social media. We blew horns and threw glitter.

And then it became utilitarian.

To matter even a little bit, we all need websites now. And a social presence. And a blossoming email list. Nobody pats you on the back for using Flash or says, “Good job!” when you nail your call to action.

Our businesses are easily lost in the noise. We may shout louder, with cheaper prices or better deals. We may tweet ten times a day and pour dollars into Facebook ads in hopes that someone, most likely a stranger, will notice and hand over their money.

But mostly we wait. And we blog and we email and we advertise and we email some more. If we’re very good and very patient, we see results from our efforts. In the meantime our bubblegum gets really stale.

So if we’re smart on top of being good and patient… we start walking.

Business Is People

Don’t get me wrong – the internet is a great venue for marketing and advertising. It can help you build your brand and authority and reach people you couldn’t have otherwise, even with a full tank of gas.

But it still doesn’t substitute for being in a room with an actual human being.

I imagine most of you reading this run a business – a real-world business that provides a product or service to your customers. You’re not just running an “internet business” where you hawk some webinar or email course or entry into the MLM plan du jour as your sole source of revenue.

And if you run a business, whether you sell green plants or car washes, massages or design services, your business is not about the thing you sell but about the people you sell it to.

It’s about learning what they want and need and figuring out how to give it to them. It’s about connections, relationships and conversations. I don’t care how many analytics you have or what type of amazing stalker-ish behavioral tracking software you use, there is nothing as powerful as sitting across a table from someone and looking into their eyes as you conduct business.

Don’t believe me? Or maybe you just like your pajamas too much and think Skype will do nicely? Here’s why you’re wrong.

I Have Caller ID. I Bet You Do, Too.

I also know how to pretend to be “invisible” online. Think you’re going to catch me to talk? Think again.

And forget email. “It went into my spam folder.” “Oh, I must have missed that.” “Really? You sent that six weeks ago? Nope, didn’t get it.” Or the ever more likely {  }.

That’s an empty set for those less mathematically inclined.

I’ve generated tons of leads online. People who read my blogs, get my emails, even chat with me on Twitter or Skype. Sometimes they pan out. Sometimes they disappear into the ether.

A statistically significant percentage of people will literally never return a call or email again. Since I’m so charming and lovely, I can only imagine the reason is because they opted not to work with me but are too embarrassed to say so.

But I can tell you one thing that has never happened when I’ve met someone in person: being ignored.

Never. Not once. In fifteen years in business, I have never sat across a table from someone and then walked out of the room only to never hear from them again. Even if they decide not to work with me, there is, at a minimum, a returned call or an email saying so.

It’s a lot harder to pretend someone doesn’t exist when you had physical proof of their presence in your conference room just last week.

The problem with connecting with people on the internet is that it’s impersonal and all too easy to disappear. You don’t really have to see someone online as a person at all. They are just an avatar, a nicely Photoshopped headshot and a few carefully crafted characters in a status update.

Making a face-to-face connection changes the relationship from the very moment your eyes meet. You may not particularly like the person or want to work with them, but your humanness comes out and you’ll at least have the courtesy to say so.

There’s No Photoshopping In Real Life

I’ve been slow to adopt video chat. Mostly because the people I chat with are internet people and they have only ever seen me in my cute pink shirt with my hair done and a little Photoshop going on to get rid of a couple of baggy eyeballs.

But hop onto video chat and now suddenly I have to think about whether or not I’ve brushed my hair or put on eyeliner. Once I finally did get the hang of video chat, I spent many months getting my hair cut in different configurations just so my forehead wouldn’t look so big or my cheeks too round.

Don’t laugh, you’re just as neurotic.

In real life you don’t get to fix that with a skillful swish of the paint tool or tilt of the camera.

You’re forced to be yourself, whether you have bulging eyeballs or crooked teeth. You’re forced to view other people as themselves and not as their own nicely retouched photo.

It goes beyond photos, too. Be honest: how long does it take you to write a blog post or put together that “personal” email? Me? I can spend anywhere from 2-4 hours on a single one. Not because I’m doing some profound research but because I’m debating whether I should use the word “debating” or “evaluating”.  Because once these words reach your eyes I want them to be as perfect as possible.

I don’t get to do that in a conversation. Heck, I don’t get to think at all. I don’t get to formulate a smart response or choose the best words. I just have to go.

The internet has, in some ways, made us louder and meaner and more likely to say things that we would never say out loud to a “real” person.

It has, in other ways, made us censor ourselves, saying only those things we carefully craft with the right message and the proper adjectives.

Try doing that when you’re having a cup of coffee with a prospect or customer. Connecting with people in person removes the character limits, eliminates the editing tools and requires that we respond truthfully.

Sure, there are some very good liars out there who will “network” and “sell” you just about anything using just about any ploy or promise. But most of us? We just hope we got the eyeliner on straight and then we talk – human-to-human.

Attention Can Be Your Biggest Failure Point

I recently scheduled a demo with a sales rep for a product I was interested in purchasing. It went on the calendar in between a prospecting phone call and a project deadline.

At the designated time I dialed into the Webex meeting and a very nice, very polite sales rep launched into his pitch.

I’m embarrassed to admit that it was a full fifteen minutes before I heard a word he said. At some point, realizing he had asked me a question, I hedged by redirecting the conversation.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to hear his pitch – I had asked for the demo, after all. But someone had asked me a question on Skype, a client emailed with a problem, the project deadline was looming and my computer desktop was a mess, so why not just delete a few of these old files? Wait, is that Word document my new blog post? Oh, never mind, that was from last week. This week I have to write about networking…

What?

I’d say it’s easy to get distracted but it would be more accurate to say it’s impossible not to be.

Can you imagine inviting a client or prospect to your office and then checking your text messages under the table or getting up to bring in the mail? How about in the middle of a conversation, rearranging your desk?

Half the battle for business is the battle for attention. Will I buy that software? I have no idea. I still don’t know what it does. It’s not the sales rep’s fault. If you’re desperately vying for someone’s attention via email, chat or even phone, you know how difficult it can be.

Person-to-person meetings force you to pay attention. They remove the distractions and unless you’re really rude, it would never occur to you to do anything but focus on your guest.

Build Trust Faster, Earn Deeper Loyalty

We started this blog four years ago. Until then, our business had been strictly referral-based. Our happy clients referred us to their friends and colleagues who then became happy clients and so our net widened.

Almost every relationship we built was done over breakfast or beer or a baseball game.

When we expanded our business to include “online prospects” – people we only met and communicated with via our blog, email and sometimes phone – we learned a few things.

One, it takes a long time to build trust. It doesn’t happen in a few tweets or a hundred blogs. In fact, we only began to see real turnover in terms of generating business from our online relationships nearly two years after we set out to do it.

That’s a long time if you’re waiting for a paycheck!

We also learned that trust doesn’t necessarily translate to loyalty. Someone may trust us enough to hand over the cash, maybe even to do it again and best yet, to refer us to friends. But when Joe Cheap comes along with a deal they can’t refuse? Joe Cheap gets the job.

“I know you provide great value,” they say. “But this is a lot cheaper.”

I have rarely built a relationship with someone offline who says the same thing. I wouldn’t say “never” but it’s a lot less prevalent.

In fact, I’ve had clients defer the thing they want to do until such time as they could work with us rather than hire Joe Cheap.

That comes, in part, from building a solid relationship. Knowing someone is a whole lot different than simply “knowing they provide value”.

It also comes out of loyalty. I have relationships with vendors who I stick with because I know and trust them – and because even if they’re too expensive for me right now, it would just feel wrong to go elsewhere.

That’s the magic of personal relationships. It’s not always about the bottom line. Heck, it’s not always about the value! I’ve known people to stick with subpar vendors out of personal loyalty, even if they knew they could get a better deal and better service somewhere else.

We humans are not always rational. We make emotional buying decisions. We base our business loyalties on personal factors that sometimes have nothing to do with business. And I don’t care how many video Skype chats you do or how many emails you send, you will never make that kind of connection online.

Internet Marketing Must Die, Reprised

Four years later, we still use our blog and email and Facebook ads to generate leads and business. It’s worked.

But what we have also done is stopped doing so much internet marketing and refocused our energies on – guess what – “real life” people.

They listen better.

They trust easier.

They convert faster.

They stay longer.

They don’t disappear never to be heard from again or leave after one job for the next best price in the neighborhood. They may say no, but at least they say something. And we learn, we practice listening, we practice educating, we practice negotiating.

Mostly we practice being human.

We are more than the sum of our avatars and gravatars and status updates and social bios. We are both smarter than our thesaurus-worthy blog posts and more awkward than our edited paragraphs would attest. We stutter, we say “um” a lot and if I’m really nervous, I will revert to the height of Valley Girl days and use the word “like” as a noun, verb, adjective and filler. Sometimes in the same sentence.

Ultimately it’s those things, good and bad, brushed hair or wrinkled shirt, loud laugh or weird tic, that connect us with others as human beings and build the type of relationships that matter.

So if you really want your business to succeed, go ahead and blog your heart out. Build your online authority and widen your net. Post ads and send emails. Connect with your “list”.

Then shut down your computer, put away your smart phone and connect with your human. I guarantee you those connections will take you a lot farther in business and in life.

This post is part of the monthly Word Carnival series of posts. This month, our carnies talk about ditching tech and getting out into the real world to meet people. Whether it’s networking, learning, prospecting or just getting together and hanging out, this month it’s all about making real connections. Read the rest of the Word Carnival posts here for more great advice and insight from some of the smartest business owners and entrepreneurs you’ll meet.

Carol Lynn Rivera

Carol Lynn Rivera

I'm a business owner, content creator, podcaster and marketer. In 1999 I founded Rahvalor Interactive, a web and creative services production studio, with my husband and business partner Ralph. In 2011 we created Web.Search.Social, a consulting and marketing service line for small businesses. We also cohost the Web.Search.Social Podcast where we challenge the status quo of marketing and the Carbon Based Business Units podcast where we talk about the human side of being an entrepreneur. On any given day I wear the hat of project manager, consultant, social media manager and content marketer. My true passion is writing and in my spare time I'm busy planning my early retirement to Barcelona as a famous and wealthy novelist.
Carol Lynn Rivera
Carol Lynn Rivera