Face-Time Or Online?

New research released by Vodafone UK suggests that business people tempted to spend too much time online ‘social networking’ are in danger of losing out to those that mix old methods with the new.
Despite the hype surrounding social networking sites, they are not the most favoured means of business communication. Popular meeting places include top restaurants where clients would expect to be treated to lunch (47%) or drinks at a private members club (26%), while more than one in ten still prefer to tee off a relationship on the golf course.  Pubs are also a popular networking venue, with almost a third making the most of their lowered inhibitions.

The research also shows that while the telephone is still the most dominant networking tool (59% use it to network), phone usage with clients has also dropped by almost a third (30%) in the space of a generation when comparing those under and over forty. In fact, the thought of dealing with clients over the phone is so daunting that almost half of entrepreneurs in their twenties prefer to network online only.  

The research, which surveyed over 1100 business people across the UK, also suggests that an online approach to client communication should not stand alone.  One in five managing directors would not do business with anyone they hadn’t met face to face, over a quarter would refuse business to anyone they hadn’t at least spoken to over the phone and only a third have successfully managed to secure business using email alone.  

Kyle Whitehill, Director of Enterprise, Vodafone UK commented: "Online networking is a huge phenomenon and one that will no doubt have an impact on some the ways business communicate and market themselves. When it comes to the basics of winning and keeping business, however, embracing all the various networking options may strike a better balance for business success."

Sahar Hashemi, who built the Coffee Republic chain from scratch with her brother, said: "Modern day communication tools have an invaluable role to play in business, but you can’t replace the trust and understanding that comes from a face-to-face meeting. It’s important to keep an open mind to new ideas but always remember there is a time to close down the internet, get out there, look the client in the eye and remember how to do business the way that works in the real world. "

Summary of key findings

  • One in five MDs & Business Owners would not do business with someone they had not met face to face
  • Six out of ten businesspeople rarely or never do business with someone they haven’t spoken to over the phone
  • Phone usage with clients has dropped by almost a third (30%) in the space of a generation (under 40s versus over 40s), with email taking priority
  • However, the telephone is the most widely used networking tool in the working nation – 6 out of 10 businesspeople network over the phone
  • Business is most likely to be won from a face to face meeting (57%) than any other route, dropping to just 34% of businesspeople who have won business by email
  • Just one in ten businesspeople use networking websites to do business and less than a quarter are aware of a networking community specific to their industry
  • More than two thirds of British businesspeople prefer to network face to face (67%) where possible, but  amongst businesspeople in their early twenties, 47% prefer to network online
  • Traditional networking tactics – from the golf course to business lunches are still thriving across the nation. London and Southampton are the lunching capitals of corporate Britain, while Scotland is the place to tee-off for business (Scots are twice as likely to do business over a round of golf)
  • Face to face is the top priority with the biggest clients – typically UK business people spend 59mins a week (in excess of one working week annually) in ‘face-time’ with a top client, ahead of any other form of communication

Findings taken from a sample of 1172 businesspeople across the UK, including 266 managing directors/business owners and 906 managers. The research was conducted by Opinion Matters in October 2007.

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