All of those things are perfectly valid arguments – for now. But putting supplier and customer in the same room has no long-term sustainable future. Technology is making it redundant. Not today, perhaps not tomorrow, but soon.
Of course, it’s fair to say that some companies like to show how much power they have over suppliers by summoning them for a 15-minute meeting a three-hour drive away, keeping them waiting for no other reason than ‘because they can’, and then sending a deputy to do the face-to-face part. That’s mere arrogance, and that kind of company won’t change. The time spent, of course, will be reflected in the bill…
But for more enlightened customers there is a recognition that time is not only money, but is also finite. Sure, a personal connection is vital. Before a contract is awarded, it’s good to see the whites of their eyes; to see if they’re the kind of people you’d like to do business with. But after that, meet once a year, perhaps, and for the rest of the time rely on technology. And why wouldn’t you. We’re living on a technology timeline, where the once-novel is now the mere commonplace. Who would have thought we could communicate electronically via email? But we do. Who remembers that now old-fashioned ‘please allow 28 days for delivery’ on goods bought by mail order. But we did.
Careful use of travel expense management software will show just how much money a company is spending to put its representative in the same suit as a client. But the time spent on regular travelling is a drain on the individual jammed into the metal tube at 50,000 feet, a drain on a company’s productivity, for if they’re travelling they’re not being as productive as they might be, and for the planet, we’re just sucking away the fossil fuels and fouling up the atmosphere. Comparisons of the relative CO2 emissions between cars and planes are a red herring; both dump more greenhouse gas than not making the journey at all.
And does that mean there has to be some kind of personal connection; some feeling that a supplier puts before you dismiss it out of hand, perhaps now would be a good time to take the long view; and from that different perspective, perhaps see the concept in a different light.
Squinting into the past, it would once have been unheard of to exchange correspondence electronically, batting messages back and forth more quickly than can be explained – but we take it for granted today.