Last weeks post How do Chemical Buyer’s Buy? Will it ever really change? discussed how chemical buyer’s buy and the trends they see moving forward. The focus was on personal relationships vs. ‘internet’ relationships and chemical exchange possibilities. Based on significant feedback (and over 200 replies/comments in various forums – thank-you everyone who took the time to read and comment!), the overriding consensus is that (at least for the chemical industry) the ‘old school’ way of working (personal meetings, anything face-to-face) will continue to rule the day. I admit that perhaps not many ‘twenty-something’s’ may have taken the the opportunity to weigh-in (perhaps they were too busy placing their chemical spend on-line), but it is reasonable to conclude that any Amazon.com type model will not be taking over the chemical industry any time in the immediate future.
So, this leads to a new question… ‘what exactly constitutes a ‘face-to-face’ meeting’?. As a business owner with 15 people in our commercial department (i.e., buying and/or selling), we spend tens (100’s?) of thousands of dollars per year on travel. We also have a conference room filled with the latest and greatest; a 120” drop down hi-definition screen, and Logitech ConferenceCam CC3000e ready and willing to take on all of our audio-visual needs). Can this travel expenditure be effectively replaced by the use of video-conferencing?
I know of a lot of companies using this technology ‘intra company’, but have not seen/heard many conversations (in the chemical industry anyway), where parties say – ‘let’s meet by video conference’, as opposed to ‘we’ll fly down to Houston and make a presentation’. It might not be such as coincidence that I am currently on Alaska Flt 730; Seattle – Houston, to go make such an in-person presentation, although I proudly will be wearing my #3 jersey of the recently crowned World Champion Seattle Seahawks! For the money (and perhaps more importantly, TIME) we are spending – is the physical handshake and view of body language in an in-person meeting worth the opportunity cost of staying in the office and working thru video-conference? As a proprietor of a small/medium sized business, I don’t have the same perspective as some of the big boys (Dow, Lyondell, Shell, Univar, Brenntag, etc..), I wonder if I am just missing something. And, how about conferences and trade-shows? I don’t think the ‘do not miss’ meetings in our industry (AFPM/NPRA, EPCA, APLA, ACE, ACI, ISSA, and the gambit of other acronyms…) are in much danger of extinction.
I have to think that with the wear and tear on the body of physical travel, the actual cost in dollars, the soft cost of ‘opportunity loss’ that could be gained working from our physical office, and the despair of leaving family and loved ones so often – there has to be a case for the entire business community to say ‘video-conference’ wins… Let’s stay off the airplanes (although for some sick reason I take some demented sense of pride in holding platinum status on two airlines)…
What do you think, is everyone ready for video-conference to be the norm??