In aviation, being "in the clouds" is a universal flight condition referring to a pilot's inability to see the ground.
It's also a common lament of parents about the troubling coordinates of a teenager's head, which might seem to be "in the clouds."
In the 21st century, "in the cloud" is a reference that has established itself in the marketplace vernacular as the interaction and delivery point between providers of "cloud-based" digital applications and customers.
Cloud computing is the availability of incremental processing power that resides on an application provider's servers, instead of your hard drive. For example, community-building technology, like social media platforms. When you post something on Facebook, you're in the cloud. When you conduct online banking, sell a stock, or hail an Uber from your smartphone, you're doing that in the cloud. If you use Google's G Suite of office products, or Microsoft Office 365, all are cloud-based.
No question, cloud computing is another example of technology increasing business efficiencies and leverage. And for small businesses, it's been a godsend, because it not only gives us access to Big Business-like leverage, it's also offered at an incremental price that fits our diminutive budgets.
But like all high-tech tools, there's an associated balance sheet where lives the good and the not so much of any kind of leverage. And on the liability side of the ledger, cloud computing, which helps us reach more customers more efficiently and more elegantly, still has not replicated one of the most elemental components of humanity – the handshake.
By definition, there is no handshake in the cloud.
Successful businesses have profited mightily from the speed and efficiencies of e-tools, including cloud computing. And those who initially discounted the notion of successful virtual relationships over the Internet have largely been proven wrong.
By now, most of us have met a prospect, delivered a proposal, closed a deal, delivered as promised, and maintained that relationship – perhaps for years – using nothing more than the virtual connection resources at our fingertips. But sometimes, there just is no substitute for face-to-face. Consider this story:
After a successful multi-year relationship between a small business and a Fortune 50 company, where all contact had been conducted virtually, a small business owner wanted to deliver a proposal with a new idea for the relationship. The customer said, "Sure, I'll take a look; let's hook up in the cloud like we did last time."
But having never met the customer in-person, plus knowing the importance of this proposal to his business, this entrepreneur asked for a face-to-face meeting. "If you think it's worth your time and expense, sure," the customer agreed. The meeting was set, conducted, and the new sale was made, after which the customer said "I'm glad you came to see me. I probably wouldn't have made this commitment without your in-person presentation delivery."
This story is true. That was my customer – the original high-tech company – and my sale.
As you leverage and profit from all the efficient high-tech, speed-of-light customer connection tools, don't forget that the best option might not always be in the cloud. Decision-making factors in choosing a virtual or handshake-range interaction include, for example, time and scheduling, geography, the human factor of face-to-face, and the import of the proposal. And don't forget to consider the experience and expectations of the demographics of your customer. Millennials, remember that even Baby Boomer customers you know to be high adopters of technology still have a generational attraction to voice, face-to-face, and, of course, the handshake.
Write this on a rock ... In the Age of the Customer, it's still a best practice to invest the time and resources to meet customers face-to-face, look them in the eye, ask them for their business, thank them, and shake their hand.
Jim Blasingame is the author of The 3rd Ingredient, the Journey of Analog Ethics into the World of Digital Fear and Greed.