By Kenny Eon
Foreign ministers from the world’s leading economies recently gathered in London for initial in-person talks – the likes of which we haven’t seen for two years.
Following on from this precursor meeting, the official G7 Summit in Cornwall begins this week. Leaders of the world’s biggest economies will gather to plan, build relationships and secure new deals that will strengthen economic ties and business relationships, for businesses across the world.
In the flesh: building alliances
Aside from its diplomatic purpose, the meeting will continue to set the tone for how large international organisations will conduct meetings and liaise in-person again. With business travel off the cards for so long, and some rallying against its purpose at all, leaders across the globe have been split in their opinion of how to approach the reintroduction of this staple of corporate life. There has been cynicism and optimism, but at the core has been the real question: can you replace real facetime with digital facetime?
The answer, in view of the latest G7 meetings, is not quite. The business community has been watching governments lead by example in getting together safely and discussing issues which influence the rest of the world. The upcoming official summit will mark a key milestone in getting global leaders back in the same room again. Seeing partner organisations, customers and colleagues in the flesh underpinned modern business until the pandemic struck, however the hesitancy to reconvene is understandable given how fragile the situation has been in keeping the virus under control.
That said, it’s encouraging to see that despite the massive adoption of tools like Zoom, leaders recognise the value of in-person meetings and their influence in high-value business interactions.
Reasons for optimism
Twelve months ago, it was difficult to be optimistic about the future of business travel. But as we move further into 2021 there is certainly more reason to be confident. What’s more, the suggestion of on the ground meetings is beginning to surface again; a survey conducted in April by Northstar Meetings Group reported 80% of respondents plan to hold their next in-person meeting this year.
Global organisations particularly benefit from in-person interactions. With offices spanning various countries, language and culture nuances can make gauging a person’s true feelings behind their words even harder to determine. Body language cues can be lost in translation when video conferencing is the only mode of communication.
That’s not to say virtual meetings haven’t served their purpose, though. They are a great way to build the virtual bridge between people, businesses and organisations. However, arguably they cannot have the same impact as face-to-face meetings on relationship building and ultimately – closing the deal.
Read the room
In a business setting, some of the fabric of lasting partnerships and collaboration goes beyond the meeting itself. Venturing outside to another location can lead to exploration of new cities and cultures, better understanding the dynamics of a prospect, connecting with a colleague from an overseas branch of the company, and overall allowing for a better understanding of who it is you are actually connecting with. The opportunity for small talk, veering away from the agenda and informal side meetings off the record can lead to more authentic bonds that go beyond superficial relationships. From a business perspective, these sometimes-overlooked benefits are highly significant.
Human relationships have always played an important and fundamental part in securing deals and forming trust between parties. Social cues, the nuances in body language and facial expression, and being able to actually read the room cannot be replicated effectively in a virtual environment. The key is connectivity, in its most traditional sense.
The road to recovery
While the long-term benefits of the in-person G7 summit are still yet to unfold, the meeting will undoubtedly become a crucial milestone in building back business confidence after what has been an incredibly difficult time for most. Governments across the world must continue to lead the way in guiding the private sector back into the realm of in-person meetings, not simply to drive revenue, but to support them with team-building and promoting a strong and cohesive company culture. The value of human relationships runs deeper than sales targets and the benefits are more than transactional.
Soon, economies and markets will reignite, with the potential to prosper even more now that we have seen just how much can be achieved by harnessing technology to keep us connected. The road to in-person meetings will be paved with uncertainty. It is likely we will see nations react differently to reconnecting – travel bans, restrictions – the future is unknown. But what leaders can absolutely rely on is that smart and authentic business relationships start with human ones.
About the Author
Kenny Eon, SVP International Sale and General Manager, Emburse UK/DACH. Kenny has over 19 years of experience in the financial and human resource technology industries, and holds a dual role leading international sales and overseeing Emburse’s Northern European operations. As SVP International Sales, Kenny leads the sales execution and bookings growth for the International teams. As General Manager for Northern Europe, Kenny oversees the strategic direction and financial outcomes for Emburse in the region.