March 25, 2019

How to Justify Business Travel Expenses

Andy and Stephen on Subway

There’s been a conversation in sales recently about how humans are being moved out of the sales process. Because of the perceived perks of automating sales activity, technology is becoming the focus of sales managers and directors rather than human interactions and the benefits they offer.

Ninety-five percent of our sales originate online. And because we’ve made the process so easy, a majority of ActivTrak customers make their purchases without speaking to one of our reps. We don’t actively pursue leads through methods like cold calling, so it’d be very easy for us to sit back and let technology do a large portion of the sales process.

Some customers are perfectly fine performing transactions on their own. But we also know that there are situations when pursuing deeper relationships with customers results in awesome benefits for both parties involved.

I recently took a trip to New York with one of ActivTrak’s account executives, Stephen Yougas. This experience built on the most important lesson we’ve learned from our many excursions. Visiting customers in person opens the door to something technology can’t: developing meaningful and genuine relationships.

Our Business Travel Beginnings

We didn’t experiment with travel until several years after the existence of ActivTrak. One of the reasons we waited was because we weren’t sure we could justify the business travel expense and the time investment. Airfare, lodging, ground transportation, and meals add up fast!

Because of the looming adoption of the GDPR, both our team and our customers had questions about how it would affect the usage of ActivTrak. This was the perfect opportunity to take our first trip to see customers face to face and have discussions that would benefit both parties.

English countryside with sheep and a brick building. With typical English weather—it is cloudy and overcast.

We got a good taste of the English countryside on our first ActivTrak trip.

It paid off! We came away with several indicators of a successful trip, which we then used to justify future business travel. Maybe you’ve been holding off on traveling because the upfront expense is overwhelming. Or maybe you haven’t even considered visiting your customers in person. Consider these points and hit the road!

Benefits of Handling Business Matters in Person

I’m stating the obvious when I say that there’s so much that goes into a business deal. This is especially true for bigger companies that have several people involved in the talks.

Meeting in person is the most helpful way we’ve found to get everyone on the same page. Hopefully, by this point, you’ve had a few remote meetings to show off your product, get a general understanding of the business’s needs, and create a proof of concept. That way you have a strong foundation to build off of when everybody is together in the same room.

I think the best part of taking care of these details in person is that you’re there to help get all the stakeholders on board with the sale. In most cases, we’ve been talking to a champion of ActivTrak. They’re the one who has seen the value of the software. They’re just hoping to convince the rest of the business to approve of the deal. And the larger the organization is, the more departments will be involved in the decision. Getting everyone’s approval can be a major challenge for one or two champions.

Traveling takes us to iconic locations like Grand Central Station.

That’s why you’re there. You can answer the questions the champions can’t. You can provide the history of your company and its vision for the future. You’ll have the floor to address concerns and speak to the individuals who are hesitant to say yes.

If you come to the table confident and prepared, you’re more likely to get people on board. Finish up with a finalized proof of concept for the potential customers to discuss on their own.

Strengthen Your Long Distance Relationships

In your personal life, do you have any meaningful relationships with people you know nothing about? No! It’s not possible. Each detail you know about another person’s life, like hobbies, family, or favorite foods, helps you understand who they are. Once that picture becomes clearer, you can interact with them in a meaningful way. On the flip side, as people get to know you better, they know how to talk to you in a way that’s meaningful to you.

The same is true for potential and current customers. Visiting in person is a chance for you and the party you are visiting to get to know each other, and it’s up to you to take the first step.

From the moment you arrive in their town, you have plenty of opportunities to strengthen your connection. I know it may sound silly, but experiencing the geography, climate, and culture of a business’s surroundings is a great way to start understanding the company. You see what they face on their commutes every day, and you experience the weather they deal with. These little details make a difference, even if it’s just having something to talk about in the elevator.

Andy and Taylor went all the way to Colombia to meet with a customer!

The simple act of being inside the physical structure gives you context about the business outside of the sale. You get to see what each individual sees as they walk through the halls of their building. Everything from the atmosphere to the decor gives a sense of their corporate culture. And as you meet people who aren’t directly involved in the sale, you see who it is that makes up the company.

In conversations over the internet, you’ll get a general idea of the problems the business is trying to solve. But when you’re in their building, you learn about the problems in context and you can better speak to why your product is the answer. After all, that’s why they’re talking to you in the first place. They need a solution.

Get to know who your potential customers are on a personal level. When you do, you’ll have genuine conversations about how to come to the best solution for both parties involved.

Make the Most of Your Trip

There’s one last thing we use when justifying our travel costs. When we take trips, we plan to visit more than one group in the area. Recently when we went to New York, we connected with four potential customers. It’s much more cost effective to visit multiple leads in one trip. That makes a case for business travel a little bit stronger.

A less obvious thing you can do is visit current customers in the same area. Even if they’re a smaller organization, why wouldn’t you take the opportunity to drop in? Say hello, check in, see if there’s any way you can make their experience better, and continue to build that personal relationship.

ActivTrak Booth at Mega Agency Conference

Conferences are another great way to connect with potential customers.

Was it Worth it?

You’re not always going to come home with a closed sale. Odds are, the company will need time to digest everything you went over in person. But until they’re ready to make their final decision, make yourself available to answer any questions and follow up when necessary.

While that may not seem any different than what you’d normally do, you can use those personal connections you made to have genuine conversations. You have details you can bring in to discussions that would typically be strictly business. And when you can have these kinds of follow up conversations, the potential customer will not only appreciate your effort to get to know them, but they’ll feel more comfortable talking to you as if you were just another friend.

We’ve seen this happen every time we return from a business trip. As of this writing, we’ve been to Mumbai, Colombia, California, The United Kingdom, Florida, Ohio, and now New York and New Jersey. Each time we see clear movement on the status of the sale.

Gaining new business more than covers the travel expenses. But great experiences, great people, and the great knowledge we gain along the way are what make business travel well worth the investment.

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