Friday, September 4th, 2015

So Much Water, So Close to Home: With In-Person Meetings, How Far You Travel is Less Important than the Simple Fact that You Traveled at All

At any given time, business travel is a relatively reliable indicator of economic health. Sure, it’s an oversimplification, and more of a reflection of economic solidity and optimism than a cause of either, but the truth is that businesses send their employees to travel when times are good, and they cut back when times aren’t. For instance, according to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), business travel spending declined sharply during the recession in 2008 and 2009, and improved with the overall economic outlook, reflecting the fact that companies spend more to make face-to-face meetings happen in times of plenty than they do in times of famine.

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Attendees at the 2014 SPI South Regional Networking Reception.

That’s a shame though, because it’s through face-to-face meetings that good business gets done. A 2013 report by the U.S. Travel Association found that, when asked about the effects of business travel budget cutbacks, only four percent of respondents whose companies reduced business travel spending since 2007 stated that those cutback aided company performance, while 57 percent said that those reductions in business travel hurt their company’s performance. The same report found that business travelers believe 42 percent of their customers would eventually be lost without in-person meetings, and that prospects are nearly twice as likely to become customers with an in-person meeting than without one.

The point is that how far you travel matters less than the fact that you traveled, and that’s as true for visits to existing customers as it is to visits of prospects and even fellow industry colleagues. The face-to-face meeting is still the best way to connect with other professionals in business, whether the aim is developing a new lead, a new resource, a new supplier or simply a new contact with whom to trade ideas and strategies. Events that bring together industry professionals in such a way are like members-only events that everyone’s invited to; everyone who attends has something in common with everyone else in the room, because all of them understand that it’s only through in-person meetings that you can start to build the trust necessary for a lasting, mutually-beneficial  business relationship.

Attendees at an SPI Regional Event.

Attendees at an SPI Regional Event.

The fact that there’s no directly proportional relationship between miles flown and quality of visit means that whenever companies and plastics professionals have a chance to take advantage of an event in their neck of the woods, they should do so whenever the opportunity presents itself. That’s why SPI started hosting smaller meetings for members and plastics companies operating in each of its four regions (West, Midwest, South and Northeast). These programs are designed to make it easier for SPI members to benefit from the kind of quality that only face-to-face meetings can provide, without having to exhaust their travel budgets. And while the guest list at these events might be smaller, the programming that goes along with each of them still delivers a great deal of value, even beyond networking opportunities. Most regional lunches and dinners are hosted at the facilities of SPI member companies and many of them include plant tours, giving attendees the chance to learn more about their industry and the best practices employed by some of the biggest, most innovative names in plastics. Additionally, many regional meetings include a timely industry update from SPI President and CEO Bill Carteaux, as well as the chance to have a direct dialogue with Carteaux and other industry and SPI leaders. They give attendees the chance not just to develop new business relationships and their own professional network, but also to increase their involvement with their trade association: SPI listens intently to its members and it’s often through conversations at these regional programs where the organization acquires the vital insight it requires to drive its grassroots outreach and advocacy programs. As much as these programs offer attendees a chance to change their professional lives, they also offer them the chance to change the face of their industry by making their voice heard and empowering SPI’s efforts to support and promote the U.S. plastics industry.

The point is, even when the recession gave cash-strapped companies a reason to cut back on business travel, this strategy is pennywise and pound-foolish. This is even more the case now that the recession has ended and the U.S. plastics industry is thriving, not to mention the fact that SPI’s regional events make it possible for professionals to get big benefits right in their backyards. To learn more about SPI’s Fall slate of regional programming, click here.

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