In today's hyper-connected world, technology has become an indispensable part of our lives.

We use our smartphones to set alarms, call, text messages, e-mail, surf the Internet and download productivity applications and games.

The personal touch is fast becoming endangered at work.

However, technology should rightfully complement our networking efforts, not eradicate it.

The personal touch plays an important role in business communication and customer service, particularly in the sales process.

A customer can purchase a company’s product via the phone, e-mail or online. However, if the business owner pays visits to his client’s office, he will build rapport and confidence, thus ensuring customer loyalty.

The same goes for networking — whether you are in it for business dealings, industry knowledge, career advancement or expanding your clientele.

A face to the name

“Engagement” has entered the current list of business buzzwords, thanks to the burgeoning social media scene.

Networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn efficiently connect people at different levels.

But is there genuine engagement?

Is the correspondence in business e-mail aimed at harvesting “likes” for one’s business page or creating real value for customers?

Mr S.C. Tan, a small business owner for more than 20 years, confesses that he surfs the Net and communicates using e-mail, but prefers to meet his clients and suppliers in person.

He loathes receiving e-mail messages that sign off with a company name as he is more inclined to respond if the sender identifies himself. 

In his book, Opening Closed Doors, marketing and sales expert C. Richard Weylman says that “one of the most effective ways to become well-known and achieve high visibility is to meet your prospects face-to-face at their clubs, association meetings and social functions”.

Front-line work, not back-end

I have talked to business owners who find networking “a waste of their time and skills”.

They send their junior associates, often inexperienced and untrained in networking, to represent the company at trade fairs and business conferences.

This is a classic example of putting the cart before the ox.

Since visibility can lead you to credibility and, ultimately, profitability, it pays for you to be in direct contact with people. This is one aspect of your business-building that you cannot afford to outsource.

If you shun meet-and-greets, your business cannot develop beyond what is already written on your web profile. Your career success will plateau.

In his book, Dr Ivan Misner writes: “Networking is a contact sport! If you don’t develop effective relationships, you can’t possibly create a powerful, diverse, reliable network of contacts.”

Indeed, face-to-face interactions with business associates and clients communicate trust, warmth, sincerity and credibility.

An e-mail message cannot replace a warm handshake or a friendly face. Hardly anyone has networked via a remote control with any success.

Whether you network formally in organised groups or informally at parent-teacher meetings and casual get-togethers, the fact remains that as part of the networking process, you need to be present to build on those relationships, both old and new ones.

You have to show up, chat up strangers and follow up after the event.

Whether you retail a product or provide a service, you are in fact in sales.

You are selling yourself all the time. Your demeanour, character and value system are apparent to others who are observing you in the same room.

Timeless appeal

When two companies plan a merger, the chief executive officers may have communicated electronically but they will still meet up for negotiations and signing of the agreement.

In diplomatic relations, ministers visit their counterparts in other countries to build goodwill, and then attend summits and conferences to discuss strategic collaborations for trade and commerce.

It is difficult to imagine peace talks between Israel, Palestine and the United States being conducted through teleconferencing. Instead, the country leaders fly to Camp David for a retreat.

Networking with people, not unlike computer networking, is part and parcel of our lives.

It has served us well in the past and will continue to do so in the future. It is here to stay, so let us maximise its potential.

Article by Mervin Yeo, who trains, coaches and consults with business professionals and organisations on purposeful networking and strategic referral marketing. He is a contributing author in Masters Of Networking, and recently published an e-book, Purposeful Networking For Introverts. For details, visit http://mervinyeo.com