~Sally Stalcup, Stalcup Consulting
Could video conferencing / web meetings replace an initial in-person first meeting with consultants and institutional investors? To answer this question, I reached out to some of my industry contacts. The collective, simple answer from the consultants, institutional investors and consultant relations professionals with whom I spoke was “yes… and no.” Let me elaborate.
Yes and No
There are some consultants and institutional investors open to and practicing this approach…however, an on-site due diligence meeting must take place in person, where they can “look them in the eye,” before ever investing with a manager. Then there were those who said “no”; there would be too much that may be missed if the face-to-face interaction did not take place. One consultant stated, “Managers only get one shot to work with [our firm], so they might as well make it the real deal.”
It’s interesting that six of the eight consultants said “yes” to the question, one of the three institutional investors did as well; while zero of the seven Consultant Relations professionals said they are/would do this. Many of the “yes” responses were tied to the fact that the pre-screening and gathering of pertinent data (performance, assets, etc.) on the manager would have already been done and the initial test was passed. Most of the Consultant Relations professionals see how video conferencing is a great way to leverage time and save on resources but still prefer to carry out the initial meeting with a prospect/consultant in person. They believe this is how you build a relationship and create a connection, and ultimately helps to shorten the sales cycle.
Regular use of Video Conferencing
Of those consultants and investors who use videoconferencing on a more regular basis, typically they do so for “update and review” meetings with existing managers. One consultant relations professional shared that his firm has used it when last minute due diligence is required and they are unable to commit their portfolio manager to travel. Another consultant relations professional commented that her firm has great, state-of-the-art equipment but finds that many consultants do not. Thus, it has been most successful for her firm during on-site, update meetings with consultants or investors, where she can use their video equipment to speak with team members who are located in other offices. Another consultant relations professional shared that his firm uses their video conferencing equipment predominantly for internal communication/office-to-office meetings.
As far as using video conferencing for meetings with consultants or institutional investors, they shy away due to historic clumsiness with the equipment, the fear of getting “cut-off” and ruining the meeting, and missing out on the opportunities that occur in person, e.g., chatting while walking to the elevator, etc.
Regarding webinars, some managers are using them with success to reach prospects and consultants. Certain managers use webinars with a very broad audience to showcase, for example, findings from a whitepaper, while others use webinars to walk prospects and consultants through their presentation; however, they only use the tool with those they already have an established dialogue and relationship.
As it’s been said, “you never know unless you ask.” If utilizing video conferencing and/or web meetings is an initiative your firm is considering, ask if your prospects and consultants would be open to it. If its best use is not for an initial meeting, carrying out update reviews and webinars could be ways that it may work well for your firm. Clearly though, engaging in and carrying out face-to-face meetings to forge relationships remains a necessity in our industry.