When the Going Gets Tough. The Tough Visit Their Customers.
You come to the office and there it is waiting in your Inbox. The familiar message from senior management announcing that once again, all “non essential” travel is on hold for the rest of the quarter and probably until the end of the year.
Oh well, there go the workshops, product launch tours, trade shows, training events, customer visits, etc … As if most of us were doing business travel because it was “non essential” or just for fun. The numbers aren’t coming in as expected so we need to buttress the bottom line by cutting expenses. Travel is usually the first casualty to get cut. Next come Marketing budgets and if that isn’t enough, there is always a round of layoffs for non-revenue generating positions. Sound familiar?
The trouble with these corporate travel bans is that they are very short term focused and possibly do more harm than good. How? Let me count the ways:
- They interrupt strategic initiatives, which either get delayed or cut back.
- They are usually uniformly applied across an organization, which unfairly penalizes healthy and growing businesses/segments.
- They turn senior management into a travel authorization police force responsible for review and approving every individual travel request during a freeze. Just how effective is it to have a Sr. VP approve individual travel requests?
- They force travel to happen faster and sooner before the next anticipated freeze kicks in. As a consequence, they also force many of the Marketing activities to happen earlier in the fiscal year creating an imbalance in the project load.
- They create additional costs. Obviously, travel still needs to happen for business to continue and policy exceptions need to be allowed. But during a freeze the increased scrutiny has a way of delaying ticket purchases, which often results in last minute travel premiums. On several occasions I have had to buy last minute tickets which were up to three times the normal price had I been able to book earlier as planned.
- They demoralize the troops. Travel and customer interactions are the lifeblood of a healthy business. World-class organizations cannot achieve world-class results by keeping people in the office.
So what is a company to do? There are various schools of thought but my favorite is one I heard recently from a highly successful international MedTech firm. When sales are below plan, they tell everybody in Sales and Marketing to actually hit the road. Hard.
This may sound counterintuitive but in essence what they are saying is “Get closer to your customers. Close more business. Discover new opportunities. Get fresh product/service ideas. Identify unmet needs. Pre-empt the competition. Make stuff happen.” I like this approach because it is a more active response to the market conditions (vs. more passive travel ban) and it focuses people and efforts directly on the customer at a time when others in the same industry may be pulling back. Hence the travel ROI may in fact be HIGHER during difficult times and especially when competitors are spending time updating their LinkedIn profiles from their office desk.
What’s your experience been with corporate travel bans and freezes? Leave a comment!
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