Big Idea of the Month: Adapt by Developing New Ways of Communication
Ron Davis reflects on his 2020, including the lack of travel, how he has been communicating with peers and customers, and more.
Surprise! This month’s subject is me, reflecting on a number of things, and winding up with my thoughts on what’s going to be changing in the industry in the near future. First, a little background.
You’ll notice the photo shows a large number of nametags, all with my name on them, all hanging on a hook or the doorknob on the closet door in my office. I was looking at them a few days ago and started reflecting on all of the places that I have been.
I started doing this a few years back, and just fell into the habit of throwing my nametag on the hook every time I returned from a trip. Those nametags, probably a few hundred, are all real, all earned and probably cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe more.
See, as I reflected on these, I started thinking about all the trips I’ve made, the flights I took and, well, you know the rest … hotels, meals, cabs, rental cars, etc. Then it occurred to me — by the time you read this, I will have stayed in town for the entire year of 2020. No trips. No planes. No expenses, and, most importantly, no income.
That last part is pretty significant because this last year has been particularly tough. We’re business brokers specializing only in the security and alarm industries and for the first six months of 2020, we did very few deals. I’ll be more specific, we only did one transaction during that period of time. And for the first time in 20 years, I really started to wonder about the future.
In the middle of my reminiscing, I realized that there were millions of other people, just like me, who were not traveling, not staying in hotels, not eating meals on the road, thus depriving a significant segment of our society the revenue it needs to survive and prosper.
I didn’t dwell too long on that, because there was nothing I could do to change those circumstances. So instead, my colleagues and I went to work using the only tools we had … telephones, Zoom calls, emails and, occasionally, sending out packages containing my book, “The Start of the Deal.”
And by late spring, we started making significant progress, and the short version of this story is it looks 2020 will be one of our best, ever. And of the five people associated with my firm, not one of us has had any traveling.
Yes, I’ve done some seminars, all by video conference. Yes, I continued my speeches, all by video conference. And yes, at a time when we needed it, we pretty much zeroed out the T&E expense line on our financial statements. The other side of that coin is more disturbing, a loss of income for the entire traveling industry. And as of this writing it doesn’t look like the economy is going to change very drastically until at least six months into 2021, and then what?
I predict that little by little, tradeshows will start again, business trips will be taken, but my guess is that at least 50% of the business travel industry is gone and never to return. And that means that dealers, installers, salespeople and service people will all have to get their messages out another way.
And here’s the takeaway: the companies that figure out how to communicate with all of their customers, potential customers, employees, suppliers, etc. are the companies that are going to be prepared for success.
And other changes for me too. I’ve spent the better part of 50 years traveling, building up a world-class collection of Hartman belting leather luggage and other travel pieces. What happens to those prized possessions? And I built up a huge collection of coffee mugs from dealers that I have visited over the years. Are those days over?
Every time we complete a transaction, we host a celebration between our clients and the buyers. Are those dinners gone forever? And for more than 50 years I’ve been schlepping down to O’Hare Airport to catch a flight, sometimes four or five times a week. Are those flights all gone, also?
No, they are not gone forever. Even as I write this, people are starting to travel again. In our country’s history when the steam locomotive and Model T automobile started displacing all other forms of travel, suddenly, the buggy whip was no longer important.
Having a barn for the horses was replaced by having a garage for the cars. And of course, the Republic survived all of these traumatic events and went on to become what we were until COVID came upon us. And I think time will prove that this was as serious and traumatic as anything in our history.
Just like we look back on the depression and the world wars as something that happened long ago, 20 years from now people will look back on this period of time as one of the most challenging periods our country has ever had to withstand. And as we have proved time and time again, we will be back, stronger, more vibrant and certainly there will still be a place in our society for somebody like me, a traveling man.
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