Since COVID, coworkers and clients have been reduced to tiny moving Zoom portraits, reminiscent of Harry Potter (though with more PowerPoint and fewer potions). Therefore, I was so thrilled when nearly everyone at Blue Seedling united in Tel Aviv for my first offsite since joining the company. While it’s so easy to lean on virtual gatherings these days, the offsite confirmed once again that in-person still provides a certain je ne sais quoi. Using in-person interactions strategically can be a great tool to build relationships, increase productivity, and bolster engagement. In this post, I’ll share tips for using your next offsite to strengthen your team — and enhance your customer relationships, as well.
You can only learn so much about someone through a screen
Virtual meetings tend to feel more impersonal, and part of the challenge is the limited context they provide. We lose the ability to truly read body language, exchange glances with a specific person or have a small moment of camaraderie when we loan someone a pen. Blurred backgrounds make us even more homogenous—we can’t even get context from family photos or posters on someone’s wall. During my time in Tel Aviv, I’d arranged to meet someone from the Tel Aviv tech space for coffee. My previous interactions with her were only a few brusque emails, and I was unsure what to expect. But once we were face-to-face talking shop over lattes, I was able to separate her email style from the rest of her— a warm, funny person who loves analytics and wanted to connect and explore partnerships with someone else in her space. Now her emails don’t phase me because I understand it’s a communication style, and I know the intention of the person behind the keyboard.
Takeaway: While it may be tempting to book virtual demos or working sessions to save on travel and entertainment, make a plan to visit top prospects and customers. It’s the shared laugh as people wrestle the projector into submission, sharing a coffee break, or even just seeing more than your head and shoulders, that can transform your team from just another company trying to make money from their company, to a group of fellow humans who are on their same team.
Use business reviews as an excuse to check in in-person
During the offsite, we organized visits with our local clients. We structured our time to discuss the current business, review the product roadmap, and plan out how we could best support them moving forward. With a set intention and goals in common, we made huge strides in outlining processes and strategies for the coming year. Being in-person helped us stick to the task at hand and encouraged being present; no one could secretly check emails or Instagram on another screen.
Takeaway: Formal feedback sessions and QBRs are a great excuse to visit clients instead of random “Hey, I’m going to be in town and just wanted to see if you could meet” emails. First, it forces you to get feedback. It’s all too common—especially for high growth-mode startups who are tapped out of resources— to not check in on relationships until they are on the verge of breaking. Second, meeting on a regular basis encourages proactive strategy for growing startups, and gives both sides a common goal: make the product/relationship better than ever.
Smaller events can have a larger impact
One of our group activities was hosting an intimate happy hour for our local clients and network. Besides the bonding that happened after a few Playbooks (the name of one of the custom cocktails created for the event), we got to show our clients off to each other, and our clients got to swap stories and best practices with Blue Seedling members outside of their usual working team.
Takeaway: It’s easy to forget that customers and prospects only interact with a fraction of your team, get newsletters only from the CEO, or sporadically see a webinar with someone in Product. Tech startups often feel the need to invest in larger PR initiatives like conferences that sometimes end up feeling impersonal and overwhelming. Instead, set up smaller, local events in key markets. You can leverage more of your existing expertise, accrue social proof as customers and prospects mingle, and enable more meaningful conversation than at a booth in the corner of a frantic convention center.
The bottom line: A shared experience is better than swag
While I never say no to a logo puffer vest or a coffee thermos, sharing a memory has lasting, positive effects on relationships. This gained understanding puts people on a level playing field, and encourages giving benefit of the doubt. Being in-person for key meetings and deliverables increases engagement and productivity. And in a saturated startup space, exposing all of your expertise and network is the best social proof for potential and existing customers —proving your company can support them in accomplishing their goals.