Direct Marketing Article
Facebook...or Face Time?: Why Business
By Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
Take more than texting, friending, and online "connecting," technology has
yielded some great communication tools, but Barefoot Wines founder Michael
Houlihan says they are not relationship builders. Here, he shares seven
reasons why the personal touch will always be more effective than pixels on
It's official: Email, texting, and social media are no longer just helpful
supplemental business tools. They've taken over the whole game. Yes,
technology has made many aspects of modern living more convenient and
"connected," but the pendulum has swung too far. Now, people are reluctant
to do something as simple as picking up the phone, preferring to shoot off
an email instead. And face-to-face meetings-well, they're almost unheard of.
This "technology takeover" is not without consequence, says Michael Houlihan.
Misunderstandings abound. Relationships stagnate. Trust is at an all-time
low. And all of these issues are at least partially due to the fact that
genuine human connections have been replaced by mouse-clicks and keystrokes.
"Social media and technology do have their place, but they are not, and
never will be, a substitute for in-person interaction," confirms Houlihan,
coauthor along with Bonnie Harvey of The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship,
Hustle, and Heart Built a Bestselling Wine (coming in May 2013 from Evolve
Publishing, www.thebarefootspirit.com). "Your physical presence-or at least
the sound of your voice-builds trust you can't even approach with a
keyboard, screen, or profile image."
Having bootstrapped a business from the ground up, Houlihan knows what he's
talking about. He and Harvey are the founders of Barefoot Cellars, the
company that transformed the image of American wine from staid and
unimaginative to fun, lighthearted, and hip. When they started their company
in the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse, they knew almost
nothing about winemaking or the wine business. The Barefoot Spirit tells
their California-style rags-to-riches story in compelling and colorful
fashion, and reveals just what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur.
"I can't tell you how many retailers, suppliers, and potential customers I
visited in person during those early years," Houlihan admits. "What I can
tell you is that I would have never gotten satisfactory results if I had
tried to build those relationships via email and social media. The Barefoot
brand would never have become a national bestseller without meetings, phone
calls, and recurring personal visits that kept relationships all over the
country healthy and up-to-date.
"People don't just buy your product; they buy you," he concludes.
Houlihan worries that young people's dependence on virtual communication has
stunted the social skills they'll need to attract customers. Through no
fault of their own, they have inherited a world that provides a comfortable
firewall insulating them from personal rejection-one in which they simply
don't have to communicate in real time. ("Could you learn to walk if you
were handed a crutch at birth?" he asks.)
Of course, in a global economy, face-to-face meetings are expensive. When
clients, vendors, and even employees are on the other side of the world,
it's not economically feasible to hop on a plane every time a meeting is
needed. In these cases, says Houlihan, Skype is the next best thing to being
"Live video streams allow you to do just about everything short of shaking
hands," he notes. "I have begun to use Skype frequently in my own business
dealings. I love that I can make eye contact with someone who is sitting on
the opposite side of the country. We accomplish so much more when we become
more than ‘just' an email address or a disembodied voice to one another!"
If you make the time necessary for personal meetings-if not in person, then
via Skype or, at the very least, on the phone-Houlihan says others will not
only remember you, but they will appreciate the effort you put forth. Read
on for seven specific advantages of real-time, in-person, face-to-face
The time investment shows you really care. It's a fairly universal truth
that human beings want to be valued and appreciated. Spending time with
someone else, whether that's in person, face-to-face on a computer screen,
or, if all else fails, via a phone call, is one of the best ways to convey
these things. In essence, an investment of time says, "While there are many
other things I could be doing, I'm choosing to spend my time with you.
That's how important I think you are!" Minutes and hours spent with another
person have the power to create a bond that money can't buy.
"When you spend time with others, you find out what you truly have in common
and you have an opportunity to share your opinions," Houlihan explains.
"Plus, visiting someone repeatedly over a period of time can also provide
valuable non-verbal clues to his or her values and concerns. In my own
experience, I have been amazed by how helpful it can be to travel with
someone, whether it's a colleague or client. On any trip there will probably
be instances that cause stress and anxiety, which presents an opportunity
for both of you to see how the other handles a variety of situations and to
learn to work together more effectively."
You're better able to give personalized attention. According to Houlihan,
this is perhaps the biggest key to successful sales and the establishment of
any long-term relationship. Think about it: It's hard to multi-task on
something unrelated when someone is physically planted in front of you,
demanding your attention. Unless you have no problem with blatant rudeness,
you're focusing on the other person, responding not only to what they say,
but also to their mood, movements, and many other non-verbal signals. You
will read these signs and adjust your behavior accordingly.
"Letters on a screen can't compete with the personal touch," Houlihan
assures. "In my experience, when you use someone's name along with eye
contact and an attentive demeanor, they're more likely to be agreeable and
to give you the benefit of the doubt. They know that your time is valuable
and that you chose to give it to them. The next time they see you, they will
be more relaxed and familiar in your company. And the more visits you have,
the more your relationship with that individual strengthens. Trust me,
people want to do business with people they know. You can get to know them
much better offscreen."
You're more effective in general. When you're talking to someone else in
real time, you can make progress in real time and solve problems in real
time. (Believe it or not, lobbing emails back and forth isn't always the
most efficient method!) Thanks to facial expressions, body language, and
tone of voice (see below for more information on each), you'll usually find
out more than just the basics when you have a verbal conversation. In fact,
if you're really observant, you may notice things about the other company or
clients that they themselves aren't even aware of!
"Always meet in person if you can," Houlihan confirms. "When an important
client or critical team member is on the other side of the globe, a
face-to-face meeting once or twice a year can often be a smart investment.
The rest of the time, if your communication is anything beyond a simple FYI,
be sure to Skype or call."
Facial expressions help get your message across... Did you know that the
human face has at least 20 muscles that work in concert to create a myriad
of telling facial expressions? When you put it that way, the process sounds
complex, but amazingly (as you know!) we don't have to consciously think
about forming those expressions at all. This is a powerful argument for
face-to-face meetings, whether they're in person or via Skype.
"Observing those expressions during verbal communication can give you
instant feedback about how your message is being received," Houlihan points
out. "You can quickly adjust your message on the spot to make it more
meaningful or agreeable, and avoid possible misunderstandings. Facial
expressions are also an invaluable way through which to express sincerity,
interest, curiosity, happiness, and more."
...So does your body language... Unlike looking at a posed profile shot or
any still image sent over email, being face-to-face with another person
gives you the opportunity to see the other person's dynamic reaction and
make adjustments to your own message. Real-time body language provides tons
of non-verbal cues that are impossible to convey in a text or email.
"As humans and social animals, we are naturally wired to get this feedback
instantly," Houlihan says. "We're also equipped to share our own feelings
and attitudes through the way we stand, sit, gesture, and more. It's a good
idea to spend a little time learning the basics of body language. For
instance, if you know that hands in one's pockets indicate boredom or
disinterest whereas leaning slightly forward indicates interest, you'll be
able to respond more accurately to others and avoid sending messages you
don't mean to."
...and so does your tonality. It's happened to everyone: You send an email
that's laced with sarcasm or humor...which the recipient totally fails to
pick up on. Oops! Now you're left frantically doing damage control.
According to Houlihan, that's one major reason why texting, emailing, and
friending can be great ways to communicate while failing to succeed at
"When spoken, the same words used in a text or email can have a very
different meaning based on the tone, inflection, and the emphasis that the
speaker gives," he says. "It's much easier to ‘get' intentions behind the
spoken word. And if the other person sounds reluctant, uncomfortable, or
guarded, for instance, you can take advantage of the opportunity to ask why
and discuss ideas that might never have been brought forward over email. So
the next time you find your mouse hovering over the ‘compose' button, think
about reaching for your phone instead."
Your vulnerability shows (and that's a good thing!). In the virtual world,
you can almost totally control the image you show to other people. You
choose the pictures you post on your profile. You censor the information you
do and don't want to share in your messages, posts, and updates. And
usually, you can think about and edit what you want to say before pressing
"send." But in a real-time, face-to-face relationship, the other person can
see you in 3-D and observe your dynamic, spontaneous behavior, including
tone of voice, expression, dress, and body language. The other party sees
your human imperfections and is aware that you are vulnerable to potential
"Imperfections and vulnerability make you appear more believable and
sincere," says Houlihan. "Most people will overlook minor foibles in
appearance and speech because you are literally there for them. It's
special! This can be a big advantage in the long run. And in the short run,
you take precedence over all their virtual relationships."
Despite his belief that people want in-person attention, Houlihan says
Barefoot didn't avoid technology as it developed-far from it. What's
important is to use these tools appropriately and not let them become
"A relationship can start through text, email, or social media; in fact, I
encourage entrepreneurs and other businesspeople to utilize those
resources," he explains. "But in order to be lasting and dependable, a
relationship has to grow in person. Yes, developing your face-to-face social
skills will make you feel vulnerable at times. As is the case with learning
to walk, though, feeling vulnerable is why we get so good at it!
"Like any skill, becoming personable takes practice," he concludes. "A good
way to start is to eliminate virtual communication when in-person
communication is possible or more effective. So shake hands and come out a
winner! Remember, genuine, lasting, and dependable relationships take time
and physical presence. High touch beats high tech every time."
About the Authors:
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, authors of The Barefoot Spirit: How
Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built a Bestselling Wine, started the Barefoot
Wine brand in their laundry room in 1986, made it a nationwide bestseller,
and successfully sold the brand to E&J Gallo in 2005. Starting with
virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative
ideas to overcome obstacles and create new markets.
They were pioneers in what they termed "worthy cause marketing" and
performance-based compensation. They held a comprehensive view of customer
service, resulting in the National Hot Brand Award for outstanding sales
growth in 2003 and 2004.
They now share their experience and innovative approach to business as
consultants, authors, speakers, mentors, and workshop leaders. Their book,
The Barefoot Spirit, chronicles the history and lessons learned building the
popular Barefoot Wine brand.
To learn more, visit