In an age where the daily pace of technology development outstrips our ability to comprehend it, much less stay current, something new—and yet very old—is emerging as the key factor in technology buying decisions.  

That something is human relationships, and the power of those relationships has been demonstrated in a recent LinkedIn survey from St. Nick Media Services. The survey asked, “How do insurance companies develop a short list of potential technology vendors?”  The most popular answer by far among the 52 respondents was “personal references.”   The survey gets even more interesting when you drill down to the breakout along job title lines. The few C-level executives who responded had only two responses—“personal references” and “industry publications.” Among those who identified as “management,” 40% cited “personal references,” while 25% mentioned “analyst reports.”   It really is rather ironic that in a business devoted to the niceties of cold, hard computing, it is the warm fuzzy relationship that seems to hold so much sway. But is that really surprising?   In my other career as a counselor/therapist, we found out long ago that the best predictor of success for any client looking to solve a problem is not the school of therapy or even the God-given skills of the therapist. Instead it is the strength of the relationship between therapist and client that more often makes for a happy ending.   Another fascinating finding from this survey emerges when one looks at the responses along age lines. Among the four age groups delineated, only 17% of those in the 18-24 range cited “personal references” as a method to filter out the best vendors. Instead, these young workers favor “insurance publications” and “trade shows and conferences” (both 33%).  Once we move into the 25-34 age range, however, “personal references” takes the lead at 37%, and never looks back as the figure rises to 64% (ages 35-54) and 100% (ages 55-plus).   Why are personal relationships seemingly less important for the first group? For one thing, younger workers are bound to have fewer resources for “personal references” by sheer virtue of their young age and relative lack of experience. Then there’s the idea that very young workers may already think they know more than the doddering oldsters who preceded them (if you are a parent, this may ring a bell).   Younger workers may be stronger than they appear on the personal side, however, when you consider that “trade shows and conferences” involve a powerful relational dimension.  Those who attend conference sessions learn from human experts with whom they can interact, and there are plenty of other learners with whom they can discuss important issues. Roaming an exhibit hall floor provides additional opportunities for discussion and learning. All that talking and education, I believe, is the basis for fruitful business and personal relationships.   Thus, this survey confirms the value of personal relationships in the sales cycle, but also underscores the effectiveness of conferences and trade shows as vehicles that enable the forming and/or strengthening of such relationships.   No matter how impersonal our increasingly automated world tries to be, it will always be the personal dimension that holds sway over our decisions—at least as long as human beings are involved.

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