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Clients seem to like Webcam video conferences, with on-line document sharing, better than traditional on-site meetings

A while back I started doing video conferencing with tech-savvy clients, and I’ve noticed that they like it a lot better than on-site meetings.

We’ll do Webcam video conferencing — on short notice, for two minutes or two hours, with no travel time — using free video services from Skype or MSN Messenger or Google or Yahoo.

Simultaneously, we’ll do browser-based screen-sharing using Citrix’s GoToMeeting service, so that the client and I can collaborate on document review and markup in real time. (I pay a flat rate per month for the service as part of my overhead and don’t bill clients for its use.)

Clients prefer this approach because:

  • We can do impromptu face-to-face meetings at a moment’s notice.
  • I can show the client whatever is on my screen, and vice versa, for easy document review and discussion.
  • The clients don’t get billed for my travel time, because there is none.
  • There’s no need for a meeting room, nor for a video projector for the computer, nor for coffee, food, etc.
  • Being able to see each other makes the video conference more like an in-person meeting, from the perspective of getting to know the client better and cultivating the personal relationship.
  • If the client needs to interrupt (or reschedule) the meeting to deal with another matter, we simply adjourn. The client and I can resume the meeting later, without my cooling my heels in their meeting room, and without scheduling another on-site trip.
  • For document review, we’ve found that it’s almost never necessary for the client to show me an actual hard-copy document, or vice versa; emailing or IM-ing a Word document or a scanned PDF seems to work fine for most situations. (We’ve used file encryption when security was a particular concern.)

I like video conferencing because I don’t have to spend unproductive time in the car, but instead can work on other matters right up to the time of a video conference, and then again as soon as the conference is over.

EXAMPLE: This past Thursday afternoon, the CEO of a software-company client IM’d me to ask if I was free to go over a draft contract with him. Roughly one minute later, we were doing a Webcam video conference, with both of us also looking at the contract on my computer screen.

The client watched me redline the contract on my machine in real time as we talked. A couple of times, I gave him control of my keyboard so that he could type out, on my computer, exactly what he had in mind. As soon as we finished, I emailed him the redline, which of course he had already reviewed in detail with me.

The client has said that he very much likes the speed and immediacy of this approach. He says it requires fewer turns than doing a series of phone conferences and emailing redlined drafts back and forth.

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I’m sure there are situations where an actual, physical presence would work best.

For day-to-day routine business, however, my clients seem to like Webcam video conferencing better.

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