When it comes to selling, it’s all about the friendships.

After an almost four-year hiatus from selling PCBs, I was surprised to find that most customers that I know have had very few visits from sales people since I left the industry—if any at all. What a mistake. Yes, e-mail, texting, and social networking has a place in today’s marketplace, but nothing beats the personal touch when it comes to winning and retaining customers and, likewise for buyers, to hold on to good vendors.

As I enter my silver years of being in sales (aka graying hair), I do remember the advent of the fax machine and the use of an American-made cell phone. Both were great new sales tools that enhanced communication between customer and vendor. But today’s digital technology tempts many sales people and buyers to rely on the impersonal world of the “Internet of Things” to make meaningful connections.

Do banner ads and Pay-Per-Clicks, that have become so common place, really compel a customer to buy a custom, quality made printed circuit board?

Does responding to a Request-For-Quote via some sort of cold, on-line business portal compel a manufacturer to bust their butt to give the greatest service and quality for the price quoted?

The digital world does provide additional valuable ways for prospects and vendors to interact in real-time, but it also threatens the personal touch when immediate assistance from both sides is required to get the project at hand completed.

Yes, I know that if you or your company is not active on social media it may seem like you are behind the times. However, the more things change, the more things stay the same meaning your company’s greatest asset is you.

Whether it is a down and dirty single-sided or a costly rigid-flex PCB, selling and buying decisions are based on personal relationships because each party not only likes the other but, more importantly trust each other. Become that friend because customers want to buy from friends and those same friends want their customers to succeed.

Buyers welcome a visit from me because I am a friend. And like most relationships, friends will take calls from friends most anytime of the day and even on the weekend. Meanwhile, the competition will still be tapping away on their keyboards, wondering why they get can’t prospects to respond to their form emails or LinkedIn requests.

Don’t get me wrong, social media offers some real advantages to those who use it effectively. But you will never replace the real human engagement required to close the deal with apps, texts, or tweets.

So, what does one do in this digital world? Heck, I have almost 3000 connections on LinkedIn and it has been an invaluable tool for me to hone my prospecting skills and maintain contact with past, present, and future friends. Yes, use social media to facilitate your prospecting of new customers or vendors, but don’t rely on it to make a transaction. It is there for research, identifying who are the right contacts, using your contacts to facilitate an introduction and positioning yourself as an expert (blogging).

Then it’s time for the salesperson to close the laptop and make a personal and meaningful connection instead. Pick up the phone and call people. Get in a car, catch a plane, and get in front of the customer—the person who makes the decisions. Shake their hand and have that face-to-face conversation, genuinely get to know them, and take them to lunch. You will learn more about the customer’s needs and how to serve them better ie: more business awarded.

Likewise, the buyer needs to drop the digital connection and encourage vendors to visit. To spend time with that sales person, get to know them, understand what they truly have to offer. Company owners should encourage their buyers to personally know their vendors because when there is a problem that personal relationship may just help solve an issue or achieve better service ie: more value for the money spent.

Unfortunately, not everyone is cut out for human interaction as much as they would hope. The new digital world has led to the rise of those who feel they can hide behind the computer screen because they are better adept (re: comfortable) on the keyboard then meeting people in-person. I do sincerely believe one’s personality and the amount of confidence they exude is part of success in business. Don’t despair, while these traits seem to come naturally to others, they can be learned. Read some books, attend a Dale Carnegie course, and get a mentor in your field as it will make you better in your career either on the supply or buy side.

Yes, it’s important to have a digital presence. Your company should definitely want to leverage social media and explore the plethora of technology tools available to streamline the sales or buying process. And while there are hundreds of great tech tools that help salespeople and buyer to interact more efficiently, it is that personal touch that will close the deal successfully for both sides. But don’t be duped into thinking any of this digital technology will give you a predictable, guaranteed edge, because your competitors are using the same tools.

The important thing to remember is that it is people, not technology, that seals the deal. People would rather want to deal with a friend when things are good and, more importantly, rely on them when things are not-so-good. How many true business friends do you have?