face of business
From networking to
them. It’s hard to convey any emotion in it – unless I pepper
it with emoji or emoticons ;). Plus those rather strange
millennials (a.k.a. young people) existing amongst us think
email is “so last year”. Chat and social media is often where
it’s at with them. They may have a point.
at ease with
Snapshot of a changing world.
The world is changing faster than it ever has. This
extraordinary pace of change is especially evident in the
way we do business.
“People buy from people” is something that is frequently
quoted at me. And yet the evidence is that we’re becoming
increasingly comfortable buying a lot of things from a
faceless online retailer who we never speak to and may not
even be located on the same continent.
As a psychologist,
I have to ask “why?”
Has our diet of Apple, Blackberry, Raspberry or other
selected fruit based technologies changed our business
appetites? Geography has, especially, become less relevant
as we are able to extend our trade networks from Bognor
to Boston and beyond and collaborate with anyone and
everyone in real time.
However, there is one sophisticated piece of technology
that hasn’t been updated recently – and that’s our brains.
Our inner caveman still dictates a lot of our behaviour. That’s
why, despite thousands of technologies out there that
will kill distance, we do often still default to face-to-face
As we virtualise, there is a huge need to understand the
dynamics of collaboration better – especially since this
research suggests that less and less of us are meeting
in person, although we would like to. Email is often the
collaboration tool of choice in the digital space – even
though it is objectively an exceptionally bad collaboration
mechanism. For a start, email collaboration requires me to
know WHO I need to collaborate with before I can contact
When is email appropriate? When is it better to pick up the
phone? Does social networking really work and why is
face-to-face sometimes worth the effort?
All of these questions are things we need to understand,
and quantify, as our digital future beckons.
By understanding how we can collaborate better in both
the real and virtual world, we can move from “networking”
to “net-working” for future business success.
Dr Nicola Millard, Head of Customer Insight & Futures
BT Global Innovation Team.
Technology has been a key enabler in connecting startups
and growing businesses to each other, to suppliers,
and to potential customers in the UK and across the
This report shows entrepreneurs increasingly at ease
in making connections and doing business with people
they haven’t met (whilst still placing a high value on
face-to-face communication). It shows technology
has made the world a smaller and more connected
place, and one that makes the working life of the
self-employed so much easier. For instance, we can
see social media is being embraced for promotion,
cloud computing for key business functions and digital
marketplaces for international trade.
Each day I see modern small businesses growing
through outsourcing, and sub-contracting work to
partners and fellow professionals. They are building
profitable and nimble businesses, and realise the ability
to form and manage partnerships is a key factor in
commercial success. Powerful partnerships equals
profitable business has become a mantra in the world
of small business.
This report makes a significant contribution in
making the case for collaboration, connections and
partnerships. I’m sure it will be embraced and acted
upon by small businesses, from all types of sectors and
various stages of growth.
Emma Jones MBE,
Founder, Enterprise Nation.
When you’re caught in the middle of change, it’s sometimes
hard to understand what impact it’s having on you. But the
more you understand, the better you can adapt. And the
better you can exploit the new opportunities that change
throws your way.
That’s why we’ve commissioned a major new research
project by market research and strategy consultancy
Populus into exactly how our business relationships are
changing. This report is a summary of their findings.
Populus interviewed 1,001 senior
decision makers at businesses
with 0-500 employees. We chose
the interviewees carefully to
represent companies of different sizes
(0-9, 10-99, 100-249 and over 250
The interviews were conducted via an
WHEN: The fieldwork took place between the
5th and 16th of June, 2015.
Collaboration is still the key, but the way we collaborate is changing.
We’ve always placed a high value on business relationships.
We know how critical they can be to our success.
That basic principle hasn’t changed. But what has changed
is the way we collaborate with our partners in business, be
they customers, colleagues or suppliers.
Nowadays the first connection between businesses is often
made virtually, through social media networks. And highly
effective business relationships can be maintained without
anyone ever meeting face-to-face. None of this could
have been possible without the internet, a technological
advance that has had a major impact on the way we work
For all that, we believe that face-to-face communication
remains absolutely invaluable in the world of business.
But technology has the power to bring about exciting new
collaborations, to forge unexpected connections, and to
make great teamwork a possibility for every business, no
matter where the teams are based.
As this report shows, relationships are everything to
businesses. When you collaborate, you can never know
where it will take you. But you can be sure you’ll achieve
more than you could on your own. The challenge –
and the adventure - is to connect with others and see
Business revolves around relationships. People connecting
with people. In the past, these connections have largely
been made face-to-face in real time.
Our research shows that the virtual business relationship is
now becoming increasingly the norm. We believe this will
become even more prevalent in the future, due to the fact
that younger business managers are far more likely to have
customers or clients that they have never met in person
compared to older managers.
What do we mean by a virtual business relationship? It’s
one where two or more people in business interact and deal
with each other mostly, if not exclusively, via technology.
97% of business managers aged 18-34
are more likely to accept contacts they have
never met in person, compared to
72% of managers
aged over 35.
This is a trend that’s set to grow as the next generation of
business managers takes over. These Generation Y business
managers (those born between 1980 and 1992) have
grown up as digital natives. They are more at ease with
forming and maintaining virtual business relationships
using social media and email. In contrast, their older
counterparts place a higher value on the power of
“You may not be checking your emails out of hours, but
with mobile apps and Facebook you are just constantly
connected to the client.”
Nick Telson, DesignMyNight.com
56% of businesses have
clients they’ve only ever
contacted by email.
82% of business managers aged 18-34 are more likely
to have customers or clients they have never met in person,
compared to 60% of managers aged over 35.
42% of businesses
each other by email.
26% of people
use the phone on a
85% have suppliers or clients they haven’t met.
The main reasons they haven’t met a client or supplier.
62% of businesses have clients they’ve never met.
Geographical distance is given as one of the main reasons
for a lack of face-to-face contact. Look at it another way
and you could say that technology is enabling meaningful
and productive relationships to be forged, regardless of the
distances involved. You don’t have to be in the same room
to collaborate with someone any more. You don’t even have
to be on the same continent.
say it’s because they are
based in a different country.
say it’s because they are based
elsewhere in the country.
Even though virtual business relationships are booming,
face-to-face contact still has its place. Many senior
managers continue to value it highly, and say they prefer
it for communicating with both colleagues and people
outside their business.
of managers say they prefer a face-to-face meeting
when they need to communicate with someone outside
their business about a specific project or work situation.
Fewer than 50%
of interactions with
their colleagues is
use face-to-face meetings
as the most common way
There are some things that are best done face-to-face, but
it may not always be possible for business people to meet
in person. As people get more comfortable interacting
virtually, we predict that this will become less of an issue.
Certainly, evidence suggests that the next generation
of business managers will use technology such as video
conferencing as a substitute for face-to-face meetings,
using technology to maintain a personal connection with
their business partners.
We’ve also found that younger managers are already willing
to invest a similar level of trust in remote relationships, as
their older colleagues invest in face-to-face meetings.
compared to 30%
of managers aged
Performing under pressure.
Today’s business environment is highly complex and
demanding, placing incredible pressures on business people
to perform. Somehow we need to find a way to equip
ourselves with a wider set of skills than ever before.
One way of meeting these demands is to embrace
collaboration and partnership as a way of working. Our
research shows people in business are increasingly relying
on partnerships with other businesses to help them meet
this demand. It will be interesting to see whether this trend
continues. Given that younger managers are just as likely
as older managers to believe in the benefits of partnership,
we predict that it will.
81% of businesses say
that to succeed in business
today you need a wider
range of skills than ever
82% of businesses have had to seek
help from another business when
attempting a new or unfamiliar
task at work.
Teams don’t necessarily need to have all the expertise
in-house, provided they know how to access it quickly.
Our research shows that reciprocal arrangements where
knowledge is shared equally can lead to benefits and
opportunities for everyone involved.
By connecting people with people, we can create a free
flow of ideas and more fluid, agile working practices. We
can even beat deadlines by connecting with collaborators
in a different time zone on the other side of the world.
Typically, a business will work
with other companies.
42% of businesses say
they need help from other
businesses to fill skills gaps.
“Phone calls and emails are fantastic for work but you
tend to treat them quite formally…when meeting
face-to-face, you’ll ask that same list of questions but
also build a relationship with that person.”
Adam Sopher, Joe & Seph’s
“Meeting a client face-to-face shows a sense of
commitment from both sides, and adds value to
Mark Spoors, Esportif International
37% of businesses
are working with more
businesses than five
Why businesses agree to partnerships
76% helping them succeed
33% gaining new business
21% extending their
services and capabilities
17% sharing knowledge.
The power of networking.
‘Networking’ used to be just a buzzword. Now it’s the
cornerstone of how we all do business. Companies
use networking to get new business leads, to recruit
colleagues, to source suppliers, to share knowledge and to
influence potential advocates.
of new business leads still
come from existing customers
It’s still true that the majority of new clients and suppliers
are met through existing clients and suppliers. However,
smart businesses actively use networking as a way of
extending their reach and growing their business.
We predict that networking will become more and more
important in the world of business. That’s because a greater
proportion of younger business managers are turning to
networking events to secure new business partnerships.
through mutual friends
A look at LinkedIn.
LinkedIn describes itself as ‘the world's largest professional
network with 300 million members in over 200 countries
and territories around the globe’.
Most senior managers who are on LinkedIn get a lot out
of the site. They see it as a great way to make new and
Any risk involved in accepting and offering invitations to
connect with ‘strangers’ is far outweighed by the perceived
benefit – the chance to grasp a new business opportunity.
Today’s stranger may be tomorrow’s client, or even business
As we’ve seen, this trust in remote relationships is
becoming the new norm. Most senior managers on
LinkedIn are more than happy to accept connection
invitations from people they‘ve had no prior contact with.
A significant proportion claim that connecting on LinkedIn
has already led to new business opportunities.
The way managers use LinkedIn reveals a real generation
gap. The more digitally connected younger business
managers are far more likely to use sites like LinkedIn than
their older peers. We see this as a strong indication of what’s
to come. If the current behaviour of younger business
managers continues into the future, we expect more and
more business relationships to grow online.
73% have accepted a LinkedIn request from someone
they have never met.
54% have accepted a LinkedIn request from someone
they have never had any contact with at all.
39% say it has led to new business opportunities.
of business managers aged 18-
34 meet potential new clients
through networking events,
compared to 29% of
managers aged over 35.
of businesses find
potential new clients
in the virtual space via
online networking sites.
of senior managers are on
Average number of LinkedIn
45% of business managers
aged 18-34 use sites like
LinkedIn, compared to
The reasons people
accept requests from
those they don’t know.
62% say it’s because
they see it as a new business
Networking events are especially
popular with larger companies, as over
of business with more than 50 employees
use networking events to meet potential
clients or suppliers.
of managers aged over 35.
57% say it’s because
they have a shared
70% say it’s because
they work in the same
We predict collaboration will continue to be a big part
of British business in the future. In an increasingly
competitive business environment, having a greater range
of skills is more important than ever. Strong relationships
are crucial. And whether they are forged online or offline,
through existing connections or networking events,
partnerships are as relevant as they have ever been.
In this ever-changing world, technology will continue
to be a key enabler. It’s the glue that binds the business
community together. It has the power to connect people
and projects even beyond national boundaries. It can also
be a way of nurturing and protecting vital relationships.
Whatever else happens in the future, we can safely predict
that we will become ever more reliant on technology as
the medium through which we create and experience our
Case Study: Joe & Seph’s
His dad used to make fantastic flavoured popcorn, and four
years ago Adam Sopher, his mum Jackie and his brother
Paul decided to take a punt and see if the world was ready
for gourmet popcorn. With dad as Head Chef and mum in
charge of packing and logistics, Joe & Seph’s Popcorn was
born. They now produce 40 award winning flavours (they
have 24 Great Taste Awards).
Joe & Seph’s has collaborated with the likes of Laurent
Perrier, who they made a bespoke popcorn flavour
inspired by the LP’s Chelsea Flower Show garden. Their
partnerships are not limited to food and drink companies -
they were recently approached by a Covent Garden clothing
store. Adam probably has one or two partnerships at a
time, around 20 in total since the start of the business.
They’re not all permanent; they usually serve a specific
Adam gets support and advice from an informal network
of other food businesses who are offering similar premium
products, and says “it’s great to bounce ideas off each
other. The food community is small so it’s easy to pick up
the phone and chat to someone”.
But social media also has its place. Adam finds that
LinkedIn is a great tool for finding the right contact within
a company he might want to approach, for example as a
potential stockist. It’s really useful, as category buyers in
the food industry are renowned for moving around a lot.
He also uses Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest for
brand building and “loves pretty much all social media”.
And how is it working with his family? “We all get on really
well”, says Adam, “Of course there are challenging times,
but as we’re family we are able to 100% trust each other
which is so important”.
To find out more about BT Business
please visit bt.com/business