In an age where the impact of Artificial Intelligence, robotics and advancing technology are hotly debated topics, the impact of Face2Face relationships is consistently overlooked. Earlier this week, New Europe sat down with Simon Murphy, Serial Entrepreneur, Investor and Founder of the TFO Group among others. He is the driving force behind the continent’s fastest growing Face2Face Marketing and Customer Acquisition solution providers.

There has been considerable hype about Artificial Intelligence’s potential across a whole range of sectors, is this the case for Sales and Marketing?

Undoubtedly there are some in our sector getting excited about how Artificial Intelligence might revolutionise sales strategies. However, the type of AI I am focusing on for the future is Authentic Intelligence – the realisation that people connect best with people – human interaction is the key to relationship building, hence it is the key to successful customer acquisition. It may sound old-fashioned, but Face2Face’s success has been based entirely on speaking to our customers in person, reading their emotions and responding to their needs. Artificial Intelligence still has a long way to go and I don’t understand the desperation to replicate digitally what humans already do so well and naturally.

What exactly is Face2Face Sales and Marketing and who uses it?

Online is understood by everyone; marketing and advertising which uses the internet to deliver promotional messages and drive sales. Offline…. is everything else! This includes traditional, above the line (tv, newspapers, billboards etc) but also, the more targeted below the line, such as Face2Face. Face2Face interactions can take place at an event, in someone’s home or B2B.

Companies from every sector use Face2Face as part of their overall Sales and Marketing strategy. Sectors like insurance, energy, tech, subscription economy, doorstep delivery and finance all avail of the benefits of Face2Face. Face2Face allows you to educate the customer on the value of your product, tailoring every brand interaction to that unique individual. It’s the one-click of the offline sector – Brand Ambassadors educate the customer on the functionality of the service/ product, impulse based on the value add and onboard the customer – all in one, well managed Face2Face interaction.

What sparked your passion for Sales and Marketing?

During a stint of travelling the world when I was young I began to understand the power people-to-people interactions could have. It may sound like an obvious point, but this was a time when we were moving into a digital communications revolution, with salespeople becoming further removed from their customers. I wanted to create something that on the surface may have looked old-fashioned, but was quite revolutionary, to return the focus to in-person interaction. The concept of Face2Face marketing made commercial sense to me for the brand, the customer and service provider. This was how my Entrepreneurial journey began.

What are the major benefits to a brand of including an element of offline in their Sales/ Acquisition strategy?

Offline can bring you a different cohort of clients by connecting with those customers who may not buy a product or service, for the first time, based on just a digital interaction – this cohort need to be educated on the product or service, be able to ask questions, seek advice, test, touch and feel the product before committing – this is the advantage of Face2Face – each customer interaction is completely bespoke to them. This allows for Face2Face to guarantee an exceptionally high ROI, each brand interaction, whether it results in an immediate sale or encourages the customer onto the first rung of the customer buying cycle, causes a ripple effect that takes place after such a genuine connection.

Looking ahead, where do you see the growth markets?

Today, we have over 40 offices/franchises, with more than 1,000 Brand Ambassadors, and we expect these numbers to continue to grow consistently. The next step in our expansion plan is the further development of the European Market with a view to expanding  into Switzerland and Germany in the next 18 months and North Africa in the mid-term.  At the moment, our activities are focused primarily in the UK, France and the Benelux region. These are nations which have seen some of the most technological advancements in the world and as such, we experience a real appetite for a more human centric approach.

In an age where business is obsessed with technological advancements, why adopt an offline approach?

The case for offline is simple….  if you want to build a relationship with your customers you need to talk to them, Face2Face, one-on-one. Relationships are built on trust, without trust you have no relationship, and without a relationship you can have no expectation of loyalty. What business doesn’t strive for customer loyalty?

Does an offline approach affect your ability to engage on a mass scale?

In 2018 we spoke with over 16 million people on behalf of our clients, that’s over 16 million positive human interactions – each conversation carefully crafted to suit each individual customer. Can you imagine if every digital advertisement or communication you sent needed to be tailored specifically for each individual recipient – the cost and resource required to replicate this level of personalisation doesn’t even bare considering.  So we can deliver the real utopia for any marketer… mass reach coupled with personalisation.

Are you sceptical of the role of tech-based solutions, for Sales and Marketing?

Not at all. I truly believe they can work in harmony and that you can find a perfect synergy with both online and offline. To date, the main industry I have invested in, outside of my core business, has been in the tech industry. I am a genuine advocate of the benefits of digitalisation. Having recently created a technology platform for marketing and sales players in this space, founded multiple App based businesses and online ventures, I believe digital disruption is paramount to future sustainability. For example, Modern Milkman (newcomer in the UK doorstep delivery arena) has revolutionised the user experience for both the dairy farmer and customer via our technological advancements allowing seamless distribution and consumption for all stakeholders.  Yet the actual growth of the business is reliant on the size of our customer base, which has been built primarily through a Face2Face Sales and Marketing strategy – an easy example of technological advancements and Face2Face Sales and Marketing working  symbiotically.

Why do you think more in your sector aren’t looking to adopt a mostly in-person approach?

The most obvious and difficult challenge to overcome is building a high-quality, trustworthy and professional salesforce. This is the bedrock of our Face2Face approach, without which we simply couldn’t have achieved the success we have. Recruiting these people and motivating them to care about their brand is no mean feat and the thought of doing so likely puts most businesses off. This was the reasoning behind my creation of tawkr, Acwyre and Geninc, these brands offer a scalable salesforce, providing thousands of professional Brand Ambassadors, across multiple industries in over 19 cities across Europe.

Can you foresee a world where human beings are no longer involved in the sales process at all?

No. I appreciate that commentators and journalists have devoted miles and miles of column inches to how robots and AI are going to put us all out of a job, but I just don’t see that happening with sales anytime soon. Think about how many times you’ve been misunderstood while talking to someone online. Sarcasm, tone, humour is all too often lost in digital translation. Is a robot or an algorithm going to be able to detect that as well as a person any time soon? I highly doubt it and even if so, the cultural shift, to my mind, is still too great to overcome.

And finally, do you think the emergence of digital alternatives has been a help or hindrance to the world of sales?

I don’t think it neatly fits into either category. Digital solutions absolutely have their place and have in many respects made the work of Brand Ambassadors and salespeople easier. The ability to store and readily access vast amounts of information, for example, is a major benefit for our sector. However, the sense that these can now replace the role of people is, to my mind, misplaced. Digital solutions are best placed as a compliment to people, but they can never really be an effective replacement.

Simon Murphy is the founder and CEO of the TFO Group – parent company of the tawkr, Acwyre and Geninc brands, leaders in the Face2Face Sales and Marketing Industry across Europe. A serial Entrepreneur and Investor he is also the founder of multiple online retail & e-learning businesses, websites and apps including start up’s like BA.Life and Unity Street. Investment highlights include; Ireland fastest growing home monitoring business, HomeSecure  and Modern Milkman, a newcomer in the subscription-based doorstep delivery sector.