A recent Message from the Mentor readers' poll revealed that the vast majority of our customer engagement is not occurring face to face. Over 40% of respondents indicated that 20% or less of their customer interactions are in person (see complete survey results). It isn't surprising, but it does raise the question: If we aren't engaging our customers in person, how are we engaging them? Consider these tips for meaningful customer engagement from a distance:

Conduct your own customer engagement assessment both in terms of frequency and quality. The key to engaging customers (remotely or in person) is understanding them well enough to recognize their interests, concerns and needs. This insight makes it much easier to find/recognize opportunities (frequency) to engage them with purpose (quality).Does your company provide valuable information to customers in the form of a newsletter, research or articles? Look for opportunities to leverage these corporate efforts with your own personal touch. Forward information to specific customers with a note about the unique relevance to them, or ask for their feedback/input on a particular topic.

Do you know each customer's preferred format for remote communications (phone, email, video conferencing, etc.)? Could you identify those customers who most value face-to-face interaction? Do you fully distinguish between your customers' preferences and your own in customer engagement practices? Do you have a goal for how often you make personal contact with each client?

Invest in the relationship. Cultivate the personal side of the relationship by exploring customers' interests and passions. Make the effort to remember names and events of importance to your clients. Follow up and check in. "How is Susan's ankle healing?" "How did Eric's soccer tournament go last weekend?" "Last time we spoke, you were headed to Cape Cod for a long weekend. How was your trip?" The holiday season is upon us; what a perfect time to engage customers with your own personal touch!

Remote customer engagement is a reality of the current (and future) business environment. Finite resources of time and budget don't allow for unlimited in-person customer engagement. And while the efficiencies of CRMs and technology-driven communications are extremely beneficially, they cannot develop a lasting, meaningful customer relationship. That is the unique function and purpose of sales professionals!