Talk to some and it’s the best way to close a deal. Others think it’s a waste of time and money. Where you stand between these two opposing views probably has a lot to do with your own personality.
In general, we humans need to bond prior to engaging in a relationship – business or otherwise. Therefore, client entertainment remains a critical component of today’s corporate sales culture. However, without good guidelines and training, sales personnel could misuse this budget. How many companies actually spend time training sales personnel on what is effective client entertainment? Not many I would gather.
There are three main categories for client or sales entertainment events: “Thank You” or “Celebratory” Event; “Close The Deal” Event; and “Introductory” Event.
“Thank You” or “Celebratory” Entertainment Event — This is the most legitimate use of the client entertainment budget. You’ve accomplished something together. Celebrate. Build on the positive energy.
- The event should be all about the client. Find out what they enjoy. Are they foodies? Avid golfers? Wine connoisseurs?
- Keep business discussion focused on the accomplishment and positive aspects of the business relationship.
- Since you already know the client well, let yourself show through. Having fun is contagious.
Example: When working as the Noetix Managing Director for the EMEA market, I hosted lunches for select customers who renewed our support contracts at the Ritz in West End London. As an added bonus, I was able to get the Vice President of Product Development to visit from the US to answer questions about product strategies. The enticement of dining at the Ritz and giving input to the person in charge of our product attracted valued customers from all over the UK. These events further solidified our long-standing relationships with them as they renewed their contracts and recommitted to us.
“Close the Deal” Entertainment Event — Okay, you’ve had your business meetings. You’ve delivered your proposal. You’ve qualified, qualified, and qualified. Now, you need to ask for the deal. People do buy from People – people whom they trust will solve their need.
- In this scenario, you need some element of control. Think about which environment is the most comfortable for you, as well as for the prospective client. You need to shine during this event to ask for a commitment.
- Write down your goals prior to the event. Stay focused on your business objective. Promise to grade yourself after the meeting on whether you were effective in closing the deal.
- Don’t think it was a successful meeting if you only got a vague answer about the next steps. That means either they are not interested, or you really did a poor job of qualifying prior to the event.
- Timing is key. Make sure to time the ASK appropriately.
Example: During the early days at ARIS, a manager at Airborne called me to tell me that we were shortlisted along with Oracle Consulting Services. I knew our relatively small size would be an issue, and also knew she had been working late on her projects. An impromptu dinner and the next day we got the contract. We connected early in the dinner. Then, I was able to focus on overcoming her last objection concerning our stability as a small business. It was a well-qualified meeting with a clear objective to overcome the last objection.
“Introductory” Entertainment Event – Tried to get a business meeting, but could only entice a lunch meeting. The probability of a return on this investment is low.
- Keep it simple. Lunch is probably the best option.
- Pick a venue that allows for discussions and possible deep dive conversations.
- Use time to gather good “conceptual selling” information.
Example: When I first started selling, I used to invite people to lunch rather than arranging for the “conference room” meetings. I usually felt good after these lunch meetings because people were happy for the free the lunch. But those outings rarely lead to deals. Later, I learned that a good qualifying point was whether someone was willing to meet in a “conference room” and talk business with me.
Think through your client entertainment activities and they can be very an effective sales tool. Qualify, be clear on your objective, and don’t try to be Mr. or Ms. Popular at the risk of not meeting your goals.