By Mark Swartz
Business development is a sales role that relies on building relationship with clients. Respecting the buyer’s needs can lead to purchases that generate commissions.
Showing clients a good time may be part of this role. Entertain them every so often and create stronger bonds, so the thinking goes. Blend business with pleasure thoughtfully and appropriately for maximum impact.
The Benefits of Entertaining
Taking buyers out to have fun has a number of purposes. Both sides know the objective is to create or increase sales. Yet little actual selling normally gets done when wining and dining a client.
Instead the goal is to create a friendlier, less formal environment where the buyer feels appreciated. It lets them get to know the seller based on creating goodwill and trust.
When out for dinner, drinks, a show or ballgame, both buyer and seller can start to relax. They get to know each other without the hindrance of high-pressure sales tactics.
Client Hosting Basics
Business developers who take their clients out are essentially hosts. And the best hosts plan their events with the guests’ needs in mind.
When preparing for an after-work or midday event, first learn about the client’s tastes. Do they prefer fancy dinners to seeing a show? Should alcohol be avoided or should it flow freely?
Beyond the standard feasting and imbibing lies an array of possibilities. Theatre, sports, and other live performances abound. Then there are customized activities focused on team building (e.g. survival games, scavenger hunts, etc.). To keep the energy from flagging change things up or give away some swag.
Prepare For Contingencies
Even the best-laid plans can go astray. One aspect of entertaining is to anticipate worst cases and cover them off in advance.
What if the client overindulges in food or alcohol? They’ll need a ride home, possible accompaniment to ensure they’re all right, and a lift back to their vehicle later. It might be better to have them picked up in the first place. That also eliminates them having trouble finding the meeting spot.
Have a backup activity ready as well. If the show is cancelled or food is lousy a quick transition to something else reduces awkwardness. It could also prevent becoming a sales casualty.
Activities to Avoid
If trying to encourage conversation, don't go somewhere the noise is too loud or where packed in like sardines. Shouting at each other or being overheard is hardly conducive to discussions
If this is a first outing try not to put excess pressure on interacting with each other immediately. Forcing casualness can come off as artificial and make the client more guarded, not less.
Stay away from controversial events if there’s a risk of offending someone. And watch for outdated assumptions. Going to have beers and watch exotic dancers was a time-honoured tradition with male buyers. That may still have appeal for some. But make sure that stereotyping doesn’t lead to wrong choices, whether it’s that male buyers will only love masculine doings or that women will skew toward more feminine pursuits.
Business before Pleasure
Not sure where commerce ends and fun takes precedence? Err on the side of caution. A night of carousing or oversharing of personal information may seem like a great idea at the time. Next day might be a different story.
Respect boundaries at all times. Professionalism before partying is the guiding motto. Casual settings can lead to a false sense of familiarity. Business developers must remember they always represent their employer and the products or services they are selling.
Eventually taking clients out can get to be a chore, especially for an introvert in sales. Get used to keeping it light and responsible for all as a means of building business.