Whether you want to say thank you for the work, warm up a potential lead or simply keep an existing relationship ticking along nicely, everyone needs to make their clients feel appreciated from time to time. However in the absence of unlimited expense accounts, it is worth thinking carefully about your corporate entertaining plans to make sure they work hard for you.
In previous lives, Beth and I have been invited to and hosted a range of client events; some were fabulous, some were excruciating. On the fabulous list we would include a tutored gin-tasting followed by dinner at an exclusive venue, horse-riding on a west coast beach and a behind scenes tour of a very stately home. On the excruciating list (and this is longer), who could forget the heavy-weight opera punctuated by the host’s loud snores, the private dinner where two guests nearly came to political blows, the day at Silverstone when a highly competitive bookseller came 4th and disappeared into a reverberating silence or the weeping woman who refused to come out from under the table. As for the inappropriate propositioning, let’s not even go there (you all know who you are Mr Camel Coat, Lord Hyphen-Hyphen et al).
These experiences certainly informed the way we wanted to shape Gliterary Lunches. In the ten years we have been running these events, we have facilitated client entertainment for hundreds of companies who have hosted tables or booked private events. We have learned a lot so here are our top tips for making sure your client entertainment goes smoothly and really helps you nurture long-lasting relationships.
Budget – What is that client worth to you? Does one size fit all? If you think of entertaining as an investment rather than an expense, you can work out what a sensible budget is for each type of client. Cost it out properly, don’t forget those incidental costs such as the bar bill or taxis as these sneak up on you and suddenly you are overspent.
Timings –There are rarely enough hours in the day for us working women so think about when and for how long your clients might like to be with you. Do they want to give up an evening or weekend or should it be during the day? Women are far more likely to have adjusted their working life to fit around family commitments so they might not work a full week or might have to leave sharp for a school pick up.
Dynamics – Think about the group dynamics. How big do you want the group to be – small enough to make sure you talk to your guests properly, big enough to be jolly. Is there something that guests might have in common? Could you add value by teaming up with an associate to share the hosting?
Memorable Shared Experiences – Your shared experience will bind you and your client closer. Enjoying something together that is unique and memorable, such as a live event, could be the start of (or cement) a beautiful relationship! It will certainly give you something to talk about on the day and afterwards.
Tone – Make sure you pick something that reflects you and your organisation – that also puts your guest at ease. You want to show them that they matter to you so think about what they would enjoy.
Alcohol – The stories we could tell…..Simply speaking be generous enough to give people a good time but don’t get everyone so smashed that to meet again would be mortifying – for you or them! Remember to cater for the non-drinkers with the same panache.
Make it Personal – Showing someone you care is all about getting the detail right. Find out in advance if they have any special dietary requirements (for health or religious reasons), find out if they need to leave by a certain time and whether you should book them a taxi, swop mobile numbers so that you can get in touch if there is a hitch on the day. If you are doing place cards, triple check the spelling of their name and organisation.
Avoid No-Shows – Drop a line to your guests a couple of days before saying how much you are looking forward to seeing them. Recap on the details like the venue, start and finish times, where you are meeting if the venue is busy or if you haven’t met before. Give them your mobile again for any last minute calls. Have a couple of people on stand-by ready to step in if someone has to cancel at short notice.
Arrive First – Make your guests welcome by being there when they arrive. This is supposed to be all about them so don’t leave them to wander round the venue looking lost and anxious while you send one more email.
Follow Up – Keep the dialogue going. Don’t forget to write to your guests to say thank you for coming.