In the Northeast, the season for playing golf with clients is winding down, but Fall is the kickoff for sports -- and an upswing in client entertainment. Sports and client entertainment seem made for each other. But, with the economy still in flux and with many businesses carefully watching their bottom-line, should we also be looking at the intended purpose for client entertainment?
Essentially, the ROI on client entertainment is not easy to measure. And in the new economy, lavish business entertaining may be considered out of line. But, showing clients you do appreciate their business builds good rapport and allows you to get to know them better. I like to bring my wife when I entertain, and encourage clients to bring a guest, too. I've had clients who asked if they could bring their kids. Why not? Once, a client from Dayton asked if he could bring his son along to a sports event. Talking with his son was not only a pleasure, it added a whole new dimension to our relationship that went beyond the day-to-day way we interacted as business associates.
Bringing along employees who support the sales team also has benefits that you can't put a dollar sign on. The support team can personalize, and often cement a business relationship in ways that are invaluable. I overheard an employee from the HR department casually talking with a client at a CAVS game. She uncovered a work-related problem that was nagging the client, and she suggested an easy fix. The client thought the idea was great. The employee felt her input was valuable, so she was happy. Obviously, the client was happy. Stuff like this doesn't make the bottom-line shine, but it goes a long way to building better business relationships with clients and employees!
Of course, business entertaining can go beyond sports events. Dinner and the theater is a time-honored tradition. Some of my business associates prefer to be low-key and privately entertain at home. While preparing this post, I read a story in The New York Times about sweat equity entertaining, where young execs take clients to the gym. I'm not sure if that's going to become part of my entertaining repertoire, but if it works for you, then it works.
ONE LAST THING...
The advantages of client entertaining will always be immeasurable. Good work will always surpass a good game. That said, I do believe that client entertainment is part of building relationships, whether it's a sports event or a backyard picnic. Keep in mind, it's not the event; it's the intent.