In the olden days they used to say, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
You might argue that with the frenzied growth of networking events – and sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – that’s more true than ever. I happen to disagree – I think we’re in an era where competence and delivering what you promise is vital – but business always has been and always will be built on personal relationships.
So where does that leave corporate hospitality? At a time when you can build a very solid ‘virtual’ relationship with someone, is there any point taking your clients to Wetherby races? Shouldn’t you just re-tweet something useful?
In my PLC days (especially with Diageo) I did my fair share of entertaining and hopefully I learned a few lessons along the way – how to get it right and (once) how to get it spectacularly wrong. So if you have decided to spend a few quid entertaining clients, here are my 10 rules to guarantee success.
- Know what you’re trying to achieve – entertaining, sponsorship and hospitality is no different to any other aspect of business. If you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve you haven’t a hope of achieving it. So are you trying to build relationships, cement relationships, find some new clients, or just say ‘thanks’ to your existing clients?
- Set financial targets – I won’t tell you which company I was working for but we had some strict parameters. If we spent £1,000 on a client then we wanted to see £5,000 back. Some companies go even higher, looking for a 10 or 20-fold return. That may seem excessive, but financial targets keep you focused on the return from an event: otherwise you can end up spending a lot of money and getting back…not much.
- Keep records – these days there are some brilliant CRM (Client Relationship Management) systems, and keeping track of what clients like and don’t like is easy. There are even systems that let you keep track of recent tweets. It’s very easy to assume that everyone likes football, racing or golf and that simply isn’t the case. The spectacular successes I had with corporate hospitality were when I really took the trouble to find out what a client liked and delivered something ‘out of the ordinary.’
- Keep it flexible – and fresh. I’d be against repeating the same event year after year: even the most fanatical golfer eventually gets fed up with playing Fulford. And signing the lease on that ten year box at Elland Road might have been a great idea when they were playing Barcelona. It didn’t look so hot when they started playing Brentford…
- Try new things – in my experience, we got the best response from something a client had always wanted to try but could never quite justify. (Or thought they wouldn’t be able to do.) I’m not suggesting you invite overweight, middle-aged men in suits to go kayaking, but how many of them would love to drive a 4×4 off-road? And don’t forget the theatre or the opera – hospitality doesn’t automatically equal sport.
- These days, knowledge is hospitality – I would absolutely turn down a day at Wetherby races in favour of a client inviting me to a really good workshop on social media. Half a dozen of us there, the undivided attention of a real expert? Yes, please.
- Mix existing and potential clients – your existing clients will always be the best advocates for your business, so it’s a good idea to mix them with potential clients.
- Don’t bring the subs on – if one of your target clients or potential clients can’t make it, don’t be tempted to bring someone in at the last minute. Especially if you don’t know them that well. One event at Diageo was spectacularly ruined by a last minute substitute. He used the day as an excuse to try and drink his way through the entire product range and almost cost us our best client
- No shop talk – if you’re playing golf, you’re playing golf (unless you’re playing with me, in which case you’re looking for the ball). There’s plenty of time to talk business afterwards.
- Say thank you – it may seem bizarre to say ‘thank you’ to someone you’ve just entertained but there’s nothing wrong with a quick note: “Thanks for coming to the golf day. Glad you enjoyed it and terrific shot on the 16th. We’ll chat soon.” Actually, saying ‘thank you’ is one the best – and cheapest – sales techniques there is.
So there you have it. And if anyone’s now thinking, “Blimey, Ed’s a top bloke. How can I say thank you?” the answer’s obvious. Executive box. Wembley, May 2012. Newcastle will be there…