With dozens of communication methods at your fingertips—from e-mail to teleconferencing to Web chats—it's easier than ever to stay connected with clients, wherever they may be located. With the convenience, however, comes to the temptation to forget about old fashioned face-to-face interaction. Successfully entertaining an out-of-town client, both in the boardroom and after hours, may be the key to separating yourself from the competition.
"You have three to seven seconds to make a first impression and to make your customer feel valued," says Ellen Reddick, a Salt Lake City-based business consultant specializing in business etiquette and protocol. "We often forget the power of a handshake. Once you touch someone, you create a bond that people don't forget."
Building rapport with an out-of-town client, however, begins long before the in-person encounter. As the host of any business trip, etiquette dictates that you initiate all travel arrangements, hotel accommodations and entertainment opportunities. And that doesn't mean just transferring the client to your assistant to handle the details.
"You want to be gracious enough to do that yourself," Reddick says. "By not putting [these] tasks off to other people, you're letting the person know that you're interested in them coming and in their wants and needs, and that you really want to make them comfortable."
The planning stage of a trip allows you the opportunity to not only show that you are mindful of the client's preferences, but is also a great chance to get to know them on a more personal level.
To make it personal, ask questions before your guest arrives. For example: Does the client prefer accommodations in the heart of the city or is he more interested in access to outdoor activities? Is he hoping to simply relax or looking for a high-end fitness center? Would he rather spend an evening at the Gallery Stroll or at a Real Salt Lake Match?
Taking the extra time to find a location and accommodation that meet the individual needs of your client not only makes the trip more appealing from his perspective--let’s face it, spending time on the road can be a real chore--but it also reflects how you do business. Thoughtful, personalized attention can be a real selling point in any industry.
It's difficult to discuss such a custom-built excursion without thinking about how much it is going to cost. Reddick says that though the host handles the planning and serves as the local expert, he doesn't necessarily have to front the entire bill.
"You have to decide among yourselves who is going to pay for what," Reddick says. "It is okay to require visitors to pay their own way, as long you tell them in advance what you they can expect." By giving your client very specific details regarding what will be provided--whether it's airfare and lodging or just a continental breakfast, an evening meal, or an afternoon at Lagoon--the client has the ability to use your suggestions to make arrangements that meet his budget.
The pre-trip thoughtfulness needs to continue for the duration of the visit. This can be a real challenge for busy executives who are used to being pulled in all directions by calls, employees or daily emergencies.
“The biggest [hosting mistake] is letting technology override the personal interaction,” Reddick says. “If you're with someone for the day and that's all the time you have with them, don't let your general office technology interrupt. Put it down, leave it alone, don't touch it.”
Instead, let your guest know that he has your undivided attention. Make yourself personally available to greet him at the airport. Once in the office, widen his circle of comfort with the company by introducing him to everyone he passes, from the office assistant to the CEO. It is equally important that everyone in the office be prepared to offer this same courtesy, greeting the guest by name and with a smile.
Outside of the Office
Though you will want to the clients to interact with each of the key players within your organization, that doesn’t have to happen within the walls of your office.
“If I was hosting someone who had never been to Utah before, I would want them to feel the breadth and depth of the beauty of our city,” Reddick says. “I wouldn’t lock up them up in a conference room; I would pick a location where they would feel that there was an extra value added to their trip.”
Renting a conference room at a resort in Park City, for example, allows you to have uninterrupted work time with the additional benefit of a wide range of day time or evening activities unique to Utah.
Though you will want to allow your client to have plenty to do and see, it’s important not to overbook the agenda. “It's really nice to have some air and some relaxed time,” Reddick advises. She recommends building free time into the schedule and letting the client know there is free time to spend some time exploring.
A Client for Life
No matter how you build the itinerary, it is crucial to keep the most important goals in mind. Deals can be made and contracts signed from any location. Focus on the areas that require face-to-face interaction and build relationships that will sustain long distances partnerships.
“So often, all we do is put someone through our processes. We don't stop and appreciate them and enjoy the experience with them,” Reddick explains. “If you are adaptable enough to find out more about them, [the client will think of you] as someone who went the extra mile. They will know that you will do the same in every other circumstance—if they have an issue or concern, you will put forth the effort for them. That is what differentiates you from everyone else in the market place.”
Places to Entertain Your Client
Real Salt Lake
Salt Lake Bees
Miller Motorsports Park
Rocky Mountain Raceway
The Residences at The Chateaux
Huka Bar & Grill
The New Yorker
The Red Iguana
Eggs in the City