When attempting to both recruit and retain clients, you’ll want to connect with them on a personal level. Forming business relationships with them is essential, but meeting with them in a more relaxed setting—like for dinner or drinks—can encourage the trust and rapport needed to close a deal.
However, you’ll want to ensure you’re handling the process right and creating a connection, not driving people away. Below, 13 Forbes Business Council members shared the most important things to remember when taking a client out to talk business.
1. Don’t Brag
We have found that less-experienced colleagues, and some who should know better, brag about their lifestyle or possessions while in the company of clients or counterparts. It’s very important to keep in mind that the people across the table may not have our income levels and that our braggadocio may make them feel ashamed or upset, which can block their interest in cooperating. – Andrew Fox, SuperJeweler.com
2. Make A Personal Connection
When you go out for a business lunch with a potential client, make sure to really connect. Get to know the person beyond their job title and ability to sell to the company they represent. Understand your client’s personality and share yours. Those personal connections are great drivers for long-term partnerships as opposed to one-time sales deals. – Nionila Ivanova, IT Creative Labs
3. Follow Business Etiquette Rules
In the ever-increasing “business casual,” foosball-table-in-the-corner and beer-on-tap workplace environments of today, a relaxed company culture does not mean business etiquette, and how we comport ourselves, is not important, particularly when entertaining clients. Mindfulness around what is discussed, personal impressions, mutual respect, favoritism and budget are top-of-mind items. – Amy Hall, Caton Commercial Real Estate Group
4. Have A Clear Goal For The Meeting
Focus on three key points: First, understand what you want the outcome of the meeting to be. Next, research the person and company background. Third, don’t drink too much—stay in control. These are important because it forces you to focus on what the goal of the meeting is, shows that you invested time in getting to know the person and allows you to present yourself in the best light possible. – Audrey Arbeeny, Audiobrain
5. Keep It Professional
At the end of the day, your client understands that you are their vendor. So, keep meals and drinks professional. This means you shouldn’t order anything too messy and do not drink too much. You should always be presenting yourself in a way that people think of you professionally and can trust you. So, skip the sloppy joes and order a cleaner turkey sandwich, and drink wine instead of whiskey! – Maurice Harary, The Bid Lab
6. Turn Off Your Phone
Be respectful. You are wasting time by not being fully present. If the phones are on, the meeting will go longer and require more follow-up and management than if everyone is paying attention. Turning your phone off will shorten up the meeting because everyone has their eye on the prize. – Abigail Aboitiz, Advanced Remote Monitoring / ARM LLC
7. Choose The Right Environment
The most important element of entertaining is the location. Pick a location where they will feel comfortable, that allows for confidential conversation, and where you can hear each other speak. Stay away from noisy bars, spots with loud street traffic, etc., unless locale is specifically requested by the client. Also, do not go to a place where you may be constantly interrupted by people you know. – Ali Lasky, The influence.
8. Maintain Boundaries
It’s always important to remember even when dining out or catching drinks with a client (or a potential new client) that you’re working. Professional boundaries are important. This is your client, not your friend. It’s not a time to tell a bunch of personal stories or make the meeting about you. Try and keep the conversation on the client and the business at hand. – Diana Bianchini, Di Moda Public Relations, Inc.
9. Limit Your Alcohol To One Drink
You want to be at your best when you are talking business. Even if you think that you can handle it, assume that anything you do or say will be on the news or social media. Is that the image you want? Go for the top. What if your current or potential client has two or more drinks? Imagine what could happen if you are the person who gets them home safely? – Victoria Bondoc, Gemini Industries
10. Truly Listen To Your Customer’s Needs
Value your time with each potential client beyond the sale this is a relationship that can be for life. Focusing on listening to what your customer cares about in their pains and how you can help that pain will create more rapport with them than simply trying to relate off of hobbies or other things unrelated to business. Their time with you is valuable and not to be wasted. – Alan Cheung, AKINGS
11. Don’t Be Overt Or Pushy
The first thing to take to a client dinner is your customer-centricity. Then it’s your smile, humility and positive can-do attitude. Also, clients don’t like talking shop at dinners/drinks, so it is best not to be overt or pushy to discuss business. If the opportunity presents itself then you can discuss how you, your product, solution or company can solve the clients’ challenges. – Safir Adeni, Ineda Group
12. Have Fun
Business dinners are great opportunities to connect with people and build relationships. Use this moment to let people get to know who you are, why you love the work you do and what your passions are outside of work. A stronger connection is good business. – Robert Brill, BrillMedia.co
13. Be Your Authentic Self
Be yourself: Stay true to who you are under any and all circumstances! Going out with clients is the perfect time to allow them to fall in love with who you are and what you’re about, outside of your business, which will make them respect and value your business even more. – Hoda Mahmoodzadegan, BAḴT Global