Sunday, January 17, 2010

Introverts Guide to Client Entertainment

As an introvert, my idea of entertainment is to read a good business book and to spend time on my laptop, just as I am doing right now.

Yet client (and prospective client) entertainment is part of my job and it's something that has not come naturally, nor easy to me.

Afterall, lacking the gift of the gab I am poor at making small talk, being a first generation immigrant from India I never really got into watching nor understood football and basketball so can't talk sports, and I certainly ain't no life of the party. If you were to look up the words quiet, dull and boring in Websters, you'll probably find my picture right next to them. Furthermore, being on the quiet side, one my biggest fears in taking a client out to lunch is what if we have total silence and I don't know what to say. Yikes! Talk about sending chills up my spine.

So my fellow introverts, today I like to share with you my "introvert-friendly" ways I have learned over the years, through my own trials and tribulations. They work for me and I am confident they will help you in your client entertainment challenges.

First, however, let's look at the purpose of client entertainment for it's important to understand that. To me, there are two primary reasons which are:

1. To get to know more about the client as an individual and to learn more about their business, in a more neutral space where the conversation can take place on a more peer-to-peer level.
2. To further strengthen the relationship.

Once you understand this, it becomes very clear that there are number of ways to "entertain" the client, beyond just business lunches, baseball games, and other such venues. Let's take a look at some of them here.

Client Entertainment in the Traditional Sense

Especially as an introvert, it's important to be clear on what's comforting for you. For example, if you don't like say hanging out at the bar, then don't take your clients to one. Your discomfort will come through. Nor will you enjoy it nor will your client-defeating the purpose of the get together.

For me, for example, I like quiet places that are not so formal. So I select places that suit my style, as often as I can. For if I am comfortable, that will then come through. Try to be yourself. Another example is, being from India, when I discover someone likes Indian food, I'll often take 'em to some hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant that sells tasty Indian cooking, a place a non-Indian will probably never discover or go on their own. The food ends up being cheap and it becomes a new and memorable experience for the client. So be authentic for relationship is a two way street. As you're getting to know your client, they are also getting to know. After all, people do business with people they like, and that goes both ways.

As for which clients to entertain, as much as possible, I only ask those individuals out to lunch with whom I am comfortable. If I do have to take someone out to lunch and I have a strong feeling it'll be uncomfortable, I'll ask a colleague to join me, someone whom I feel will get along well with the client.

As for my fear of silence, it has happened only very few times, and that's usually with another introvert. When that happens for me, I just say something like the following:

"You know, studies have shown that there is total silence every 20 minutes? Wondering if you have experienced it too?" or "Gosh, guess what, one of my biggest fears just came true, total silence and I don't know what to say-I am totally blanking out". Has that ever happened to you?"

The idea is one not to be afraid to put our fear out there, in a professional manner of course. When you do that, it gives the other person to also open up and that increases comfort and makes the conversation more authentic. Secondly, always have some open ended questions in your hip pocket for such occasions. Such questions move the conversation forward. One note here. Please don't talk about the weather or something like that. Remember, you're there to learn so ask questions that will further the relationship and will allow you to learn.

Building & Strengthening Client Relationships in Other Ways

Going back to the reason for client entertainment, here are some other ways to further strengthen your relationships, that have worked beautifully for me. Key is that they be done from the heart and be genuine.

1. Always be on the look out for challenges, personal or business, your clients may be having. For example, over 15 years ago, one my client's had adopted a daughter from overseas, who was having trouble learning English. Once I understood the challenge, I realized it's very similar to what my daughter had faced and to help her learn, we had purchased a series of cassettes to help her learn, which had helped her immensely. As my daughter didn't need them anymore, I delivered them to my client, and they helped her daughter immensely too. Today, even after all these years, everything I run into this client, she makes it a point to update me on her daughters progress and thanks me for the tapes. She still remembers. I feel happy in that I made a difference, and it's been good business too. We both won, in more ways then one.

2. Send out, by snail mail, hand written thank you cards. They are so rare these days, making them even more special. In today's time where nearly everything seems to quickly become a commodity, standing out from the crowd becomes an increasing challenge. Sending out hand written cards really helps you stand apart and makes you memorable.

3. Send information such as articles that you may have read that will be of interest to your clients. Again, by snail mail whenever possible, with a short hand written note, saying something like "Hey Myron, thought this might be of interest to you - Vinay". It demonstrates to clients you're thinking of them, which you are. By the way, this doesn't have to be just business oriented. It can be of personal nature also. Again, key is to be authentic and from the heart.

4. Send white papers and articles that you have written. If you haven't written, I urge you to do so. It's one of our top secret weapons to sales success, specially for us introverts. In the end, no matter how much you and the client like each other, the client has to first and foremost find a business value in the relationship. Of course many such relationships do turn into life-long friendships. First however is providing the business value. And by sending out such materials that you have written, you are positioning yourself as THE expert in the field, and that's something we introverts do so well. So leverage it to the max.

Look, my fellow introverts, we may not be the life of the party, we may not be the ones going to games screaming rha! rha! rha! Go bulls, and we not bethe ones who can easily "wow" folks at a gathering. But when clients know you can help them solve their problems, that they can count on you, you'll take the time to truly listen and understand their situation and then help them solve it, you're well on your way to making your client relationships strong, baseball tickets or not.

Happy Entertaining, my Fellow Introverts~

PS To help you kick off this new year and make it a great year for you, look for my additional posts over the next couple of weeks. As an introvert, I know what you go through so I want to do all that I can to support you in your success.


Irene said...

This is a great article. I'm sure that many introverts will read it and feel that they aren't alone out there - someone else understands the challenges they face in doing business.

Arun Lal said...

I felt as if this article was meant for me.
Pretty meaningful

Arun Lal said...

Great article
This explanins my predicament very well.

Deepika Kohli said...

Wonderful article Vinay. I am sure many many people would relate to it.