June 24, 2014
When I launched a few of my first ventures, we had to bootstrap everything. We had very little startup capital and needed to make our dollars go as far as possible. However, I also subscribed to the idea that people do business with people that they like. Often, to get people to like you, you have to do more than just sales meetings and conference calls. Face-to-face is still one of the most important ways to bond in business.
I knew I couldn't compete against my peers that had huge expense accounts and bottomless Amexes but I didn't even want to run that race. I thought there must be a better way to make an impact and to make prospects and clients feel valued and special besides dropping big stacks at the five star restaurants.
1. Make introductions. In business development, you're constantly meeting people. These include people that might buy from you, people that might refer you, competitors, press, bankers and more. Whenever you meet someone new, think of who, down the road, you might be able to introduce them to. Making introductions is no cost to you but potentially invaluable to the two you are introducing. Nothing says "I care more about your success than just what you can do for me" than sharing your network with someone and expecting nothing in return.
2. Choose bars with personality. My dad always said that business happens on the golf course but I've found that a lot of business (or rapport that leads to business) happens in the bar. (This may also be because I'm a much better drinker than golfer but that is neither here nor there). Now, I'm not talking about after midnight bar moments but rather 5 - 7 pm happy hours. To save money on bar tabs when you're treating prospects and clients, steer away from the hotel bars. Try to go somewhere that has more personality. This could be a bar that boasts 100 beers on tap or somewhere that is famous for their sangria. Chances are, your prospect is used to the typical $18 drink bar so they'll actually welcome a more interesting environment as a breath of fresh air.
3. Lunch instead of dinner. Most good restaurants have a similar lunch and dinner menu, but you'll find that lunch is far less expensive than dinner. You still get the benefit of the beautiful atmosphere and good food without the high price tag. Plus, most people don't drink during a lunch meeting (or at least not that much).
[Side note: I did once take a guy that I was "courting" to lunch and he ordered several glasses of very expensive wine even though I was only drinking iced tea. That probably told me more about the guy than actually doing business with him. He was a dick.]
4. Share articles. Whenever you run across a great article or piece of content that you think one or more of your prospects would enjoy, shoot it over to them via email. It's a good way to touch base without asking, "Are you ready to buy from me yet?" Articles don't have to be just about your industry (but those are good too); if you know your prospect is a big USC fan, you could send something about the USC players going in the NFL draft and ask him what he thought.
5. Less popular sporting events. Getting tickets to the Super Bowl is not likely to be in the cards but you can still invite clients or prospects to a less popular sporting event. This could be early games in the season in college basketball, steeplechase horse races, Triple A baseball games (or even MLB games during the week depending upon your market). Don't be too cheap here though. If you can't afford good seats, you'll look like a chump.
6. Connect regularly. Sometimes what those guys with big expense accounts forget is that it's not the BIG gesture of dinner at Nobu, but it's the consistent connection and follow up that really makes an impression. If you show that you genuinely are interested in the person and want to earn her business, that goes a long way. No one wants to be someone's 10th most important client but if, through consistent and authentic communication, you show that this prospect would be in your top 3, they're going to feel more inclined to do business with you.
7. Thoughtful over expensive. Anyone (with money) can send a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. Not everyone actually listens during conversations and remembers that you talked about a book about creating habits. A personal note and book sent from Amazon that you recommend in the same genre would go much further in being memorable.
8. Kill many birds with one stone. When I did business development in the hospitality industry, there were a few conferences a year that all of the big REIT CEOs, asset managers, and decision makers attended in various parts of the country. I concentrated my budget on these events because I knew that I could set up a lot of meetings with people that I would otherwise have to fly to various parts of the country to visit. The challenge was not just becoming one meeting of eight in a day but I would pair these quick conference lobby meetings with one of the strategies mentioned above to make more of an impact.
Being more creative with my spending on prospects led them to think more highly of me and then, subsequently, believe that our company was a creative and up-and-coming force to be reckoned with. Most major company decision makers are used to being wined and dined so it's become par for the course for them.
To make a bigger impact, think outside the Ritz.