If you’re a sales manager, you will be interested in a few of my secrets for winning and keeping customers.
The secrets are simple – take your clients to the ball game, pump up the adrenalin, and please, don’t talk shop.
Believe me, I know what I am talking about, after nearly thirty years of entertaining customers in the age-old quest to build strong relationships, in order to get “the sale”.
While basketball will always be my go-to game of choice for client entertainment, it’s fair to say I must have hosted right across the sporting spectrum by now.
I’ve hosted people to, and in cities all over the world, including Berlin, Las Vegas and Chicago. My time in Chicago memorably included seeing the Bears, Bulls and the Blackhawks play on three consecutive nights.
I have hosted more fishing trips then I can remember, and of course, we always caught the big ones, or at least that is what my clients continue to tell me years later.
I’ve filled a box at Eden Park, sat at the flash table at the horse racing, I’ve let loose go-kart racing, managed cook-school competitions, and I’ve even once organized fish filleting lessons for fifty executives.
Entertaining customers has also meant participating in paintball, taking part in triathlons and multisport events, going to international netball and watching games of cricket with clients.
A tough job, but hey, someone has had to do it….
….and of course, there have been thousands of dinners, lunches, breakfasts, coffees and cocktails…. but on reflection, the best entertainment of all, for rapid relationship building, has been basketball. It’s a slam dunk.
Before I tell you about why basketball is a sales manager’s dream, let me tell you about why entertaining really matters.
I get asked one question a lot, “Why bother with all this entertainment with potential and existing customers?”
The answer is simple, we want these people to know who we are, and importantly we want them to like us …. if they like us, they will hopefully buy off us, and over many years.
But wait, it’s important that I qualify this, as I’m sure I’m sounding a little callous.
Please understand that the entertainment I’ve hosted has definitely not always delivered sales, and importantly for me, I have made life-long friends through some of the entertainment, who never became clients.
This said, corporate entertaining is about securing and keeping business so let’s drill down on those secrets for building relationships with potential customers, and winning and keeping their business.
Make sure your entertainment creates excitement and gets adrenalin pumping for your clients.
Why adrenalin? Because the best customer relationships are the ones where you have shared memorable experiences together – an experience in which there was excitement and the adrenalin was pumping.
What I like about basketball is it offers up constant entertainment value, and this is where the adrenalin aspect comes in.
While I am not a committed basketball fan, what I love about entertaining customers at a ball game is that there is absolutely always something going on, even when there is a break in play. It’s very good entertainment.
Basketball games are often reasonably close in scores so the last quarter of the game can be genuinely very exciting, and by then all your guests will be very engaged and enjoying themselves.
It doesn’t really matter how you achieve adrenalin, but once you have shared it, your customer relationship will always have that foundation, “that time” that you can refer back to, a level of camaraderie that is the foundation for trust and goodwill.
That foundation of trust and goodwill will be your bedrock in the future, when, for instance, the delivery team have cocked something up with your client, and you are the head of the clean-up team, sent to mop up the damage.
Another gold standard secret for customer acquisition and retention is to woo your prospective and existing customers, and for greatest advantage – at the same time.
Wooing is underrated, yet to woo is key in winning and keeping work.
The wooing-new-client-strategy is simple – get your existing customers to sell to your prospective customers.
Let’s see how this works at the basketball. Inviting a totally new bunch of clients who you do not have a relationship with is going to be hard work.
And as the host, you need to be working the group, trying to build that all-important relationship. If you have ten or more guests, it’s going to be pretty hard to foster that all-important connection.
The key is to not fill the room with prospective clients. Instead ensure you invite a mixture of existing customers and new ones.
Why? Well if you are doing your job properly, your existing customers are going to be pretty happy with you. In addition, you have entertained them before, which must have gone well, because they’re back again.
The pre-game at the basketball is critical – the meet and greet phase, the scene setting and your opportunity to introduce your new and existing customers.
It’s important to stress to all of your group that they need to be on time for the pre-game Tip-off, otherwise it’s hard for late comers to feel part of the group.
It is inevitable that during the introductory small talk between the old and new customers, someone will ask, “So how do you know Verdon?” and “What’s his company like to work with?”.
Ka-boom! This is the slam dunk – the goal – you lined it up, but your current customers took the shot for you. There’s the magic – your customers are selling you, and your company, for you, to the new prospects.
This allows you to chat to people one on one, find common ground and have fun with them.
Another secret when you want to secure work through entertainment, is to never talk shop. Never.
Over the years, I’ve seen up-and-coming account managers revert to selling while hosting entertainment events.
They get anxious about results, and in their haste to maximise time with their target client they start rattling on in sales mode.
It is a classic mistake to talk about work while hosting – don’t surrender to the temptation – compartmentalise the time you have with the clients to have fun and fun only – the time for shop-talk is for during business hours only.
If you don’t talk shop what do you do? Get organized – and structure the time you have available to really entertain. For instance, use the ball game’s half-time to your advantage – this is your opportunity to get the group back together and talking to each other.
Have something planned – select a bar in the stadium for half-time that everyone is to meet at, with drinks and food pre-ordered.
At half-time I like to run a mystery draw where all of the customer names are entered in a hat with three tickets drawn who receive basketball merchandise.
In Auckland, our team is the SKYCITY Breakers. The team’s general manager is great at supplying me signed merchandise, making it just that little bit more special for my guests. This trumps shop talk and provides another layer of goodwill.
Think about all the ways you can raise the bar on your entertaining, so that the focus is on the event, not in any way on your business. For example, when I’m sending out the invitations for a game, I tell my customers that we are meeting post game in the Heineken Lounge, a really clever innovation The Breakers have created that is suited for customer entertainment.
The lounge is at court level behind one of the hoops and the players and celebrities mix and mingle with the corporate guests. This is an excellent way to finish off the evening on a high note, as guests love meeting the current and past players, and rubbing shoulders with local celebrities.
Your current clients and your prospective clients will remember the night for the fun, and for your ability to run a smooth operation outside of the business you are in. This provides you with credibility as a person who can make things happen. That’s good for generating business.
With basketball as entertainment, the numbers are also stacked in your favour.
A corporate box, will on average cost around NZ$190.00 per person, including the ticket, food and beverages. This will keep both the CFO and the CEO in your business happy, even more so when you reduce the sales cycle and close the deal.
Basketball really is the gold standard for corporate entertainment, if you are an ambitious sales manager, who needs an edge and wants new clients and to keep existing clients on board.
The ball game corporate entertainment is cost effective, fast paced and memorable. Game on.
By Verdon Kelliher