How to make it a beneficial experience.
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My daughter recently called me from Seattle where she was attending a week long seminar for her company. I asked her how it was going, to which she lamented, “Wow. All of this late night entertainment with customers is getting old. It’s not like when I was in my twenties.”
I chuckled as nothing is like when we were in our twenties, when we had youthful energy and enthusiasm, and the sky seemed to be the limited. Over the last four decades I have done more than my fair share of customer entertainment, be it at home or abroad. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way.
First, recognize customer entertainment is an important part of sales and customer service. If you are trying to close a contract, a luncheon or dinner meeting may just be the ticket. However, this must be handled professionally and with finesse. Dress appropriately, not slovenly, and remember nobody is impressed by a drunken event, except for people in their twenties. If possible, invite and impress the spouse of your client who will help convince your contact what a great company you represent. If your waiter or waitress gave you good service, be sure to tip them generously. Now is not the time to appear as a skinflint.
In this day and age of political correctness, be careful to avoid sensitive subjects. Interestingly, when I travel overseas, people want to know about American politics and I normally oblige. I spent three weeks in Saudi Arabia years ago, and we frequently spoke about politics which my client found stimulating. We didn’t agree on everything, but we came to understand each other’s point of view and built trust.
When you are on the road, particularly overseas, it is easy to lose track of time and news. Make time. Keep abreast of current events so you appear knowledgeable and develop your conversation skills. Also, try to stay on your home time zone if possible, it will make the return trip easier for you.
Very important: Learn to pace yourself. No, you do not have to have a drink every night. If you do, the client may think you are nothing but a souse. There is nothing wrong with a soft drink or iced tea. Also, learn to substitute apple juice with whiskey as it looks the same, as does club soda and lime which looks like a gin/vodka tonic. And be sure to just sip it, do not gulp. If you do it properly, people will think you are a social drinker and can handle your liquor.
Adapt and acclimate to the local culture. In other words, roll with the punches. Try the local cuisine. Who knows, you might learn something new. You can always have a Big Mac when you get home. As for me, I always try the local Chinese food.
As a traveler, be organized and always think of a backup plan should something go awry, such as forgetting paperwork or your graphic presentation. Either keep such things on a flash drive or on the Internet where you can access it.
One last note, follow-up with the client immediately following the trip, such as a thank you note, writing a report, or whatever. Do not wait, get it done now, such as while you are traveling home on the airplane. Clients appreciate the personal touch.
No, we cannot stay in our twenties forever, but with a little common sense, we can make business travel and customer entertainment less of a hassle, and more of a beneficial experience.
Keep the Faith!