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Posted: March 25, 2014

Business development challenges & tips

Leveraging events to benefit clients and prospects

John Genell

In a city like Denver, who you know matters. Business decisions are often driven by relationships. Leveraging these relationships to secure work, otherwise known as business development, is both an art and a science. Building meaningful connections requires a strong investment of time and money; contacts will see through pushy sales attempts and one-sided relationships that provide nothing in their favor. In today’s business landscape, business development efforts tend to deliver the most success when an attempt to benefit both clients and prospects is at the core of the effort.

One great relationship-building tactic is transforming standard company events into unique business development opportunities that interest clients and prospects while creating mutually beneficial relationships. It is critical to think strategically when selecting these events.

For example, I found success implementing this tactic through my office’s sponsorship of a university speaker series. My firm invited clients and prospects who were then able to connect with business leaders in the market that they typically could not access. Ultimately, we were instrumental in providing clients with valuable access to influential business leaders while also developing a third-party advocate for the firm in the university. Through this process, my office had essential face time with clients and prospects and furthered these relationships significantly.

Business development executives should consider the following items prior to making any commitment:

1. Align the event’s topic with your targeted clients and prospects. You must determine which clients and prospects you hope to reach in order to determine what type of event will be the most effective. If your business is hoping to strengthen relationships with local hospital leaders, for example, then you may want to monitor the upcoming events hosted by professional organizations catering to the healthcare industry. If your clients and prospects come from an array of industries, then a general yet high-profile business event may prove more beneficial. Ultimately, the event should provide value to the selected audiences and align with their business goals.

2. Consider the caliber of the crowd that will be drawn to the event. It is important to examine not only what industries will be represented at the event, but also which specific individuals will attend. Determine who within a company is best equipped to move the needle for your office – it may be the C-Suite executives, the marketing department or the human resources department. The room should be filled with the audience you choose, which means the event should cater to the specific position that you are targeting within the company.

Executives typically attend the high-level and strategic-planning events, while mid-level managers may choose the more technical, skill-driven events. Considering the level of audience members will not only allow your office to provide further value to clients and prospects, but also presents the opportunity to build relationships with new contacts you may meet at the event.

Whether sponsoring an event or simply attending, it is important to have a strategy prepared. Prior to the event ask for a list of confirmed guests or research the host organization’s advisory board. Such preparation will allow you to understand not only which specific individuals may attend, but provides time to develop tailored conversation topics for targeted professionals.

3. Understand the benefits associated with your office’s level of involvement when deciding upon a sponsorship. While you likely do not want to be responsible for event logistics, it is often worthwhile to have an elevated presence at the event. Whether through a speaking opportunity, additional event tickets or opportunities for contributed content in an event program or publication, ensure that attendees notice your company’s presence. Leveraging the sponsorship benefits allows your office to position itself as a thought leader within the professional landscape. For this reason, it may make sense to select quality over quantity by forgoing many event sponsorships per year, but instead selecting a top sponsorship slot at a high-profile event to maximize impact.

By taking a moment to consider the professional needs of clients and prospects, your company may discover unique opportunities for business development. It is important to remember that business development is a process that requires time. If you attend or sponsor an event with the goal of earning a new client that day, you are likely going to leave disappointed. Events provide opportunity to increase brand awareness and build a network. Relationships, if fostered carefully, may develop into powerful third party advocates for your office that generate new business down the road.

John Genell is the business development executive for the Denver office of Grant Thornton LLP. He can be reached at john.genell@us.gt.com.

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