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The quickest way to a client’s heart? Through the stomach

Have you noticed people are just more cranky than usual lately? Not that we don't all have good reason. Everyone's working harder to get and keep business. People tell me they are feeling a cautious hopefulness that business will improve substantially this year.

However, business can improve even faster for those who take advantage of missed relationship-building opportunities. Like what, you say? Consider certain things that might be overlooked or under-appreciated for the added value they can generate.

With respect to attracting larger accounts and customers, one such example in particular is apparent: lack of a culinary surprise. Here's what I mean: if you're inviting out of town decision-makers or having an important meeting around your conference table, as celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse says, "Kick it up a notch."

If you're looking to forge a memorable relationship and pick up a sizeable piece of business, the last thing you should do (and to our horror, we have witnessed all too often) is order chain pizza or the usual cold sandwich and plastic salad containers for an important lunch meeting or day long get together. Instead, a customized "we cater to you" approach sends a positive subliminal message: we do things above and beyond, we pay attention to details, and that's how we will handle your account.

If a client has traveled from out of town, add a welcome basket to their hotel room. If an important proposal is being discussed, go out of your way to make the experience memorable. On those types of occasions, consider bringing in a personal chef who can prepare different entrees and customize dietary needs for not much more than a time-consuming trip to a higher end restaurant, but with more impact.

Certainly in today's cost-cutting climate, hosting food may be challenged by the company bean counter, but the person who thinks this way is missing the point. When the effort and time is made to properly "host" the customer, your company will stand apart from others who may not put any emphasis on this important socialization and strategic relationship-building objective.
Make no mistake, every interaction you have with a high profile client or customer is a marketing opportunity. Even morning meetings can be conference-dressed with a nice display of fruit and muffins (not a donut box on the table). Show some style, after all.

This is especially noteworthy when hosting international clients. Be more mindful of their cultural orientations and expectations. We were invited to attend a New York business meeting for a multi-million dollar proposal. Sadly, the office space the company invited their dignitaries to for a major presentation was dirty, cluttered and lacked the impression that was expected. Judging by the facial expression and raised eyebrows of the potential client, he was less than pleased. Feedback later revealed he felt treated second-rate. It raised avoidable concerns on the company's ability to provide the high end service he was looking for in all aspects. "What do you expect from a bunch of engineers" (their excuse) was the result of a company that downsized and lacked in understanding the aesthetic experience.

Now, there are many ways to provide this special effort affordably. This approach is not just for the "Donald Trumps" out there. The key is to go out of your way to roll out the red carpet, provide refreshments and fresh snacks or a hosted lunch that creates the atmosphere and interest that is less likely to be generated at a loud restaurant or from typical take-out. Or worse, when a client asks for water and is told there's a water fountain down the hall near the bathroom! Think: glass water pitchers with lemon slices. Or always an impression maker: designer cupcakes! (even high- minded intellects like those).

This strategy can set you apart and works especially well if you are invited to an interview as part of a request-for-proposal pitch. You will most likely be going to their office space, so come prepared to create a less formal environment. Break the ice. The chances are little to nil that competitive presentations before or after yours will think of this. Now, of course, you still need to sell the benefits of your abilities and what you can do for them. But that can't be your only selling point on a relatively level playing field. Do you see where this can lead?

Add to your presentation and discussion by combining in-person social networking to help close the deal. There are lots of competitors out there. Companies will talk to several firms before choosing. Make yours notable. In today's virtual world, we are quickly losing touch with the human element. Fortunately, there are lots of creative and affordable ways to roll out the welcome mat! The good news is, it's easy to do, plus, your residual benefit is repeat or new business. That's what we call "Sustainable Marketing." Need help with this or other marketing solutions, call us!

REMEMBER: "If you think little things don't matter, try spending the night in a tent with a mosquito." (Gandhi)

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Melanie Goetz

Melanie Goetz is coauthor of "Roadrunner Marketing: Strategic Secrets You Wish You Knew," and president of Hughes & Stuart Marketing. She was executive director of the NGMA from 1996 to 2006.

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