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Entertaining Your Trade Show Clients


Offering clients and vendors tickets to sporting events, concerts or resorts has always been a welcome and fun way to strengthen and nurture business relationships. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act added a major twist on this long-standing tradition of deducting client entertainment expenses on business tax returns.

This may have limited some options, but there are still many opportunities to host outside of the trade show. It’s always important to focus on what really adds value for your clients. For some, it might not be entertaining. For others, it’s still an important part of a complete trade show program. Whether you prefer a private get-together or a VIP party, the following tips will help you navigate a successful client experience.

Don’t Take Small Things for Granted
It can be a bit embarrassing to take clients to a steakhouse, only to learn that many of them are vegan. Or to plan a fun, participatory activity like a walking tour and discover your client has a broken foot. Knowing some core personality traits, likes, dislikes, other limitations—can go a long way to avoiding an emergency change of plans. Offer some ideas in advance or ask questions so they can share information. Will their family be traveling with them? Do they have limited free time? A little leg work on the front end will show your clients you don’t take them granted.

Consult with Concierges and Event Contacts
In this age of user-generated content, it can be tempting to rely on Google or online review sites to find recommendations for restaurants or activities. Remember that sometimes the most-reviewed or best-reviewed businesses are the ones who do the best digital marketing, rather than those who necessarily offer the best client experiences. So, go the old-fashioned route, by picking up the phone and asking the local, unbiased event or hospitality staff for their recommendations. Do they have contacts that can offer some additional tips, ideas or inside information?

Less is More
One fringe benefit of today’s reduced travel budgets and tightened tax write-offs is a corresponding preference among clients for less showy experiences. The days of just wining, dining and entertaining clients have given way to an increased expectation for authentic interaction and actual learning experiences. Clients today are more health and budget conscious, so late nights and partying and lavish productions can be more off-putting than anticipated. Breakfast/coffee or late afternoon gatherings are often more relaxed and give clients a greater degree of freedom for how they’d like to spend their evenings while traveling.

Offer Tiered Access to Group Events
If you’re hosting a VIP event for multiple clients, provide options for your guests by offering more than one package. At least one of these tiers should be restricted to a limited number of participants. Reserve a few tickets to give to priority customers or prospects. Doing this assures high value experiences and will create a lasting impression with the client. Offering special services or products to event attendees (above and beyond what you offer via your website to non-attendees), or special discounts to “strategic partners” (however you define those) can also make your guests feel appreciated.

Communication Is Key
Finally, one evergreen aspect of business entertaining is to make sure your venue is conducive to conversation. If it’s a hotel mixer or a restaurant dinner or drinks at a private club, make sure the ambiance is such that you and your client and can hear and engage with one another easily. No matter how large or small the event, always make sure you have people on-hand to encourage interaction and help everyone feel comfortable. Whether the relationship is formal or relaxed, effective communication is always critical to wooing clients and learning about their needs.