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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 GrantedIt 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 ContactsIn 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 MoreOne 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 EventsIf 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 KeyFinally, 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.

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Trade Show Planning Timeline (PDF)

Download this all-in-one trade show planning timeline to keep track of your trade show deadlines. Our timeline includes exhibit design & build tasks, technology considerations, pre-show promotions, booth staff tasks, lead management and miscellaneous items. Also included is; budget planning information, a booth staff schedule, typical show services deadline list and a budget calculator perfect for trade show veterans and those newer to the industry.

About the Author

Chris Rowe is an Exhibiting Consultant with Skyline Displays Midwest, a full service global exhibit, event and environments studio located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A graduate of St. John's University in Collegeville, MN, Chris is passionate about helping people, and he makes his client's goals, problems and aspirations his own. His career in theatre has taught him that often the best solution to a complicated problem is the simplest one. He has made a career in communicating thoughts, concepts and ideas to his clients and there is no better education for that than being on stage. Chris believes that trade shows are performances at their core - put on a good show and the word will spread!

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